If there’s one thing nobody likes, it’s dealing with fine print. Either you spend a bunch of time with your magnifying glass, trying to decipher a bunch of legalese or, even worse, you sign up for something thinking you’ve made a peach of a deal, only to find out you got the short end of the stick later.
But rather than being a victim, one man decided to turn the tables and make fine print work for him in his dealings with a bank. When he did, it would take him on a 5-year journey that he couldn’t have predicted…
Everybody Does It
One day in 2008, a Russian man named Dmitry was going through the same ritual performed by countless people around the world: He was sifting through his junk mail. It was all the usual stuff such: coupons for this, special offers for that. One of the items was an offer for a credit card but, for some reason, he decided to give it a look.
The offer came from Tinkoff Credit Systems, a relatively new bank. At first glance, it didn’t look half bad. The little booklet offered an interest rate of 12.9% and the credit limit wasn’t bad either. Intrigued, Dmitry decided to look over the enclosed contract to see if it was really worth it…
As he read through the fine print, Dmitry wasn’t shocked to find that the actual contract didn’t paint quite as rosy a picture as what was presented in the brochure. The biggest difference was that, instead of an interest rate of less than 13%, the actual rate was a staggering 45%…
Let’s Have Some Fun
Most folks would have been a little annoyed for wasting their time, tossed the whole thing in the trash and moved on with their day. Truth be told, it had put a bit of a sour taste in Dmitry’s mouth but instead of being angry, he decided to have a bit of fun at the bank’s expense…
Dmitry took the contract that the bank had enclosed and scanned it into his computer. Then he went through the contract, deleting all of the unfavorable terms and replacing them with ones far more beneficial to the customer.
He took the 45% interest rate and dropped it to 0, removed the credit limit, and added that the customer “is not obliged to pay any fees and charges imposed by bank tariffs.” On top of that, he changed the URL of the website where the bank published its terms and conditions to a similar one that he bought and used to publish his own terms and conditions…
To top it all off, he added terms that said each time the bank tried to change one of the terms of the contract, they would be obligated to pay the customer 3 million rubles (about $90,000) and if they tried to cancel it, they’d have to pay 6 million rubles ($180,000). Pleased with his elaborate joke, Dmitry printed out the contract, signed it, and sent it off to the bank.
To his surprise, Dmitry Agarkov got back the bank’s signed and certified copy of the agreement — his alterations included — and the credit card to go with it just a short time after he’d sent in the mail. He was now the proud owner of the credit card with the most generous terms in the world…
Over the next 2 years, Dmitry put the card to use. He didn’t go nuts, buying expensive cars or trips around the world, though he would have been well within his rights to do so. “The opened credit card was unlimited. He could afford to buy an island somewhere in Malaysia, and the bank would have to pay for it by law,” said Dmitry’s lawyer, Dmitry Mikhalevich.
Instead, he used the card to make typical purchases, same as anyone else until in 2010, Tinkoff bank tried to terminate Dmitry’s credit card after he’d been late making the minimum required payment. The bank sued him for 45,000 rubles ($1300) in unpaid fees and credit card debt…
Should Have Read It
As the legal proceedings began, the bank put forward a simple argument, claiming that they had effectively made a mistake in signing the contract without reviewing it. “They signed the documents without looking,” said Mikhalevich. “They said what usually their borrowers say in court: ‘We have not read it.’”
In the judge’s eyes, it was a simple matter. Dmitry had sent in a contract with its terms written in black and white and the bank had agreed to them. If they hadn’t devoted any of their considerable resources to reviewing the document, that was their problem. He ruled that the modifications were valid and that Dmitry didn’t owe any fees. He just had to settle his balance ($575)…
Despite his apparent victory in court, Dmitry decided to take things further. He countersued Tinkoff, claiming that they’d not honored the clauses in the agreement concerning the fees they would have to pay him for changing or breaking the contract.
You Owe Big
Dmitry and his lawyer had the law on their side. After all, a judge had already ruled that the contract both parties had signed was valid. He was simply trying to get its terms, which meant in his estimation, the bank owed him 24 million rubles ($727,000) in compensation…
Matter Of Principle
Naturally, the top brass at the bank was furious. Here was some nobody trying to swindle them out of nearly a million dollars. Oleg Tinkov, the founder of the bank, took to Twitter to express his outrage, writing “Our lawyers think, he is going to get not 24 million, but really four years in prison for fraud. Now it is a matter of principle for @tcsbank.”
“We don’t have small print, everything is clear and transparent,” Tinkov added. “Try to open a card – then we’ll talk. Stealing is a sin – in my opinion, of course. Not all in Russia think so.” Still, Dmitry’s claim was strong enough that he would get his chance to argue in court before a judge…
But when it came to such a large sum of money, the bank was far more willing to invest considerable resources to keep their money. They would employ every legal mechanism they could so that the dispute would take as long as possible, meaning Dmitry’s legal fees would grow beyond what he could pay.
Let’s Make A Deal
When they approached him with a settlement offer Dmitry and his lawyer accepted. While the full terms of the offer weren’t made public, we do know of at least one perk the clever Russian got out of it: a unique debit card that gave him up to 30% cash back on some purchases…
With that, both parties dropped any legal claims they had against one another and the bizarre battle had come to an end. “The conflict is counterproductive, so we agreed to settle it by withdrawing our mutual complaints,” said Oliver Hughes, president of Tinkoff Credit Systems.
“This started as a joke in 2008… but the joke has gone too far,” said Dmitry Agarkov. “Of course I won’t recommend other people do what I did. Before you opt in for credit, you must think multiple times and carefully study your bank’s terms. But if you agree, you’ll have to stick to it.”