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When a credit card company revokes bonus points, can you sue?

Early last month, a man in northern California filed a civil lawsuit against American Express after the credit card company removed 100,000 Membership Rewards points from his account. He is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

As detailed in the Northern California Record, the plaintiff opened a credit card account with American Express in May, when the company offered him a special promotion that promised him 100,000 points if he spent $3,000 within three months. Court records show that he spent just under $3,700, and was indeed credited with the Membership Rewards points.

American Express revoked the points, however, when they perceived that the plaintiff was trying to deceive them.

When fake points are worth real money

The initial deal would have been enticing to almost anyone. Rewards points carry an estimated value of 1.9 cents each; as such, participants in this program would receive a bonus worth approximately $1,900.

Yet in the current case, American Express found that the plaintiff "had used his card inappropriately and with the intent to defraud." (What exactly the plaintiff may have done is not yet clear.)

When the company removed his points, the plaintiff allegedly suffered "severe and emotional distress" as well as damage to his credit rating and financial standing. As such, he is seeking compensation for defamation, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What will the outcome be?

Banks and credit card companies have a long history of disserving their customers. They target low-income earners and charge excessive fees. Earlier this year, of course, Wells Fargo was chastised for its practice of opening client accounts without those clients' knowledge.

Whether the plaintiff in American Express filing will succeed in court has yet to be determined. It seems the case will hinge on which side can prove it endured the most deception. The plaintiff is doing himself no favors to this end; he's representing himself as an attorney-pro-se.

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