Justice Department probe focuses on whether Visa's actions allow it to maintain a dominant market share unlawfully.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Visa is engaging in anticompetitive practices in the debit-card market, according to people familiar with the matter. The department’s antitrust division has been gathering information and asking whether Visa, the largest U.S. card network, has limited merchants’ ability to route debit-card transactions over card networks that are often less expensive, the people said. Many of the department’s questions have focused on online debit-card transactions, but investigators have asked about in-store issues as well, the people said. The probe highlights the important role of the so-called network fees that are invisible to consumers, lucrative for card companies, but a weight on merchants, who often pass on the fees in the form of higher prices to customers. The new civil investigation, launched in recent weeks, follows on the heels of the department’s investigation of Visa’s proposed acquisition of financial-technology firm Plaid Inc., the people said. The department sued Visa in November over the Plaid deal, alleging that the acquisition would allow Visa to unlawfully maintain a monopoly in online debit, where the department said it holds a roughly 70% market share.