Providian Financial Corp., formerly known as First Deposit, is under investigation for alleged fraud by the San Francisco district attorneys office. The king of subprime VISA cards may be subject to criminal charges if prosecutors firm up the evidence. According to Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Better Business Bureau alone received about 850 letters from irate Providian customers. Prosecutors allege that Providian distributed deceptive credit card solicitations, failed to fully disclose terms of its credit card offers, and failed to properly post payments to accounts for existing cardholders. Some of the complaints center on Providian’s perceived requirement that cardholders buy so-called “credit protection” for $12.95 per month. Providian’s “credit protection” plan, unlike most plans, only provides cardholders with a “freeze” on finance charges and fees if the cardholder becomes disabled or loses a job. Providian/First Deposit has a long record of alleged unfair business practices. The firm is largely credited with the passage of legislation for the so-called “Schumer Disclosure Box” for credit card issuers by Congress. In the late 80’s, Providian/First Deposit solicited consumers nationally for a no-annual-fee ‘VISA Gold’ card with an undisclosed no-grace-period. In more recent years the firm is notorious for requiring cardholders to take a cash advance to activate a new account and assessing exorbitant fees/interest for cash advances or foreign transactions. For more information visit www.sfchronicle.