The Justice Department is investigating whether

is participating in anticompetitive practices in the debit-card market, according to people acquainted with the matter.The departments antitrust department has been gathering details and asking whether Visa, the largest U.S. card network, has limited merchants ability to route debit-card transactions over card networks that are typically cheaper, individuals stated. Much of the departments concerns have concentrated on online debit-card deals, but private investigators have actually inquired about in-store problems as well, the people said. The probe highlights the crucial role of the so-called network fees that are unnoticeable to customers, profitable for card companies, however a weight on merchants, who typically hand down the fees in the type of greater costs to consumers.

In the brand-new probe, the department is considering whether Visas practices are allowing it to preserve a dominant market share unlawfully, individuals stated.

How debit-card deals are routed is a longstanding point of contention between merchants and card companies. The Durbin change, a part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, requires that merchants have the ability to select from at least 2 unaffiliated debit-card networks to path deals.

It comes as Justice Department antitrust enforcers throughout administrations have put an emphasis on inspecting digital-marketplace activities, consisting of in the financial sector, and on investigating business practices of dominant companies.

Visa Inc

All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8.

A Mastercard spokesman didnt supply a comment.

function in the debit-card market, and whether financial-technology companies are genuine rivals to Visa and Mastercard, one of the individuals stated.

MA -2.63%.

Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8.

. V -5.17%.

Merchants have for years declared that they are frequently unable to route online debit-card purchases over smaller networks, such as Shazam or NYCE, when Visa or Mastercards name is on the front of a card. The merchants state that as a result, they typically wind up paying higher network charges compared with what they would pay to lesser-known networks.

A Visa representative decreased to comment. The Justice Department didnt instantly comment.

Plaid was developing an ingenious, more affordable payment technology that might have been a threat to Visa, the federal government declared. Visa called the suit misdirected, saying Plaid wasnt in fact a rival.

Many of the departments questions have focused on online debit-card transactions, however investigators have asked about in-store concerns as well, the individuals stated. The probe highlights the essential role of the so-called network costs that are undetectable to consumers, profitable for card companies, however a weight on merchants, who often pass on the charges in the type of greater prices to customers.

The companies dropped the handle January, mentioning the prospective length and complexity of lawsuits.

Antitrust investigators have actually asked questions beyond simply the debit-card routing issue, a few of individuals said. The department also has asked about.

Mastercard Inc.s.

Separately, the Federal Trade Commission has actually been examining Visa and Mastercard over debit-card routing. Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Peter Welch also raised the issue in a letter to the Federal Reserve last summer.

The Justice Department is inquiring about the monetary incentives that Visa supplies to banks that release cards on its network, according to one of the individuals familiar with the matter. It is looking at whether those incentives encourage banks to not allow routing on other networks, the individual said.

The DOJ also has actually inquired about debit-card routing practices connected to newer payment approaches, one of the people stated. That consists of when debit cards are utilized with mobile wallets like Apple Pay and independently when in-store consumers pay by tapping debit cards on payment terminals rather than inserting them.

The brand-new civil investigation, launched in recent weeks, follows on the heels of the departments investigation of Visas suggested acquisition of financial-technology company Plaid Inc., individuals said. The department sued Visa in November over the Plaid deal, declaring that the acquisition would permit Visa to unlawfully maintain a monopoly in online debit, where the department stated it holds a roughly 70% market share.

Write to AnnaMaria Andriotis at annamaria.andriotis@wsj.com and Brent Kendall at brent.kendall@wsj.com.

By