Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that Change-My-Address.com, an internet-based business in Ohio, will pay $3 million back to consumers to resolve complaints of deceptive and shady business practices. Nearly 20,000 Washington residents are among tens of thousands more nationwide who will receive approximately $18.95, unless they have already received money back.
Change-My-Address.com offers online change of address services similar to those offered by the United States Postal Service. The Attorney General's office alleges that Change-My-Address.com used a number of deceptive practices, including charging customers $19.95 for the address change. The USPS, by comparison, charges a mere $1 for the same service.
A local consumer tipped off the Washington Attorney General's Office, who then discovered there were some 500 complaints filed with Ohio Better Business Bureau offices, at least 22 of which came from Washington residents.
After finding Change-My-Address.com through an Internet search engine, consumers would click on the defendants' website mistaking it for the USPS' service. After filling out the appropriate address information on the website form, consumers were directed to click "continue" to finish the transaction, then were taken to another page asking for payment information.
Site designers at Change-My-Address.com had the payment page programmed to automatically jump to the middle of the page where credit card information could be entered. The jump deliberately hid information at the top of the page that read, "To prevent fraudulent address changes and to cover the cost of processing and handling, you authorize us to charge your credit or debit card a one-time $19.95 fee."
Consumers were further deceived into thinking the service cost would be $1, just like the USPS service. A disclosure at the top of Change-My-Address.com's landing page stated that the consumer would be assessed, "a one dollar processing fee charged by the USPS for submitting an online address change request that must be paid with a valid debit or credit card." Consumers only learned of the $19.95 charge once it appeared on his or her billing statement, and the company itself refused to refund the full amount when contacted with complaints.
The Washington and Ohio attorneys general each filed lawsuits in 2013 under their states' respective consumer protection laws. However, the settlements will refund customers nationwide, regardless of their location.
As a result of the lawsuit, Change-My-Address.com has agreed to the following stipulations:
The amount scheduled to be refunded is equal to the full cost of the change of address minus the $1 cost paid by the defendants for the USPS postal service address change.