Visa, FTC and BBB Partner to Educate Consumers about Online Scams

December 21, 2009

Twenty-nine percent of online U.S. consumers victimized by deceptive marketing

Trenton, NJ – December 18, 2009 – Today Better Business Bureau joined the Federal Trade Commission and Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) in a press conference to alert consumers to online deceptive marketing practices associated with free trials with a negative option feature. According to a Visa survey, 29 percent of American consumers have fallen victim to deceptive marketing when unscrupulous e-commerce merchants require them to cancel or opt-out of a recurring charge for future products or services.

With free trials with a negative option feature,  a company takes a consumer’s failure to cancel as permission to begin charging. While many merchants use this billing process appropriately, others pre-check consent boxes, bury the details of the offers in the terms and conditions and make cancellations or returns difficult, catching consumers in a cycle of recurring charges for products and services they do not want.

“Most e-commerce merchants care about their customers and conduct business fairly, but even a few bad actors can cause consumer distrust,” said William M. Sheedy, Group President, The Americas, Visa Inc. “We want to let consumers know more about the protections they have against these types of practices and how to pursue a reversal of charges if they’ve been charged improperly.”

Visa monitors its payment network to identify merchants with excessive levels of cardholder disputes which may indicate the use of deceptive marketing practices. In fact, merchants who use deceptive marketing practices have up to 20 times as many consumer disputes as the average e-commerce merchant. Visa requires the merchant and its bank to take corrective action to reduce excessive consumer disputes, or risk termination of Visa acceptance privileges.

According to Better Business Bureau, consumers should research the business before they buy. “Online trial offers for many supplements, coupon clubs, mortgage refinancing, and debt consolidation may seem like a sound investment, but BBBs across the nation have received thousands of complaints from people who learned the hard way that a free trial is not really free," said Melissa Companick, President  of BBB serving New Jersey. "The hidden charges and membership fees can cost a lot of money in the end. Before handing over debit or credit card numbers to any business online, shoppers should always check the company’s Reliability Report® first with BBB.”

Visa, the FTC and BBB offers tips to online shoppers on how to spot deceptive free trial offers and deceptive negative option features, and how to deal with unauthorized charges:

  • Take time to read and understand all terms and conditions, so a free trial doesn’t turn into a costly purchase you didn’t intend to make.
  • Pay particular attention to any pre-checked boxes before you submit your payment card information for an order. Failing to un-check the boxes may bind you to terms and conditions you’re not interested in.
  • Review card statements when you get them for any unauthorized charges, and notify the card issuer promptly of any unusual activity or unauthorized charges.
  • Try to resolve the situation with the merchant. If you’re unsuccessful, contact the card issuer immediately to dispute the charge.

David Vladeck, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection said, "Online shoppers: If you see charges on your statement or debits that you didn't authorize, fight it. Start by contacting the merchant. If you are unable to contact the merchant or they can't or won't help, call your card issuer and then file a complaint with the FTC. You can do that online at or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP."

The FTC has outlined five principles regarding the appropriate use of negative options, which call for:

  • Disclosing material terms in an understandable manner, without making them unnecessarily long or inconsistent;
  • Making the disclosures clear and conspicuous by placing them where consumers are likely to look on Web pages, by labeling disclosures (and links to them) to indicate their importance and relevance, and by using easy-to-read fonts and colors;
  • Disclosing the offer’s material terms before the consumer incurs a financial obligation;
  • Getting consumers’ affirmative consent to the offer by, for example, having them click “I Agree” And without relying on pre-checked boxes;
  • Not impeding the effective operation of promised cancellation procedures and honoring cancellation requests that comply with such procedures.

Consumers who think they’ve been victims of deceptive marketing and who haven’t been able to resolve the issue directly with the merchant should call their card issuer to dispute the charge. They also may report their experiences to the FTC at or their local BBB at More information is available at

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Note to Editors: Media information and materials can be found at Consumer tips and information are at

About Visa Inc.:
Visa Inc. is a global payments technology company that connects consumers, businesses, financial institutions and governments in more than 200 countries and territories to fast, secure and reliable digital currency. Underpinning digital currency is one of the world�s most advanced processing networks-VisaNet- that is capable of handling more than 10,000 transactions a second, with fraud protection for consumers and guaranteed payment for merchants. Visa is not a bank, and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for consumers. Visa's innovations, however, enable its financial institution customers to offer consumers more choices: Pay now with debit, ahead of time with prepaid or later with credit products. For more information, visit

About BBB
serving New Jersey is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization's high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsReports, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. Please visit for more info on BBB serving New Jersey.

Media Contact:                                                      

Jay Hopkins, for Visa Inc.                                    Peter Kaplan
CRC Public Relations                                           Federal Trade Commission  
Tel: +1 703 683 5004, ext. 107                            Tel: +1 202 326-2334 2334



Sandra  Chu                                                       Dan Crevina
Visa, Inc.                                                           BBB  of New Jersey

Tel: +1 415 932 2564                                         +1 609 588 0509