Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to closely check their credit card statements for mysterious charges that are cropping up by the thousands across the country. Upset online shoppers have contacted BBB about unwanted credit card charges that are ultimately being traced back to Connecticut-based Affinion Group, an affinity-marketing company that recently changed its name from Trilegiant.
In the last 12 months alone, BBB has received nearly 1,800 complaints regarding Affinion Group. Most complainants state that they were shocked when they discovered unwanted charges on their credit card for membership services such as “Shoppers Advantage,” “Privacy Guard” or “Great Fun.” Charges ranged from $12 to as much as $59.99 every month. Some complainants had been charged by Affinion Group every month for several years, resulting in hundreds of dollars being paid for services they never took advantage of or even realized they had signed up for.
“Consumers who get signed up for Affinion’s programs never actually provide their credit card information and therefore don’t suspect that the company will immediately begin charging their credit card every month,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “The large volume and pattern of complaints BBB has received indicates that Affinion is not taking enough steps to ensure consumers understand exactly what they’re getting into when they click on enticing pop-up ads – and that’s why they have a longstanding unsatisfactory record in BBB’s book.”
Some complainants were able to retrace their steps and find out how they were inadvertently signed up for membership services that resulted in the monthly charges. Typically, consumers had purchased items online – such as movie or airline tickets – from a reputable Web site. At some point in the transaction process, pop-up ads or chat boxes appeared offering incentives, such as $20 rebate cards for the Web site or claims like, “Click here for your 10% savings.”
Complainants allege they were signed up for unwanted services simply by clicking on pop-up ads or replying to chat windows, even though they ultimately declined the offers. Complainants never provided their credit card information to ads or chats because the company with which they had just made their online purchase had a pre-established agreement with Affinion Group to automatically transfer consumer information when they clicked on the ad or chat.
“Most complainants report to BBB that they have no idea how or why they were being charged and were extremely angry when they discovered how much money they had lost through affinity marketing practices,” added Cox. “Unfortunately many credit card holders are learning the hard way about the value of reviewing their statements and finances every month.”
BBB has also received complaints from consumers who knowingly signed up for the memberships or services – with the promise that they could cancel after a month and pay nothing – but then never received the promised rebate cards or other incentives, or were given the runaround when they tried to cancel their membership.
In 2006, 16 state Attorneys General reached a settlement with Trilegiant Corp. and Chase Bank totaling $14.5 million, to resolve allegations that the two companies partnered to deceive consumers into paying for membership programs. According to BBB records, Trilegiant is now doing business as Affinion Group – but it’s the same business and same people continuing their pattern of misleading consumers by not making it clear when a consumer has purchased something.
For more information on Affinion Group and to see the more than 50 names the company is doing business as, see BBB’s reliability report online.
To find trustworthy businesses in thousands of industries, search BBB’s database of more than four million reports free-of-charge at www.bbb.org.
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BBB 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 ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, 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. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 126 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.us.bbb.org for more information about BBB.