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Summary

If a customer agreed to a series of automated payments, the merchants can keep billing. If you don’t want to renew, you can always cancel your subscription

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Question

Dear Your Business Credit,
After reading your article “Merchant guesses card expiration date to renew subscription,” I would very much appreciate your opinion on an issue I am facing today. A merchant “renewed an annual subscription” to a product using a new credit card number issued by the same financial institution when the old credit card had expired. I never updated the account profile credit card information. So, how did the merchant obtain the new credit card?

My next call will obviously be to the financial institution. I also spoke to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which found my situation interesting and could not comment since they could not find any records of anything similar to my situation. Thank you. Kind regards. – Robert

AnswerDear Robert,
No doubt you’re frustrated that the merchant renewed your subscription without warning. I would be, too.

My guess is that the merchant obtained your new credit card number through a card updater service offered by your credit card issuer. These services provide merchants with new information for customers whose accounts have new credit card numbers or updated expiration dates.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, “Card updater services keep customers’ automated payments flowing,” American Express, MasterCard, Visa and Discover all offer such services. Some merchants like these services because the automatic updates save them time. Who wants to call each customer to get their new card numbers when these cards have expired? Plus, card updater services can prevent an unwanted interruption in services a customer may want by making it easy for a merchant to continue an auto-renew contract.

However, there’s a flip side to this – one that you seem to be experiencing. Customers may see auto-renewals as sneaky – especially if they did not voluntarily update their credit count information with a merchant and don’t remember signing an auto-renewal contract.

While it is easy to see why merchants like the services, your letter is a good example of how they can backfire.  You’re obviously not happy that this charge was renewed, to the extent that you called both the FTC and CFPB. You will undoubtedly remember becoming incensed enough to call these agencies every time you think of the company that renewed your account without asking you. The company might’ve forced you to pay this month’s charge, but now it has lost your good will. That is not good for its brand.

I’m a firm believer that no matter what product or service a business sells, the best way to build a sustainable company is to sell something customers truly want to buy. If a company tries to force people to keep buying something they don’t want any more by auto-renewing contracts, then what does that say about the sustainability of its business model? Eventually, it will run out of customers to auto-renew.

My advice to you is to read your contract carefully and follow the stated procedures to cancel the agreement immediately. If the company does not comply promptly, call your credit card issuer to ask that it block the charge. Many card issuers are cracking down on merchants they feel have taken advantage of consumers with dubious auto-renew charges.  I just canceled one myself and I found that my card issuer was very sympathetic and did it on the spot.

See related:Revoking automatic debits from your account, Beware auto-renewals’ endless charges

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