A reader finds that he is locked out of his online dating account, and company representatives won’t respond to him either. But billing will continue as an auto-renewal until he cancels.
Much like the Energizer Bunny, auto-renewals on credit cards can keep going and going and going.
However, while they have their uses, many consumers ultimately sour on auto-renewals.
An auto-renewal is a kind of transaction in which a merchant re-ups your subscription for a service and continues billing your credit card, or another form of payment, for periodic payments after your initial subscription expires.
Reader Robert writes that he finds himself caught in just such a trap. He subscribed to the online dating service Zoosk, opting for a one-month subscription. He says he found himself locked out of his account the very next day, even though he hadn’t violated any of the service’s rules.
Ongoing billing for the subscription is automatic unless he cancels, which he cannot do since he can’t access his account. Moreover, the company’s representatives haven’t responded to his attempts to contact them either.
Robert says, “I think I’m entitled to a chargeback as I haven’t been given services I have been charged for, not even one day’s worth.”
He wonders how he can cancel his subscription if representatives don’t respond to his contact efforts and he is also locked out of his account. It seems other Zoosk subscribers, too, have similar complaints about this service.
See related: Take control of pesky recurring card charges
How online shoppers can protect themselves
Lila McKinley, staff attorney at the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, advised in emailed comments, “If consumers sign up for a subscription service, it’s important to check in on the service regularly to make sure they can appropriately log in to their account, that all of charges look right on their card statements, and that they double-check they’re receiving the exact products or services they ordered. That way, they can keep track of fees, price increases and renewal times so that there are fewer surprises.”
You should also take the time to research the company’s cancellation procedure and contact information for cancellation, as well as any consumer reviews regarding the cancellation process before you make the purchase.
With the growth in internet commerce, online billing and auto-renewals have become more common. Considering that consumer confidence is necessary to fuel online commerce, the government would like consumers to get clear and accurate information about the transactions they engage in.
That’s why the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) legislation was enacted.
See related: How to reverse unauthorized charge on my debit card
How auto-renewals are regulated
This law tries to rein in auto-renewals or what it refers to as a “negative option feature.” Here’s how the Federal Trade Commission defines a negative option feature: “in an offer or agreement to sell or provide any goods or services, a provision under which the customer’s silence or failure to take an affirmative action to reject goods or services or to cancel the agreement is interpreted by the seller as acceptance of the offer.”
In the situation of an online sale, a merchant cannot enroll you in an auto-renewal arrangement without providing written information that “clearly and conspicuously” reveals all the “material terms of the transaction” before getting your billing information.
The seller would have to get your consent before charging your credit card for the transaction. Also, the merchant would have to provide a simple way for you to stop the recurring charges from being billed to your account.
Apparently, Robert’s transaction with Zoosk fell short in at least one aspect – by not providing an easy way to cancel the transaction and discontinue the recurring charges.
See related: 6 free tools to stop recurring card charges
Follow up with your credit card company and the authorities
According to Attorney McKinley, “If a consumer has done their due diligence in trying to cancel a contract, has contacted a business and has not heard back, they should contact their state department of consumer protection or attorney general’s office to file a complaint, and get guidance about what next steps they can take in their state.”
Robert, in addition, you should contact your credit card company. Considering that you haven’t been able to contact a business that shouldn’t be charging your card, your credit card company may be able to cancel any charges you didn’t authorize.