In Your Corner: Be Careful of Online Tricks

By Ryan Elijah

June 18, 2010 Updated Nov 27, 2009 at 10:07 AM EDT

Back in May, we met Elizabeth King. She found charges for $19.95 on her checking statement that she didn't recognize. The charges came from what's called a landing page, that takes you away from the page you're doing business on. The Connecticut holding company called Vertrue Incorporated told us Elizabeth agreed to the charges, but they did agree to refund her money.
Marjorie Stevens/BBB "you have to be very careful of the fine print"
We found thousands of complaints against Vertrue and now those complaints have made it to Capitol Hill. Just last week, Democratic West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller's committee condemned Vertrue and 2 other companies, Affinion and Webloyalty. They say the companies are tricking consumers, like Elizabeth into signing up for subscriptions they don't want.
Here's how it works, the companies enter into agreements with more familiar internet shopping sites like Classmates.com or Movietickets.com. As the customer completes their sales transaction a tempting offer like this one will pop up, when the consumer clicks yes, they've entered into a financial membership with one of the 3 companies, and most importantly, those companies already have the financial information from the previous purchase of flowers or movie tickets.
The companies did send the Senate committee statements saying they've put more clear disclosure statements into place. Consumers like Elizabeth have a different take, one Wisconsin woman was billed for more than $300 dollars for reservation rewards and shoppers discounts. Movietickets.com did refund her money.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has watched consumer complaints triple since he took office earlier this year and he says it's very difficult to find the violators in many cases.
Greg Zoeller "many times they're offshore and file bankruptcy, the best weapon we have is consumer protection"
With Cyber Monday around the corner, be sure to read the fine print and be very wary of the so-called landing pages. It's estimated that over 400 e-commerce companies have partnered with Affinion, Vertrue and Webloyalty in the past. While many will overspend the holiday season, it's much easier to budget when you know where the charges are coming from.

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