“Yes, that’s me. Yes, correct. Um wait. I signed up for what? No I don’t want that. Can I cancel? No? What you do you mean I have to go to your website? I didn’t order this. OK, yes. I’ll look for the e-mail”
Now, we’re not in the habit of listening in while our friends take phone calls. But, this one caught our ear. Turns out that a good friend of Consumer Courage ordered some weight loss pill from the internet. The pill is supposedly from some fruit that only grows in southeast Asia. The rind (so the legend goes) is used in cooking and does wondrous things like reducing your appetite; increasing athletic performance and reducing metabolism.
Public service announcement: Now hear this! There’s no such thing as a pill that makes you lose weight. Scammers make their living knowing that most Americans are a) unhappy with how much they weigh; and b) willing to do anything to lose it, so long as it is an easy fix. Wanna lose weight? Eat less; eat right and exercise more. (you’re welcome)
Claims aside, there’s one thing that we all should remember when it comes to dietary supplements – the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate them. So, although the label may say something that looks OK (Like “1000 mg Garcinia Cambogia Extract”) you can’t really be sure what’s inside. You ask “would somebody lie about what’s inside a pill bottle just to make money?” (Do we really have to answer that?)
What were they offering?
The order was for a 60-day supply of Garcinia something-or-other. The bottle was only $4.95. “Pretty affordable,” she thought. There’s no way to tell, but she might have lost weight just because she was taking this awesome fruit extract that was cultivated across the globe, whether it was effective or not. Unfortunately, she didn’t research the side-effects of this little pill (nausea, diarrhea, kidney/liver problems) until AFTER it arrived at her home and Consumer Courage was lecturing her about its ill-effects.
The phone call that we overheard was when they called her back to offer her a second item – some type of life coach services. All she had to do was used it for 21 days and then call them if she wanted to cancel. After we lost our [stuff] while she was on the phone, she told them that she wanted to cancel that service right now. “I’m sorry, you can’t cancel over the phone. You have to go on our website after 21 days and then cancel from there.” When she pressed that she wanted to cancel right then & there, the operator relented “OK, we’ll send you another e-mail to show you where to cancel.” (as of the publication of this post, zero e-mails have been sent to explain the cancellation process). Two things are going on here:
1) She never signed up for that Life-coach service. She remembered a pop-up that came up while she was ordering. But, she specifically remembers clicking “NO” and having it go away; and
2) Suppliers are never allowed to tell you that you can’t obtain a refund, unless you were told that you couldn’t cancel BEFORE the transaction took place. In fact, telling you that you can’t exercise any of your Consumer rights is a big No-no in Ohio.
I never agreed to that
This is not the first time that we’ve seen this routine. Many internet sellers have a scheme where you are tricked into agreeing to buy something else you’ve never heard of. (just one more reason you should be used to looking through your credit card bill line-by-line every month) The pop-up that jumps onto the screen while you’re trying to navigate the purchase is the one that you have to watch out for. Consumer Courage’s friend never agreed to this service. But that didn’t stop the bad guys from pretending that she did. Since they have her credit card information and her approval to charge the card, they have a plan to charge her for more stuff. We have a sneaking suspicion that the phone call to “confirm her e-mail address” was just them trolling to get her approval to charge her credit card a second time (for way more than five bucks, probably). The fact that she told them “I want to cancel now” is not so relevant to them.
We started Googling this company and added the words “ripoff” and “scam” to the search. What we found was a little unnerving. Many folks had the experience that our friend had – they bought the bottle for five bucks and then watched, helplessly as their credit card statement showed monthly charges. $75.00, then $150.00. At that point it became clear why the bottle was so cheap. If the first charge from “middle-of-the-desert” Arizona was for $150.00 it might flag the fraud department. But, once the vendor is an “established payee” (meaning whoever bought the $5 bottle of pills did not challenge the charge) the credit card folks don’t have a problem if the next charge is for much more money.
I’m sorry you can’t cancel
When the official friend of Consumer Courage hung up the phone, she seemed a little frustrated.
Author’s half-confession: We’ll admit that her frustration may – MAY – have been because we were yelling and gesticulating wildly in the background the whole time that she was on the phone “Tell them you want to cancel! Don’t let them lie to you! They’re scamming you!” Let’s just note that she was frustrated and leave it at that.
There are many reasons in Ohio that a Consumer has the right to cancel a transaction: Three-days to cancel the refinance of your mortgage; Three-days to cancel a Home Solicitation Sale (where they entice you to call them – with an ad or a home visit; or if they’re selling from a hotel conference room); Any sale where they don’t say “You can’t get a refund” in plain language and others. Whatever the reason you have a right to cancel a Consumer transaction, the seller is never allowed to tell you that you can’t cancel.
We can argue whether the seller is allowed to say “you can’t cancel over the phone. You must go on to our website to cancel.” But, she wanted to cancel a service that she was signed up for because the website misbehaved in the first place. So the instruction to go BACK to the website seemed to us to be an invitation to either “accidentally” sign up for more; or a gateway to let them charge her credit card, until she got fed up. We’re pretty sure that when they told her to wait 21 days and THEN cancel was because they wanted a chance to hit her credit card for a second charge. If you’re nervous about a transaction, waiting a while to see what happens is not the best idea.
What do we do now?
To review, here’s where our friend was at this point:
- She was in possession of a $5 dollar bottle of something;
- She was signed up for some nonsense that she couldn’t cancel over the phone;
- She had zero trust for the website that these people ran (or their tactics);
- Her credit card numbers were in the possession of somebody who didn’t seem to be following any set of rules;
- She was annoyed because a certain Consumer Courage person wouldn’t stop telling her to “do something about it!”
How do you extract yourself from the extract?
According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have 60 days from the time a charge first appears on your bill to dispute it with your credit card company. But these folks are banking on the assumption that you’ll either miss the charge at least once, will wait the 21 days and try to cancel at that point. The assumption here is that these bozos would have charged our friend’s credit card for the life coach program, whether she tried to cancel or not. At that point, it’s not a sure thing that the charges will be reversed. If you call your credit card company’s fraud unit and say “well the first charge was OK and I knew I was signing up for this service, but it’s a scam and I want my money back,” they’re not likely to classify it as fraud and reverse the charges. You might get an instruction on how to cancel by mail in the future and have to consider the $100 they charged you for the life coach as a lesson-learned.
We think the population of folks who get taken for a little bit of cash but don’t bother causing a fuss is where the pill-pushers’ margin lies. Most people that get hit for a hundred or so dollars in this sort of mail scam will go away quietly. (After all, if you live in Ohio and someone in Arizona rips you off for a hundred bucks, it’s gonna cost you way more than that to find an attorney in Arizona to handle the case. So you just let it go.) If they can convince a thousand people to order the $5 bottle of pills and then forget to check if they were hit for a bogus $100 charge, they will make $50,000.
First – do your research
It sounds like a lot to do. But, if you’re ordering something over the web, you should really be doing some research before you click “Confirm order.” This goes double if you’re buying from someone who found YOU. If you’re responding to an ad, how do you know if you’re buying from a real company or from someone who still lives in his mother’s basement; has a modem and a computer; some extra plastic bottles, a label maker and a few 50 pound bags of sugar? Even if your research is just typing “[Company name] ripoff” into Google, you’re trying
Second – cancel anything else they want to give you
Just pay for what you wanted to buy in the first place. There are a hundred ways for the “just cancel if you don’t like it” scenario to go south. If you don’t want it now, you’re not gonna want it after 30 days – trust us. (we realize that if the company had not called our friend back, she might never have known that they signed her up for the free life coach nonsense). So you might not always get the chance to say “Thanks, but I don’t want it.” But, have it in your mind to say NO anyway.
Third – call the credit card company
If ANYTHING feels weird, call your credit card company right away. (We’re sure that you used a credit card, because you’ve been reading Consumer Courage and have heard this before. Credit cards are the only way you can pay and be guaranteed a chance to fight it later. Check cards, debit cards, money orders….when you use these to pay, the money goes up in smoke). Tell your credit card company what’s going wrong, how you think you’re being ripped off and that you are disputing the charge. You have the right to return anything you bought on the web for a full refund. If the website is silent about a return policy, you can return it. If the website says that they don’t allow refunds, that language must be clear and conspicuous. It can’t be hidden, footnoted or only on the confirmation screen. But, even if you aren’t sure that you have the ability to return it, do it anyway. Unless the item was really expensive, you’re not risking much. And your credit card’s fraud department might rely on the fact that you returned the item and reverse the charge.
Fourth – send it back
Write a letter spelling out a few items:
- How you think they were dishonest;
- That you are returning the item;
- That you want a full refund;
- That you are reporting them to the Attorney General of your state (and theirs) and to the Better Business Bureau if they don’t credit your account;
- That they don’t have the right to charge any amount to your account now (or in the future);
- That they don’t have the right to sell your personal identifying information to anybody or any company;
This is important: send the letter in a letter that has a tracking number. The post office has many options short of “Overnight for $20.00.” Ask them. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there, so much as it matters that you can prove that it got there. Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch knuckleheads like this before they get any of your cash.
Posted by: Mark Wiseman (who has one really nervous friend who is wondering if he’ll tell just who it is who ordered the pills)