This comes under the heading of Public Service Announcement because today I saw a rash of unrelated Facebook posts that all complained of similar issues dealing with credit card charges where people bought something based on an infomercial and fell into a pit of credit card hell.
Perhaps it's because people bought certain kinds of things after the holidays and only now are the problems becoming apparent -- not with the product, but with the company who took their money.
I've been asked where I got the details about fraud and banking issues that are covered in Above Temptation. I used to be an accountant and as such, underwent audits by CPAs.
They love to tell war stories about fraud and issues they detected. I'm also a late night TV junkie and I watch a lot of infomercials while I'm working. And just for fun -- okay, I know it's a little weird -- I will Google the products and then the company that is selling the product and read the horror stories. And they are horrifying: products that just don't work or were actually harmful. Behind every one of those horror stories is the second wave: the company that took the money is a nightmare worse than a bad product.
This blog is about the kinds of borderline tricks and outright scams practiced by the companies who fulfill orders and handle the credit cards for the kinds of products you see in late-night TV: infomercials. This blog isn't about bad products. (Seriously, just put "consumer complaints" after the name of a product and see what you get.) It's not about shopping networks or channels which operate in a very different manner than what I'm about to describe.
The Basic Warning Spiel
- Don't believe them when they say that offer expires in 4 minutes.
- Be suspicious.
Do not offer up your credit card at any site until you know the name of the company that is being authorized to take those "3 easy payments." If they want your credit card before they tell you the actual name of the company who will process your payment run for the hills. Seriously, close the browser window and mentally walk away.
You might be at "ABCGizmo.com," but "Moneytaker" is the company that will fulfill your order and take your money. But nowhere before you buy does it say you're about to do business with Moneytaker. That's a huge red flag.Or, in an attempt to look upstanding and reliable, the site might say at the bottom in tiny print that it's run by Moneytaker. Or, the ad for ABCGizmo has a brief splash screen with the number to call in big type. Look quick, because it may say Moneytaker Enterprises LLC in small, pale print.
Before you go any further with your purchase, Google "Moneytaker" with the words "consumer complaints" and see what comes up. Generally, several of the first five results will be consumer boards or forums where people post complaints. If there's relatively few spaced far apart that's one thing. But if there is a constant stream of similar complaints about nonexistent refunds, unanswered phones, failure to cease monthly billing when the total is paid, or failure to stop sending automatic refills then consider yourself warned.
The Impossible Cancellation
A common scam with these companies is that they won't let you cancel an order even if they have "money-back guarantee" plastered all over the site. Let's say that from the checkout material it's plain that your items won't ship for several days, or even weeks, and you've thought it over and realized you bought more than you meant to or you're just plain having second thoughts. So you call the toll-free number. You could find out that number only works if you're calling from another state. Or that you're put on hold and no one ever picks up. Or, if you get through, you are told to call back the following day, in the afternoon, to talk to the cancellation department. These are all stall techniques. When you call back or finally get the right number they will tell you that your order has already shipped, too bad. (And likely you will receive your merchandise with ample proof that it shipped days, if not weeks, after your call). So instead of telling you there is a "no cancellation" policy up front, they pretend there is, and then simply don't let you.
So the first time you talk to someone be blunt. Explain that if they don't cancel the order your next call is to your bank to report fraud and their charge will be rejected. If you get the run around, make that call to your bank and find out exactly what you can do to stop the charge. Cancel the card if you have to. And consider yourself lucky.
The Non-Existent Refund
Let's say you don't get the order cancelled and you're going to send it back and get a refund under their money-back guarantee. For one thing, you'll never see the money you paid for shipping and handling back. You'll also pay to return the item. But when you contact them to arrange for that you'll get a run around similar to what I described for trying to cancel the order. They may charge you for a return label and then never issue a refund. That's why it's so important to do that bit of research before you place the order.
Automatic Refill Hell
If you decide to go ahead with your order, do not agree to automatic refills from this type of company. They'll dangle a discount to make it seem like the smart thing to do but it may lead to a pile of regret. Most companies will want to refill your supply of whatever before you've exhausted what you have. So they're giving you 25% off and sending you twice as much as you would have bought if you'd waited until your supply got low. That math is not in your favor.
So when you get backed up on the automatic refills and try to cancel, that's when you find that Moneytaker is run by incompetent people who don't know customer service, can't speak clearly on the phone, don't seem to know how to use their computer, haven't a clue how to do what you're asking... Well that's all a lie. You're a fish on the line, dear friend, and they're just stringing you along. They'll make it seem as if you didn't do the right steps (hold your breath, pat your head and double-click on a Tuesday). Don't fall for any of it. Tell the person on the phone they need to cancel all future shipments because you're cancelling the credit card they have and you're not giving them a new card number. You might actually get someone's attention. If not then do the deed: cancel the credit card. Do it right then or wrangle with the company another six months and still end up cancelling the card--your choice.
A Quick Word about Shopping Network Channels
Most of the time, the channels are selling merchandise by consignment. They will take your money and fulfill the order. If you have issues, you're dealing with a company that does care about their reputation. However, be wary if the segment featuring a product is redirecting you to another site not their own to make the purchase. That means you're at the mercy of that other site, which could be Moneytaker Enterprises LLC.
Find Out Your Rights
Your rights as a consumer vary from state to state, but credit card agreements often have good protections for you if you complain promptly and can document your attempts to resolve the issue with the company. Often, too, your local news outlets will have consumer fraud tips that you may find helpful. But many of these companies move around to take safe haven in states that don't rapidly enforce consumer protection. Your best protection is to:
- Don't Order in a Rush.
- Be suspicious.
A well-run business will give you all the details of a transaction before you give your credit card number. They will not have scores and scores of complaints found by an easy web search. The entity that will bill you is acknowledged in your materials before you buy. The cancellation policy is easy to find. The less true these statements are of a company the more you should question whether you want to give them your credit card number.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
For the person who wants to protest that there are legitimate infomercial companies that are run honestly and I'm damning them all with a broad brush: If that's the case anyone who follows my advice should get all the reassurance they need from a simple search that it's safe to do business with that company. I'm not up-to-date on the current condition of Ronco (for example) but it is true that years ago they had a solid reputation for decent customer service. But there is far too much fraud and snake oil out there now to pretend my blog is a court of law. When it comes to infomercial products and the companies who fulfill those orders, I'm very much a consumer who believes guilty until proven innocent.