I'm sure that everyone who reads this blog has, at some time or other, bought a product or service online. Just before you get to the checkout to enter your payment details, having made all your decisions in the online shop, you are prompted to tick the box that you confirm you have read, and crucially, agreed to, the terms and conditions.
Do you ever read them before ticking and agreeing?
No? Then beware, and read on.
I am going to tell you of a story that is about a company that makes money by exploiting a loop hole, and our trusting naivety.
Recently I responded to an advert on MSN's homepage, where you are redirected to after signing out of Hotmail. The advert was offering a health product sample, free of charge. At first I was suspicious, after-all, nothing is every truly free, is it?However, I then discovered I had to pay for postage and packing, which being from the US was around $11, so I felt encouraged because I was paying for something.
I proceeded to the checkout, ticked the terms and conditions, and paid for the postage.
It took just over two weeks for the product to arrive. I tried it out, didn't like it, threw it away, and thought nothing more about it.
Another two weeks later my credit card statement arrived. There on my statement was the $11 for the postage, followed by a date two weeks later of a further charge of $131.
Furious, I contacted first, my own bank credit card division, then, with the information provided, contacted the company in the United States.
To cut a very long story short, I was guided back to the terms and conditions, and there, hidden away, far down the page, was information that said unless I unsubscribe by returning the product, unused, within 14 days, I would be billed $131 non-returnable "membership", and thereafter a further $84 per month.
And yes, I have been billed the $84 since!
And to add insult to injury, affiliate companies, that is, in their definition, companies that pay to advertise with them, will also charge you a fee for membership to their companies! And I didn't even know about that at any point!
By ticking terms and conditions you agree to all this! And you have no way of stopping it, because you have not returned the product, unused, within 14 days!
And this is legal!!
I contacted the UK Office of Fair Trading, and the equivalent US version, the FCT, to be told there's absolutely nothing they can do. They can continue to bill me, legally. And get this, even if I cancel my credit card I can't get out of it because of the original agreement!
All because I agreed to the terms and conditions, without reading them!
So next time you see that box . . . READ THE TERMS & CONDITIONS!
I did some digging into the company as well;
They operate via another company, who provide call centre services and distribution to many companies.
I tracked them down to an office in Des Moines, Iowa, advertising on their website that they can help companies with "new ways of capital growth..." Indeed! You'd think the FCT would chase them down, wouldn't you? Well, further research led me to their registered head office . . . in Nicosia, Cyprus! They have a US trading address in Aurora, Colorado, but no contact telephone number, surprise surprise.
So they gather in roughly $200 for an outlay of around $20 total.
They then distribute their virtually worthless product from a warehouse adjacent to De Moines International airport, receiving their orders for shipping worldwide from the call centre, and go on to avoid the majority of US corporate tax, as they are registered in Cyprus!
Neat, isn't it?! And thoroughly immoral.
The Royal Bank of Scotland credit card retail dispute centre have told me that 85% of their work at present is with companies like these . . . and they are on the increase!
Just when the banks are trying to cut costs and recover, there are criminal minds out there ripping everyone off, and sleeping quite well at night, thank you very much!