March 30, 2012

Wading Through The Scams

I help manage the financial affairs of an elderly family member. Last week, I looked through her bank statement and noticed a recurring $29.99 charge around the middle of each month. What are you buying from something called "Amk*pth Healthy"?, I asked. She didn't have a clue.

Apparently, my relative purchased a Christmas present from one of the Amerimark catalog companies (Anthony Richards, Beauty Boutique, Complements, Essentials, Healthy Living, Time for Me, FeelGood Store, and Windsor Collection) and without realizing how, ended up enrolled in something called Passport to Health, which does nothing for her, except deduct $29.99 from her account each month. A quick googled search of "Amk*pth Healthy 866-345-4401" let me know I had everything to fear.

I guess she was lucky. Some people have been scammed at more premium levels and didn't catch it for a longer period of time. I can see that the scam has been ongoing since at least 2008, and nobody has yet put a stop to it. I called Amerimark and got them to unenroll my relative and to promise to pay back the 3 monthly payments she made. So far, they have not done that. Now I have the unenviable task of checking and rechecking her checking account to see if the charges were deducted, as promised, and if no new charges appear. And I have to try to convince my relative to quit buying crap from catalogs owned by Amerimark companies.

I hate these scams. I know many people actually agreed to the memberships, without even knowing that they did. Mostly, that is because of the cunning way they slip in the membership during the check out process for another legitimate purchase. Last week, I signed my granddaughter up for a swimming class at the Poway Community Pool. The city's online page about swim lessons says "online registration is highly recommended". They don't mention on this page that there is a $1.50 additional charge for signing up for the swim class online. I didn't find that out until I went through the hassle of signing up for an account and trying to pay for the lesson.

So, I was a bit miffed already when I went through the check out process and attempted to pay for the swimming lesson. I put the lessons in my "cart" and then indicated that I wanted to check out and pay for them. I loaded in my credit card number, and prepared to hit "next, next, next" to finalize the transaction. And then, unexpectedly, in the middle of the payment process, an offer to buy magazines was on my screen. Not on a pop up window, where I could avoid it, but on the screen where I was paying for the swim lessons. WTF? Why do I have to chose not to get some magazines when I am signing up for swim lessons? I hope I hit the "No thanks" button. Why was the city letting someone sell magazines to people trying to sign up for swim lessons?

It wasn't over yet. The next screen was not a receipt for the swim lessons. Nope. I was offered a membership to something or other. It might have even been "Passport for Health". They would charge my credit card monthly for I don't know what. Was I in a video game trying to make it through a field of scammy landmines? I hit, "No, thanks" again. At least I think I did. I hope I did. I was just trying to pay for a swim class, damn it. Stop it!

I'll be spending a lot of time in the coming weeks taking my granddaughter to her swim lessons. And checking my credit card bills for unanticipated charges. Next time I sign her up for a class, I am going to save the $1.50 processing charge and a whole lot of headaches and sign up in person. I recommend it for everyone else, too.

Update: Ugh! I am starting to get spam in my email folder. This has prompted me to take another look at the company that processed the swim class registration for Poway. The registration is on a site called "activenet". When I registered, I signed an agreement with activenet. Part of that agreement said this:

4. Links; Third Party Services; Promotional Messages

As a convenience to our members, we may provide links to third-party web sites. The linked sites are not under our control, and we make no representations as to the quality, suitability, functionality or legality of any sites to which we may provide links. You hereby waive any claim you might have against Active with respect to such sites.

In addition, you may order services or merchandise through the Active Sites from other persons not affiliated with Active ("Seller"). For example, you may choose to register for a sporting event and purchase event-related merchandise on the Active Sites. All matters concerning the merchandise and services desired from a Seller, including but not limited to purchase terms, payment terms, warranties, guarantees, maintenance and delivery, are solely between you and the Seller. Active makes no warranties or representations whatsoever with regard to any goods or services provided by Sellers. You will not consider Active, nor will Active be construed as, a party to such transactions, whether or not Active may have received some form of revenue or other remuneration in connection with the transaction. You agree that Active will not be liable for any costs or damages arising out of such transactions, either directly or indirectly.

Active and/or third parties may, from time to time, send email messages to you containing advertisements, promotions, etc. Active makes no representation or warranty with respect to the content of any such email messages or any goods or services which may be obtained from such third parties, and you agree that neither Active nor such third party shall have any liability with respect thereto. You further agree to receive certain periodic communications from Active such as newsletters, content, messages, and announcements, and that these communications are considered part of your access of the Active Sites and services and that you may not be able to opt out of receiving such communications in every instance.

Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Sign up in person and avoid the hassles.