Watch Out for These Consumer-Discount Clubs

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Watch Out for These
Consumer-Discount Clubs

A six-month investigation by the Senate Commerce Committee has found that millions have been enrolled unknowingly into these clubs and charged monthly for their membership.

In March, my husband booked transportation from an airport through On the reservation page, he clicked on an offer to receive $25 off his fare. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, a few days ago, he got an e-mail that said Webloyalty had been charging him $12 a month since March.

The e-mail arrived in his inbox just three days before the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing November 18 about tactics some companies are using to trick online shoppers into joining "consumer-discount clubs," which charge monthly membership fees but usually don't deliver the rewards they promise. Webloyalty was one of three companies the committee had been investigating the past six months (Affinion and Vertrue were the other two).

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The committee found that 30 million people had been enrolled into these clubs -- several million, including my husband, didn't know they had been enrolled. According to the committee's report, more than 450 e-commerce sites, including Priceline, and Expedia, have partnered with Webloyalty, Affinion and Vertrue (The Consumerist lists 88 of the big sites). "The clubs partner with the Web site the consumer originally visited, which passes along the credit card number -- and splits the profit from the monthly fee," says committee member Sen. Bill Nelson in a press release.

The e-mail my husband received gave him the opportunity to apply for a refund, which he did but hasn't seen the charges removed yet. If you became a "member" of one of these clubs unknowingly and your credit-card account has been charged monthly, contact the companies directly or call your card issuer to dispute the charges. If that doesn't work, you can file a complaint with your attorney general (see a list), the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

When shopping online, watch out for savings offers that pop up and never agree to any before reading the fine print.

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