The Fraud Alert: Automatic renewals

By Don Shrader - Guest Columnist

Maybe you are one of those that likes to receive the following type of notice: “As a service to you, future renewals will be automatically billed to your credit card.” I hate them! While they are not exactly fraudulent, they are close enough for me, especially when it is not optional as is becoming the case more and more.

For instance, I recently renewed my membership in a popular buying club. After paying my annual fee, I noticed on the bottom of my receipt in somewhat faded small print that as a service to me, my renewal next year would be automatically billed to my credit card. In the past, I have been asked if I would like to have my membership automatically renewed but this year, I was not asked my preference, it was just automatically assumed.

This morning I canceled my membership in a popular auto club right after they auto-renewed my membership. I have been a member for years and have always consented to my renewal until this past year when they did not ask, but just issued a statement that my membership, as a service to me, would be automatically renewed the following year.

Recently, I “purchased” new phones for my wife and me. While I transferred all of our data from the old phones to the new ones, a couple of items that do not transfer are the ringtones and alarm sounds. To reestablish the ring tones and alarm sounds I wanted, I accessed the app on my phone that I have used in the past to download those. While the app is still free IF you allow advertising, the advertise-ments were so voluminous and invasive, I gave up using the app for now. Then I looked at paying for the service in order to eliminate the ads. While the price was reasonable, the gotcha was at the bottom of the agreement: As a convenience to me, they would automatically charge the annual fee to my credit card the next year. There was no mention of an annual fee until that point. I did have the option of paying by the month or paying what I thought was a one-time fee.

Occasionally, I used to purchase an update to a popular accounting software package. I now notice that when I open my old version, which I own, I get an error message; I then have to restart the program in order to overcome the error message. Upon reopening the software, I get a discount offer to purchase the new version. The other day, I received an email offering a 50 percent discount on the software. I thought that sounded like a reasonable offer, so I clicked on the hyperlink to purchase the upgraded software. However, the 50 percent was for the subscription amount for this year; the following years, my subscription would be automatically renewed. I no longer would own the software, the company that now owns the software would not only own the software, but all of my personal financial data would now be owned by them and be “in the cloud.” To say that I am part of previous generations and do not trust them with my personal data would be an understatement.

In a similar vein, another automatic renewal is the one for which the drug companies try to get you to join. While they supposedly still ask you if you want automatic renewal, I notice that I often get text messages from the drug company that my next refill, which I did not order, is now ready for pickup. While those in government like to talk about the drug epidemic, the drug companies are pushing drugs (legal in this case versus the illegal ones the government people address), but I still see a danger by automatically handing excesses of prescription medicines, particularly to older adults, which are refilled at the earliest date allowed by one’s insurance, not when the prescription is actually needed. I see this excess as a potential danger to those who might be cognitively declining as they age and thereby get the drug dosages confused. I constantly have to tell my local drugstore that I am not ready for the refill they are trying to push on me and that I will call them when I am ready for my next refill. Besides, why should I pay them ahead of time for drugs I do not need for several weeks yet?

If you are one of those that really likes the automatic renewals, more power to you. However, I believe we should be given the choice whereas what I see are more and more companies setting their customers up for automated refills without their specific consent and even hiding such notices where it is not readily apparent. Again, while this practice is not illegal nor technically fraudulent, I think it is a hidden danger that needs to be exposed.

By Don Shrader

Guest Columnist