Question: I saw an interesting health book advertised on TV and bought it over the phone. When I got my credit-card bill, I noticed a mystery charge of $5.95 for an e-newsletter from the same company, Natural Cures. When I called to cancel, the lines were always busy or I was put on hold and never helped. I've been charged for six months for a newsletter I never wanted! - Fred Mandato, Huntington, N.Y.
Answer: Businesses just love hooking us into memberships and subscriptions, which provide them with steady revenue that's cheap to maintain. Cheap, in part, because of our own inertia - once we've signed up for a product or service, we often stay signed up because we don't want to bother with the hassle of canceling. And as you discovered, "companies make it way harder to cancel than to enroll," says Alison Preszler of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Of course, your situation is particularly frustrating since you never intended to sign up for anything. As for how you got stung, there was probably fine print buried in the book ad saying you'd be billed for the newsletter unless you explicitly canceled.
You did the right thing by calling Natural Cures once you noticed the charge. But since some marketers count on customers getting fed up with their tortuous phone systems, I advise putting any cancellation request in writing to the customer service manager (copy the CEO). If the charge is mysterious, you should also immediately file a dispute with your credit-card issuer.
You're certainly not alone in your frustration with Natural Cures: I found dozens of similar complaints at ripoffreport.com. Plus, the founder, Kevin Trudeau, was convicted of fraud in the '90s and has been repeatedly sued by the Federal Trade Commission. He settled with the FTC in 2004 and agreed to a lifetime ban on selling infomercial products. But he can still sell publications, like the one you got.
I did reach its v.p. of customer service, who agreed to end your subscription and refund your $35. She also pointed out that the company has a customer hotline with a cancellation option (800-215-0063). Too bad the number isn't readily apparent on Natural Cures' Web site.
Tip: To find a phone number that will connect you to a live person at a company, check the database at gethuman.com.
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Having a financial nightmare? E-mail Donna Rosato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Reporting By Alexis Jeffries.