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Auto-Renewal Lawsuits on the Rise

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Los Angeles, CAThey are easily the bane of every consumer: the automatic or auto-renewal program. Originally intended in the most optimistic terms as a convenience for the consumer, reality has suggested otherwise with scores of consumers hit with charges for goods or services they didn’t want, had understood to be a one-time-only purchase, or were not properly informed of opt-out terms in a clear and concise manner. The problem has left many a consumer filing an Auto-Renewal Lawsuit.

One such lawsuit has been filed by a consumer in California against a vendor of feminine hygiene products. The plaintiff has brought her Automatic Renewal Program Lawsuit as Jane Doe in US District Court for the Central District of California on November 13 (Case number 8:15-cv-01882-DOC-KES). She has also proposed her lawsuit as a class action.

Her story carries a familiar refrain. The plaintiff purchased a subscription plan for feminine hygiene products from the defendant, doing business as HelloFlo. According to the Auto-Renewal Subscription Program lawsuit, HelloFlo extended several offers for Auto-Renewal and made several overtures to the plaintiff and class members for continuous service without presenting all the relative terms and conditions in a clear and conspicuous manner. The plaintiff also asserts in her proposed California class action that several debits and withdrawals were made from credit and debit cards or third-party accounts without obtaining the necessary consent from the plaintiff.

That’s a big deal, given that California and other states have in recent years brought forward legislation spelling it all out for retailers and vendors according to regulations outlined in Provision 17600 of the California Business & Professions Code.

Generally, businesses that employ automatic subscriptions are required, in no uncertain terms, to disclose both the terms of the subscription service as well as any cancellation policy in a clear and conspicuous manner before the consumer purchases the items or services.

“Clear and conspicuous” is the operative term, and in sum suggests that businesses, vendors and service providers must ensure such terms are obvious to the consumer and not glossed over. For example, any vendor that fails to disclose the terms at purchase but nonetheless points the consumer to a link that contains terms of service and cancellation policies is not viewed as having disclosed the terms in a clear and conspicuous manner.

Even consumers who have been apprised of terms of service and cancellation policies prior to checkout but who were not invited by the vendor to verify that they clearly understood what they were agreeing to, would have recourse to act against the vendor with an Auto-Renewal Lawsuit according to state laws observed in California.

Automatic renewals, as most know, grew from the advent of free trials. Once the free trial period ended, the service would stop unless the consumer, by a certain date, opted in to the service formally in order to keep it going. Either out of convenience to the consumer or hoping to catch them asleep at the switch, vendors and service providers increasingly have moved to the “opt-out” model, where service extends automatically beyond the free trial window and charges kick in automatically unless the consumers opts out. Thus, the onus is on the consumer.

With so many consumers multitasking as an everyday habit, these kinds of deadlines often get missed, with many a consumer clueing in only after noting a charge to their credit card. By then, it’s too late: the vendor already has payment for a month or a year’s worth of unwanted service by the time the consumer opts out. Even missing the opt-out window by just a couple of days can incur charges.

Some consumers dealing with automatic renewals have found that sending a request to opt out to the person or department having extended the offer of a free trial in the first place - and so doing well within the deadline - can still incur charges. That’s because promotion and marketing departments conveniently have no authority to facilitate the opt-out. The request to opt out is only processed in a timely manner if it goes to the proper department. Also - conveniently - such requests more often than not don’t get passed along.

Too many consumers, busy as they are, will not notice at all, notice too late, or make a mental note to stop the service at their earliest opportunity but pay the bill in the meantime. Some consumers stuck with a charge of even a few dollars will be hounded for months by the service provider for payment, long after an opt-out request has been honored.

It is practices such as these that drove protections for consumers under the California Business & Professions Code, enacted in 2010. In the Automatic Renewal Program Lawsuit against HelloFlo, it is alleged the defendant failed to provide information as to offers, terms of service and cancellation policy in a clear and conspicuous manner as required by law. It is also alleged that HelloFlo failed to provide the required acknowledgment that included the specific offer terms, cancellation policy, and information that set out how the agreement and automatic renewal could be canceled.

In so doing, the defendant failed to obtain the consumers informed consent. Automatic renewals are everywhere - from fitness club memberships, to magazine subscriptions, entertainment packages, and even antivirus subscriptions for computers. Most begin with an attractive offer of a free trial.

It’s important for consumers to know that the onus is on the retailer or service provider to ensure, beyond all reasonable doubt, that as a consumer you fully understand that to which you are agreeing. If not, laws are specific and are on your side.

READ ABOUT AUTO-RENEWAL PROGRAM LAWSUITS

Auto-Renewal Program Legal Help

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READER COMMENTS

Posted by

on
Intelius, or many of the names they go by, is one of them. When you are doing a reverse search phone number, they come up under various names. They offer a one time fee of 95 cents to release the information, then they start billing for $19.95/month. The details are in the small print, almost unreadable. In my case, I gave them a credit card, paid the 95 cents, then it came back and said "Sorry - that number is unlisted". Then they started charging me the 19.95. I had to get on a conference call with the credit card company and some clerk at their thieving headquarters to stop the charges.

Posted by

on
A few months ago I bought some REGULA RX and LIPO G they weren't totally free but I thought I'd try them to lose some weight. Nowhere did I sign up for auto-renew, but hidden deep in their terms that's really hard to find on the website it was there. They didn't say how much it would cost ANYWHERE. And there was no option to NOT auto renew. The next month they nailed me with a 200 dollar bill. They said they'd take it back for a restocking fee of 38.50 or I could Just pay 38.50 and throw them out. I couldn't use the first ones because of the ingredience in these pills.
My credit card company stopped payment. But I'm sure I'll have to eventually pay. They should tell you about auto renew right up front and give you the option. Those are the crooked websites, but there are those that are honest and give you the option right up front. But I agree it is the new internet epidemic. And it's being abused by lots of crooked people.

Posted by

on
It happened to me with magazines.even though I did not consent to them renewing my subscriptions they charged me full price for each one after a 2 yr subscription and I got hit with overdraft fees from my bank too. then it took weeks to get my money back and of course they never gave me the overdraft fees.

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