Credit Card Trickery

There’s a new danger you need to watch out for regarding your credit card.  It’s perfectly legal and not really dishonest, but it’s on the slippery side of things in my opinion.  I’m referring to paying for magazine subscriptions with credit cards and having publishers automatically renewing your subscription almost a year later because they kept your credit card number on file.  A variation on this is offers to try free trial subscriptions that requires a credit card to start.  Or even worse, getting a free magazine at a store and having that store giving you credit card number to the publisher so they can automatically renew the free magazine later.  There must be fine print somewhere that we agree to all of this, but I never noticed it.

The first time this happened was when my wife got a free subscription to Sports Illustrated from Best Buy.  I think it was for four months.  She assumed the magazine was free until the sub ran out and it would quit coming.  One day, after we had been getting the magazine much longer than I thought we should, I asked her to check her credit card statements, and indeed she discovered she had been charged for a renewal automatically.  A call quickly fixed the problem, but ouch.

Another time, with Time Magazine, and later with PC Magazine, I got small postcards in the mail, with teeny-tiny print saying my subscription would be automatically renewed at a future date unless I contacted the publishers and canceled my subscriptions.  These cards looked like junk mail that normally I would have put directly into the recycled bin.  I realized I had gotten these subs from very cheap online offers that I paid with a credit card.  I called and had both magazines canceled.

The trick is to pay with checks when first subscribing.  I did that for both PC Magazine and Time after that.   I let Time lapse when they wanted to up the subscription from $29.95 to $49.95.  The other day I got an email asking me to come back for $20.00 – but it required paying with a credit card.  I didn’t bite.

Last week I got an online offer from Encyclopedia Britannica to get their Ultimate DVD collection for $19.95 and with the added bonus of  a free one-year’s subscription to their online edition.  I had done this a couple years ago and decided I would again go for such a great bargain.  Back then the free one-year subscription came as a code on a piece of paper that I registered online.  This time when I registered the 2009 Ultimate DVD they told me I had to give them a credit card number to start the free one-year online subscription, with the warning they would automatically renew the subscription in one year for $49.95 unless I canceled a year later.  I’m not going to remember to do that.

I felt cheated by this, because I paid the $19.95 really for the free one-year subscription to the online version.  I planned to compare the online edition of EB to Wikipedia.  I think this is the last time I will buy anything from Encyclopedia Britannica.

I get all kinds of enticing magazine subscription offers in my email.  Legit ones, but I know they will store my credit card and automatically renew and I don’t like that business plan at all.

I’m starting to wonder if there should be a law against storing people’s credit card numbers.  It would make ordering books from a little more time consuming, but overall I think it would be safer for the consumer in general.

And I understand that magazines don’t want to waste tons of money sending out endless subscription reminders.  My solution to magazines is to quit sending those paper reminders by mail and send electronic reminders by email.  It’s better for the environment and it will save you money.  If you wouldn’t store my credit card number I might even be willing to pay online.  Otherwise, I’d print out the email and send in the payment.

Since I’m working to abandon paper magazines this doesn’t matter, but if publishers want me to subscribe to electronic editions I need to know they aren’t going to automatically renew my subscriptions.

One way I was inadvertently helped to fight this problem was when my credit union switched credit card companies.  It was then when I realized how many businesses kept my number on file.  They all contacted me telling me my old number wouldn’t work anymore.

I wished that VISA and other credit card companies had a way for me to charge with a number that had a limited lifetime.  What I might need to do to create a workaround is to change credit card banks every year.


2 thoughts on “Credit Card Trickery”

  1. Great post James. Caught my attention as I have your blog on an rss feed.

    Let me add an even more heinous infraction. When you sign up for MLB audio (and I assume MLBTV too), you get 14 free issues of Sports Illustrated. You cannot decline the issues. There’s no check box to avoid the whole fiasco.

    I highly recommend that anyone who purchases an MLB audio/TV subscription, CANCEL the SI sub immediately because they will charge your credit card for a full year 6 weeks before your 14 issues would run out! It’s bad enough the you cannot obtain MLB audio without this stupid magazine offer, but worse the way SI conducts its business. SI is relying on people not being organized enough or just not remembering to cancel the subscription and maybe not even noticing the charge on their credit card statement.

    I had the Best Buy situation happen to in which I declined the subscriptions and was charged anyway. I also had a repeated charge on another online subscription that I had cancelled.

    Obviously, we must all be diligent to check our credit/debit card statements monthly and thoroughly. And when you do cancel something, get a confirmation number so as to dispute errant charges.

    good post…

  2. This is an amazing post. I haven’t subscribed to magazines for years and hadn’t realised how insidious the problem had become. I always got annoyed at having to remember to cancel subscriptions before the sale time ran out and ended up cancelling everything when I realised I was spending a whole heap of money on items I could read at the library for free. It was money that could be put to better use elsewhere.

    It’s very easy to get subscriptions and then forget to cancel them. Before you know what’s happening you have a whole heap of expenses you haven’t budgeted for and suddenly other aspects of your life have to be adjusted to cope with it. At least that’s the way it works in my fixed income world.

    It’s disappointing that you’re now in a position where you can’t read the things that interest you simply because the company has that silly automated billing procedure. I can see why it’s so easy for them to do – it certainly would be more cost effective than the checking and contacting of customers would be. Surely they’d lose custom through it. Surely most people would be like you, Jim, and not subscribe anymore because of it. Surely people wouldn’t just accept it as the way things are and just pay the money. And surely, surely, they check their credit card statements and actually notice what’s being paid.

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