Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin joined the Attorneys General of 46 other states and the District of Columbia to announce that Connecticut-based Affinion, and its subsidiaries Trilegiant and Webloyalty, will pay over $30 million to settle allegations that they misled consumers into signing up and paying for discount clubs and membership.
Affinion and its subsidiaries run multiple discount clubs and membership programs offering a variety of services such as credit monitoring, roadside assistance and discounted travel. Affinion markets these programs through a series of agreements with "marketing partners," well-known banks and retailers that often present these programs to consumers immediately after the consumer has engaged in a transaction with that partner. Affinion's programs are marketed via direct mail, online, telemarketing and point of sale transactions, and the company charges a monthly fee to consumers for these services, which continues until the consumers affirmatively cancel.
"Consumers should never be charged for a special offer or forced to opt out of a program in which they may not even realize they have been enrolled," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "This deceptive practice costs consumers tens of millions of dollars per year, and today's settlement puts companies on notice that fraudulent or deceptive marketing tactics will not be tolerated."
Consumers complained that Affinion charged them for services without authorization or knowledge, and, once consumers learned they were being charged, some had trouble canceling or getting a refund. Other consumers were confused about who Affinion even was because the offers looked like they came from Affinion's marketing partners, which usually were banks or retailers with which the consumers did business.
The investigation uncovered several of Affinion's marketing practices misled consumers, including a lack of clear and conspicuous disclosure about Affinion's identity, the cost and ongoing nature of the charges. Most troubling were two marketing practices of Affinion – live checks and online data pass. In a live check solicitation, consumers were sent via direct mail an offer that appeared to be a check – but when consumers endorsed and deposited the checks, the consumers unknowingly authorized Affinion to enroll them in membership programs, and to bill them each month indefinitely.
In an online data pass offer, consumers were presented an Affinion offer immediately after an online purchase from a retailer. Affinion was then able to enroll and bill consumers without acquiring any of their account information because the marketing partner would pass that information to Affinion. As part of today's agreement, both practices are prohibited.
Today's agreement includes further changes to Affinion's business model by requiring the company to provide clear and conspicuous information to consumers after enrollment regarding their membership, periodic reminders of their enrollment, and changes to Affinion's cancellation practices.
Affinion is establishing a fund of approximately $19 million to provide refunds to some consumers who received unauthorized charges for Affinion's programs. Consumers who believe they were improperly charged by Affinion, Trilegiant, or Webloyalty can contact the Consumer Protection Unit at the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General at (401) 274-4400 or via email at email@example.com.
Consumers checking their credit card and bank account statements should also be looking for the names of Affinion's membership programs, as often that is how the company's charges appear on their bills.
A complete list of Affinion's membership programs are listed here.
The complete settlement terms and refund eligibility can be found here.
About the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.
Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.
The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams.
If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit at the Department of Rhode Island Attorney General at (401) 274-4400. You can download a consumer complaint by visiting our website at www.riag.ri.gov. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.