The scourge of unscrupulous ‘automatic renewals’ via the Internet

by Frank 9. October 2011 21:53

Is it just me or have the rest of you noticed a re-emergence of this scourge?

I am not talking about the situation where the purchase form or the install program up-front asks you if you would like your maintenance or monthly product supply to be automatically renewed or not; that is fine by me and good business. I am talking about the situation where you eventually discover that you have agreed to an automatic renewal of supply or maintenance without being aware of it.

As far as I am concerned, if it can happen without you being aware of it, it is at best an unscrupulous practice and at worst it is fraud.

I don’t care if the automatic renewal condition was cunningly ‘hidden’ in the densely-packed and obtuse terms and conditions you had to say “I agree” to. I consider that excuse the refuge of scoundrels.

The scoundrels also rarely give you the opportunity to cancel an unrequested automatic renewal via the web-site; that would be too easy. They usually make you search for hours to find a phone number you can call and then you have to go through torture on an automated phone system (they hope you will give up) before you can finally speak to a human being and demand that the auto-renewal be cancelled.

My first experience with this awful form of marketing was with the original AOL email service; cancelling was a nightmare. This practice was around a long time before AOL however with the ‘book clubs’ that sent you piles of unrequested books every month and insisted that unless you returned them, you owned them and had to pay for them. Charging consumers for products or services they didn’t ask for was disreputable back
then and it is disreputable now.

Three of the products I have bought on the Internet over the last month have incorporated the invisible automatic renewal into their online sale process. I have managed to battle all three and cancel the automatic renewal but not without a reasonable degree of effort and time. None of them notified me of the automatic renewal in either the purchase process or the install process.

My theory is that this is one of the ‘innovations’ coming out of the tail-end of the GFC as companies scramble to reduce costs and increase and lock-in revenue.

The problem is how to combat this scourge; it is akin to stopping a burglar when you are way from your home. How do you stop something when you don’t know it is happening?

The best advice I can give is to be aware it is happening (more and more if my experience is anything to go by) and to refuse to do any repeat business with any company that practices this deceitful way of misappropriating your hard-earned money. I should probably start a website to name and shame the practitioners but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting law suits.


Frank is a senior executive of Knowledgeone Corporation and spends a large amount of money every year via the Internet of hardware and software for our software development group. His message to vendors is that he will not deal with them if they employ hidden automatic-renewal practices.


Information Management

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