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October 10. 2013 5:52PM

New Hampshire joins deceptive credit card product settlement

CONCORD — New Hampshire is one of 47 states — along with the District of Columbia — joining in a $30 million settlement against Connecticut-based Affinion, and its subsidiaries Trilegiant and Webloyalty, resolving allegations the company misled consumers into signing up and paying for discount clubs and memberships.

According to a news release issued by New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster, Affinion ran multiple discount clubs and membership programs offering a variety of services such as credit monitoring, roadside assistance and discounted travel.

The company marketed the programs through a series of agreements with “marketing partners” — well-known banks and retailers that presented the programs to consumers often immediately after the consumer made a transaction with a bank or retailer.

Affinion's programs are marketed via direct mail, online, telemarketing, and in face-to-face point-of-sale transactions. It charges a monthly fee to consumers for the services, which continue until the consumer acts to cancel.

In New Hampshire, the Capitol Center of the Arts (CCA) in Concord filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Antitrust Bureau of the state Attorney General's office last year after customers complained they were being charged $9 a month for “reservation rewards” after using a credit card to purchase tickets at the theater.

CCA had contracted with Virtual Focus of Wichita, Kan., to process its online ticket sales. That company offered a travel “rewards” membership program attached to all ticket orders without notifying CCA it was doing it, according to Jane Berwick, CCA executive director. She said her organization never gave permission for the program to be linked to its ticket sales — and then had trouble getting the company to remove the offer.

Consumers across the country complained that Affinion charged them for services without their authorization or knowledge, and, once they learned they were being charged, some had trouble canceling or getting a refund. Other consumers were confused about who Affinion was because the offers look like they came from Affinion's marketing partners, which usually were banks or retailers with which the consumers did business.

The states' investigation uncovered several of Affinion's marketing practices that misled consumers, including a lack of clear and conspicuous disclosure about Affinion's identity, and the cost and ongoing nature of the charges. According to the Attorney General's news release, most troubling were two of Affinion's marketing practices: live checks and online data pass.

In a live check solicitation, consumers were sent, via direct mail, what appeared to be a check, but when consumers endorsed and deposited the checks, they 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 with 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 Thursday's judgment, both practices are prohibited.

The agreement also requires Affinion 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.

From the $30 million settlement, Affinion is establishing a fund of about $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 file consumer complaints with the Attorney General at http://doj.nh.gov/consumer/complaints/index.htm or by calling the Attorney General's Consumer Hotline at 1-888-468-4454.

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. For a list of Affinion product names click here.


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