by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
loyalty programs, scams

affinion, bluehippo, vertrue, webloyalty

Crackdown On Loyalty Program Scams Shows How Ridiculously Successful They Were

from the scam,-scam,-scam dept

It's no secret that there are a bunch of companies out there that trick users into signing up for a regular monthly subscription service that's usually nothing more than an excuse to charge your credit card every month. Many of these are incredibly sneaky, such that many users have no idea they signed up for it until they get their credit card statements. Even worse, many of the "tricks" involve getting legitimate sites to offer these "services" to their users -- and those included Continental Airlines,, Priceline, 1-800-Flowers and many others. The government is finally cracking down on some of these, but its latest investigation -- into just three such services (and there are a bunch more) named Webloyalty, Vertrue and Affinion -- found that those three alone brought in over $1.4 billion. Not surprisingly, the folks who work there know quite well that they're misleading users and tricking them into signing up for stuff they don't want and don't need.

It's a bit surprising, by the way, that the investigation was done by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, rather than the FTC, who you would think would be in charge of stopping these sorts of activities. Of course, perhaps that's because the FTC has been quite busy with other scammers, such as BlueHippo, who the FTC had already reached an agreement with before and then decided to ignore it. The company basically collected millions from individuals without ever sending the promised computers. At one point, BlueHippo had delivered just one computer. After the FTC started investigating more thoroughly, suddenly BlueHippo found more computers to send, but still wasn't delivering computers to many of the people who qualified.

It's really stunning how many blatant scammers there are out there, who are able to get away with these things for so long.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2009 @ 11:11pm

    "It's a bit surprising, by the way, that the investigation was done by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, rather than the FTC"

    Actually it should be the FDA. Or maybe the FDIC. Or perhaps the Air Force. But not the FTC. That would make sense and our government wouldn't do a thing like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2009 @ 11:43pm

    If only our society valued sticking up for the little guy.

    Could you imagine if people grew up to become lawyers who helped fight back against scammers? Ripping off the public? Not much money in that but it's for the good of humanity.

    Instead, we live in a society where people grow up to become lawyers who throw lawsuits at dead people, little kids, pets, printers, etc. over making an allegeded illegal copy for personal use. So much wasted time and effort on such trivial matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2009 @ 4:14am


      "Could you imagine if people grew up to become lawyers who helped fight back against scammers?"

      The RIAA and the MPAA et al would go out of business and the FDA, FCC, and USPTO would be disbarred.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Blatant Coward (profile), 18 Nov 2009 @ 1:29am

    Start with the Tastemaker!

    What about Scott Kurtz of PvP, folks signed up for a minimum of 5 months for access to his private thoughts and feelings, and they got for their money like 4 posts about how he was too busy to make a good post. It's like a for pay live journal. "Oh woe is me to have to live in the hell of Eiderdown Court in a clean subdivision...."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Griff (profile), 18 Nov 2009 @ 1:57am

    I got caught by Amex / Hertz tag team

    When I was doing a road warrior job (01-05) my company decided we must all have an Amex card.

    (For those of you unfamiliar, this looks like a credit card but less merchants will accept it and you have to pay it off every month, rather than sustain a balance. )

    The chaps in the sales team I supported hated it (as did I) because you'd buy a flight 3 weeks in advance to get a good deal then would have to pay the Amex bill before even flying and getting a ticket you could use to claim it back from the company.
    Hence you were frequently carrying thousands of the company's cash flow for them.

    Another mandatory thing was the Hertz Gold membership. Complementary 1st year then $50 thereafter (though the latter was not hugely publicised). All on the company Amex, mostly out of my hands. Set up by the company travel bods.

    (Again the chaps hated it because Enterprise was cheaper and better customer service. Even Hertz was cheaper for same car through Orbitz than through the Gold membership via approved company travel arranger - go figure).

    Anyway, I eventually left the company, and one of my final acts was to close the Amex account. All balances were settled (they actually owed me, curiously) and the card was cut up.

    The next year Hertz tried to bill me $50. (Company travel chaps were supposed to have cancelled this, but hey).
    When Hertz went to Amex, quoting a no longer valid card number, Amex paid up, reopened my account, and charged it to my account. As they only had my old address (Seattle) and I was in the UK now, it took me quite a while to find this out. By which point further financial penalties had accrued.

    I tried to point out that when I closed the account they were no longer authorised to pay people in my name.
    They said if I had a pre-existing agreement with Hertz they had to honour it. I said "who else has pre-existing agreements who might take money from me", and they said "how should we know ?", then I said "How did Hertz prove to you that they have a pre-existing agreement with me ?" and they said "they don't have to, you have to prove otherwise".
    I said "how long do I have to live in fear that someone will bill be out of the blue and you'll pay them in my name, since closing the account is obviously no use". they said "forever".

    We came to an agreement in the end. They did not actually have a clue where I lived (even which country) and would piss away at least the due balance trying to find me. They persuaded Hertz to stand down and cancelled the penalty charges. Or maybe I got the $50 from my old company. I forget now, it was a few years back.

    My point ?

    The Hertz account for our company was huge (a very big company you'd have heard of). To this day I don't think the company saved a penny over normal rental car booking, and obviously paid out $50 per year per travelling employee. But some people did get their cars a bit quicker. (But hey, we all know Hertz deliberatly make the non Gold class pickup process needlessly longer just to make you upgrade, don't they ? I mean if their computer can check in Gold in 5 seconds, what can REALLY take 15 minutes for plebs class ?)

    Everyone at the coal face knew this corporate deal was idiotic.
    The Amex probably stopped us getting the best rates in some hotels (even stopped us getting some hotels altogether).

    But these deals are done very high up, aren't they ?

    And why should Hertz care about beating Enterprise at customer service when they can lock up 10,000 new accounts on the golf course ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BobinBaltimore (profile), 18 Nov 2009 @ 5:49am

      Re: I got caught by Amex / Hertz tag team

      I lived the same problem in the late 90s. The point you are missing (with apologies) is that corporate travel agreements with carriers, rental car companies, hotels and such are NEVER about getting the lowest price, especially when the industry you're in allows for billing travel expenses back to clients. They are also rarely about getting improved on-the-road benefits for the folks doing the work. These agreements are complex cashflow arrangements wherein the company receives "benefits" from the vendors...might be cash, might be discounts or free travel for senior execs, might be rebates on total spend. Certain rental groups, hotel chains and airlines live on this stuff. It's very confusing and counter-intuitive until the whole agreement is disclosed. Which almost never happens.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2009 @ 1:37pm

      Re: I got caught by Amex / Hertz tag team

      When I was doing a road warrior job (01-05) my company decided we must all have an Amex card.

      In my case it turned out that although *I* was responsible for paying all charges on the card, my *employer* was able to charge to it according to the "corporate card" fine print. And charge they did. Charges that I hadn't made would appear and I'd contest them with Amex. Amex would then come back and tell me that my employer had made the charges and so they were legit, it was a matter between me and my employer and I had to pay. When I tried to get the company to reimburse me they'd demand receipts. Well of course I didn't have receipts because I hadn't made the charges.

      I talked to a lawyer about it and he advised that since I signed agreement, I didn't have much of a case. My choices were to either cancel the card and thus be fired for "insubordination" or to quit. Neither way would I have been eligible for unemployment benefits so I chose to quit because it wouldn't look as bad on my employment record as being fired for insubordination. That company still owes me money that I doubt they'll ever pay.

      Moral of the story: Don't *ever* sign for one of those Amex corporate cards.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glitch, 18 Nov 2009 @ 5:55am

    I'm going through something similar

    Back in the early days of this summer TD Banknorth decided that after the merger with Commerce that they were going to keep the TD Bank name for brand recognition but switch all of their accounts to Commerce style accounts. This meant you needed to keep a minimum balance of $100, easily a small amount, or be charged $15 a month. You also had to keep a minimum of $2500, not a small amount, in order to continue to enjoy their no ATM fees program.

    Everyone was given 30 days to agree or cancel their account and not be charged a penalty for having less than the minimum balance. For me the account was used only for transportation purchases (TransitChek) so every third month, end of each quarter, it would be lower than the minimum balance. I cancelled my account in June. Its now November and I've cancelled the same account four (4) times now.

    The minimum balance fee of $15 continues to reopen the account every month. Some months it actually opens it up, withdraws $15 which then puts it in overdraft status which is another $35 fee, and if the account doesn't receive a deposit to make the balance $0.00 or more than there is another “sustained” overdraft fee of $80 or $90. So far the highest negative balance has been $136 and every call to customer service ends with “I'm sorry sir this will never happen again.” Four times now, and I just received another statement from them...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Options?, 18 Nov 2009 @ 6:54am


    At what point does this sort of activity cross the line from civil to criminal? Possibly you could file a complaint, not sure how far it would get you. Certainly you could sue them, but who has that sort of money. Apparently, this is what they are banking on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 18 Nov 2009 @ 8:16am

    BlueHippo:That ad at 3am is not a lost after school ad. Call me, 1 800 hot chat!

    Was hoping that critter would draw attention. Really! Seeing a blue dancing Hippo at that hour means bad drugs or a con; they where that transparent.

    Funny how this week is "bait n switch" report week here and in the EU. Popular wallpaper,ringtone con netted 17 closed web sites per EU TV. CSPAN not to be out done had Cyber [War] talking heads on. That panel addressing World Affairs[?] Counsel, slipped in crime by cyber means.

    Everyone on the planet hold hands and say, "I am the firewall, as you are the firewall, and as you are me; we stand together."

    And don't get distracted by '9 million dollar cyber bank robbers' con.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    thomas, 18 Nov 2009 @ 7:10pm

    To paraphrase...

    a quote from advertisements:

    screwing customers...priceless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon, 27 Apr 2010 @ 4:11am



    International Journal of Computer Applications

    The best place to publish nonsensical papers!!!

    Papers published by IJCA have no recognition in most Universities!!

    Blacklisted by several universities in Europe, US and Asia!!

    International Journal of Computer Applications


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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