ABCMouse was recently punished by the FTC, to the tune of $10 million. They were fined for a variety of deceptive practices, including recurring charges to customer credit cards for membership renewals that were either not disclosed or difficult to terminate.
Auto-renewal traps are nothing new. ABCMouse is certainly a big name, but many other companies do business this way. They store your payment info and charge you periodically, even after you’ve stopped using the product. They sign you up for automatic payments, and create a confusing or complicated process for defeating that feature.
These dark patterns are widespread on the web, and I encounter them most commonly with antivirus companies and other software services. But to focus solely on auto-renewal traps, here’s what I can recommend:
- Review your credit card statements every month, to catch unexpected charges.
- Track down and disable any renewal options you don’t want, by logging in to your account at the relevant company website. Don’t remember your account password? Use the Forgot Password tool at that website to get logged in.
- If using the website proves difficult, instead chat or call the company and ask for auto-renewal to be turned off. Expect that they will try to dissuade you. Repeat your request as often as you need to, don’t let them sidetrack you, but also don’t mistreat the agent. They are programmed to act in their way, and you should persist as you would against a stubborn computer.
- When all else fails, or if you simply run short on patience or time, disconnect and then call your credit card company. Explain that you tried and failed to work with the company. Ask to dispute the renewal charge and they should promptly help you get your money back.
And if you feel any company is breaking the law or hurting people with their tactics, report it to the FTC.
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