A laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table

A trick used by some companies selling products or services over the Internet is to take advantage of the tendency for buyers not to read the “Terms and Conditions” of sale.

Many legitimate companies, especially major corporations selling downloads of software, display their Terms and Conditions and require the buyer to click the Accept button before downloading. Few if any buyers read the Terms and Conditions, precisely because they know these companies are trustworthy.

However, other organizations selling products and services are not so trustworthy. They bury in their “Terms and Conditions” clauses that invalidate “Money Back” or “Cancellation” offers or that add for-fee services buyers will be unaware of unless they wade through the text. This is way outside the Ethical Norms and Values for Marketers set out by the American Marketing Association.

On Line ‘Membership’ and ‘Web Access’ Fees

Recently, a woman ordered on-line a Chinese herbal remedy for weight loss and paid using her credit card. She returned the product (a brand of green tea) and received a partial refund.

Next month, her credit card bill showed two small charges:

  • A “web access fee” and
  • A “membership.”

She called her credit card company, including its fraud department, and discovered the sources of these charges were two “affiliates” of the green tea supplier. She learned that by buying the tea on line, she had agreed to Terms and Conditions that included joining an association and paying monthly membership and web access fees.

Her first few attempts to call toll-free numbers to cancel the membership and the web-access charges resulted in busy signals. Eventually, she made contact, had the charges cancelled and gained a partial refund.

The monthly amounts were so small an unwary person might overlook them, but they add up.

‘Work At Home’ Offers

Worse than this is the practice of some organizations offering “work-at-home” opportunities for a seven-day trial of, in some cases, less than $2. After the trial period, a monthly fee kicks-in of several tens of dollars, for which the customer is promised items such as:

  • Software
  • On-line help
  • A book, CD or DVD on how to use a “system”.

At first sight, the schemes look authentic. Some are based on earning money from Google ads in web sites. Google ads are a legitimate means of generating advertising revenue. However, to earn the money suggested by some “work at home” offers, a person would need to set up several thousand web sites with sufficiently-interesting content to attract visitors and advertisers for enough visitors to click on the ads.

A clause in the “Terms and Conditions” protects the corporation against losses caused by failure or limitation of technology or systems.

To cancel, the customer must reach someone at a toll-free number within seven days of making the purchase on line. However, people who were caught by one of these schemes found the toll-free number always busy. No cancellation for people who didn’t get through. The fact that the toll-free system was overloaded is irrelevant. The “Terms and Conditions” made it so.

Avoid Losing Money On Line

To avoid being tricked:

  • Read the “Terms and Conditions.” If anything doesn’t look right, don’t click “Buy Now.”
  • Do an Internet search of the name of the organization offering the opportunity. If blogs appear from people lamenting how they were duped, don’t click “Buy Now.”
  • To paraphrase a current cliche, if an opportunity seems too good to be true, don’t click “Buy Now.”