The excellent "Consumerist" blog has this post that should be read by everyone who has ever been tempted by an online "free" offer. free for a fee FTC Pulls Plug On Sites That Made $359 Million On Bogus "Free" Offers
By Chris Morran on February 24, 2012 1:55 PM (Ninja M.)
If you're a Consumerist reader, you're probably the type of online shopper that would be wary of a website promising a "free trial" period. But every year, millions of Americans think they're getting something for nothing — only to end up much poorer because they didn't read the fine print.
The Federal Trade Commission has announced a settlement agreement with the operators of an Internet scheme that used bogus "free" product offers in order to deceive consumers by charging them for products and services they did not want or agree to purchase.
The 10 companies — all owned by the same person — targeted by the FTC complaint had been offering "free trials" for various products online, including acai berry weight-loss pills, teeth whiteners, and health supplements containing resveratrol, work-at-home schemes, access to government grants, free credit reports, and penny auctions.
Customers were required to give their credit card numbers to pay for small fees for shipping and handling, and also promised phony "bonus" offers just for signing up.
As a result, many of them ended up with recurring $79.95 fees. The sites claimed to offer money-back guarantees but the FTC found that customers had to jump through several hoops just to get any sort of refund, if they received one at all.
The settlement not only puts a stop to these businesses using "negative-option" marketing, wherein the seller interprets consumers' silence or inaction as permission to charge them, but the owner of these companies is ordered to repay $359 million.
To fulfill that penalty, the defendant is surrendering assets in his bank account, proceeds from the sale of his house, personal property, and corporate assets, including a Cadillac Escalade, fur coat, and artwork.
"The fact that almost four million consumers fell prey to the lure of these 'free trial' offers is a stark reminder that 'free' offers can come at a huge price," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The FTC has stopped about $1 billion in online marketing fraud during the past two years by shutting down operations like this. But consumers still need to beware, because scam artists are constantly coming up with new ways to deceive people online."
To that end, the FTC has the following tips for anyone who is tempted by a free trial offer.
1. Do your research. Before signing up, do a search for the company online to see if there are complaints from other customers.
2. Uncheck any pre-checked boxes. If you see any pre-checked boxes during the ordering process, there's a good chance the site is trying to get you to opt into something that will cost you more in the long run.
3. Mark your calendar. If you do go through with the trial offer, be sure to mark your calendar so you know exactly when the trial period ends. It's best to end your trial several days before the end of that period, as some companies will claim it can take a few days to process your cancellation.
4. Read your credit card statements carefully. Even after you've cancelled, be sure to keep an eye on your credit card statements to make sure you're not seeing any new or phantom charges.
If you're having trouble cancelling or if phantom charges continue to show up on your card, you need to contact your credit card issuer to dispute the charges before they start adding up.
Google is planning, on March 1, to connect all the records of your searches with other information they've gained about you from using their (MANY) other services, which include many of the web's most popular features. Probably a good idea to wipe your browsing history before then.
Got a call this afternoon that proved the wisdom that I learned at age 15 (far too long ago): NEVER RELY ON THE SELLER'S ASSURANCES IN A USED CAR SALE IF THERE IS AN "AS IS" STICKER IN THE WINDOW! If there is an "As Is" sticker in the window, you should treat the salesperson as if they were wearing a sign that says "You cannot rely on a word that I say." You MUST take the car to your own trusted mechanic and have that mechanic do a thorough inspection, including a compression and timing check for all cylinders, checking for signs of undisclosed frame damage, suspiciously new components, etc. If you cannot afford this pre-purchase check, you can't afford the car anyway, so get away from there before you get ripped off. REMEMBER: There are no used cars being sold in Oregon that are too good to pass up. There are plenty of good used cars being sold every day for a fair price -- if you miss one, there will be plenty of others available when you've saved up a little more money. By the way, like many people, the caller thought that there was a 3-day right to return the car. Nope. If you sign on the line and drive away, you. are. stuck. So be sure before you do!
P.S. Never finance with the dealer. Arrange your financing before you shop with your credit union. (You are in a credit union, right?) Don't discuss financing at all until you have picked the car you like and your mechanic has done a thorough inspection. IF, at that point, you still want the car, negotiate with the dealer without disclosing that you already have financing. If the dealer quotes a price, ask if that is the best price and ask what the cash price is -- since you have your own financing arranged, you are the same as a cash buyer, which merits a discount.
In the never-ending Darwinian struggle of predators and their intended prey, the phishing scammers (the people who try to gull you into revealing sensitive information to them by sending you a convincing but deceptive email that baits the trap so that you will click on a weblink or download a destructive file) are getting better and better, meaning that those of us who don't want to be prey need to more perceptive and careful all the time. Below is today's first scam.
What's interesting is how good the email looks -- but when you hover your mouse over the baited link (DON'T CLICK UNKNOWN LINKS, hover over them with the mouse to see where they will take you if you are unwise enough to click on them), it reveals a URL from Brazil (carlosbrusman.com.br).
I've reposted the below from David Sugerman's blog. As a nuclear engineer and nuclear submarine officer (before I was an attorney), I studied human errors intensively and am very well-acquainted with the research on human error tendencies in pressure-filled situations. The conclusion of that study? Nearly everything about how modern American medicine is organized is BAD for patient safety and INVITES DANGEROUS ERRORS that hurt people. NASA, the submarine force, the aerospace industry, and computer manufacturing are just a few example of where errors are systematically studied and analyzed and changes made TO PREVENT THE SAME MISTAKES FROM HAPPENING AGAIN AND AGAIN. But hospitals (especially) and medicine as a whole fight tooth and nail to resist all of the best practices designed to eliminate dangerous errors. There is a problem that high malpractice premiums highlight -- but that problem is a "system" that systematically ignores patient safety. Instead of focusing on reducing the harm from errors, they concentrate almost all efforts on preventing the victims of these systemic errors from trying to seek justice.
As an attorney who focuses on consumers, elders, and nonprofits, I don't have a dog in this fight - I'm not writing as someone who brings claims over violations of patient safety. But as someone with a lot of training in identifying and managing high-risk operations safely, I know that I'm always floored when I go to hospitals and clinics by how absolutely primitive these places are in their (dis)organization, and how often it's just a matter of luck that even more people aren't hurt by their dealings with the medical system. Here's the original post:
Memo to the Oregon Legislature: Healthcare Transformation Starts with Patient Safety
The Oregon Legislature is back in session and grappling with proposed health care transformation. Yesterday, we learned that some legislators are more concerned about “defensive medicine” and putting an arbitrary limit on access to justice for Oregonians who are on the Oregon Health Plan or Medicaid rather than they are about keeping patients safe.
Did you know that more than 98,000 Americans die every year from medical errors? Here is some context: That number is equivalent to a 747 jet liner crashing every day of the year killing all on board. So when we talk about healthcare transformation, shouldn’t we really be talking about patient safety?
We need to focus on the real problem with health care delivery and that is keeping patients safe and informed. Recently, Legacy Emanuel participated in a national study where they implemented simple procedures and check lists for all hospital staff to follow. You know, things like washing your hands between each patient, making certain all medical equipment is accounted for before finishing a surgery, that the patient is the same person as the chart on the end of their bed.
According to the Oregonian’s report on that study, Legacy saved over $13 million in one year, cut down on medical errors and significantly lowered their infection and injury rates. Imagine the cost savings if these check lists and procedures were implemented in every Oregon health facility. Imagine the health improvement and lives saved from real health care transformation that starts with patient safety.
Instead of focusing on patient safety, we have legislators holding forth about something they call “defensive medicine,” They are using that label as a tool to put arbitrary monetary limits on patients’ rights. Here is a modest proposal: If we’re going to talk about things like this, let’s resolve to get the facts straight.
The label “defensive medicine” presumably refers to tests ordered by a provider for purposes of preventing or defending against a lawsuit. A provider who orders testing with no therapeutic value commits insurance fraud, violates Oregon law, and ignores the first rule of medical ethics to do no harm. The doctor who orders unnecessary tests puts the patient at risk by subjecting the patient to an unnecessary medical procedure. And legislators think that Oregon doctors routinely order unnecessary tests, committing Medicare or insurance fraud and putting patients at risk because what? To keep insurance premiums lower? Really?
In the same opinion piece there was a second solution to “the problem.” There is a reason for the quotes: No one has ever identified the problem. Even for lack of a problem, some Oregon legislators seek to impose a two-tier justice system. Under the plan that is a solution in search of a problem, the two-tier system would mean two levels of justice. The first tier is reserved for individuals with private insurance. The second tier is for patients on the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
The new legislation would strip OHP patients a basic constitutional right to trial by jury and instead and would limit or cap how much OHP patients can sue for when they are injured due to negligent, substandard medical care. That’s right, under the solution to the non-problem OHP patients claims would be limited even when a provider gives care that is proven to be negligent.
The legislators pushing this agenda presumably are doing it in the name of lower doctor malpractice premiums. What they are not saying is that this solution to non-problem has been tried in other states. The result: No noticeable effect on doctor liability insurance premiums.
Under this emerging plan, if you have the good fortune to have your own insurance, you would be able to hold a negligent care provider accountable for substandard or negligent care. If a surgeon mistakenly amputates the wrong leg and you are on OHP, the two-tier system of justice would limit your access to justice, no matter how egregious the negligence, no matter how high your lifetime medical costs, no matter your life situation. And this limit would take the form of a fixed limitation set by the Oregon Legislature. Because those who believe that their solution is necessary are also dead certain that the Oregon Legislature is better able to set damages in all cases than a jury that decides each case on the evidence.
It’s time that the political agenda of the few take a back seat to patient safety. It is time to make certain that health care transformation puts patient safety first.