Watch for 'negative option' on free offers

It is understandable why people get angry with scam attempts. Most people would like to get their hands on this sorry lot.

What about the law- abiding businessman or woman who figures how to turn a profit legally, but the business practice is unfair and just plain wrong.

Take for example a financial institution that sends out a notice that you are delinquent and payment on the loan is overdue.

You are ask to go to the bank and correct the matter. The fact is that you have never dealt with this company.

You admit that the last name on the loan is the same as yours, but the other information does not match.

Now t he que st ion c ome s to mind. How did they come up with the name and address? Does this company go to the telephone directory and hope they find the right person that made the loan?

One encyclopedia company is apparently sending books to you as a 30-day trial offer.

You are not asked if you want this shipment. It is being mailed to you.

Customers wanting to pur- chase the set are given a number to call. No telephone number is given if you want to refuse this offer.

You have just met "negat ive option."

The seller assumes that you made the purchase without your approval. You are responsible for these books and you will have to ship them back if you are not satisfied with the set.

This is a nuisance you did not ask for, an aggravation you would be happy without.

Another case is told in the AARP Bulletin this month. A 98-year-old woman was paying for automobile insurance each month.

Elizabeth Steiger does not drive. In fact, she does not own a vehicle. These facts made little difference to the Bank of America which deducted $18.95 per month from Elizabeth's account.

It was over an insurance program, sold by a third-party vendor, which Elizabeth said she never ordered.

Elizabeth's daughter contacted the bank to correct this mistake.

Now you must cancel the transaction. How can you cancel an unauthorized account? It does seem reasonable to assume that your responsibility is limited to the purchases you make.

That is not the way it works. It was assumed that you made t he purcha se, so now pay up.

Unsolicited offers had to be canceled. No cancellation order from you gives the bank the green light to deduct the premium from your bank account.

Some complained that the offer was never received. Suddenly an amount shows up on the monthly statement. You must review all monthly statements from those you do business with.

You have 60 days to dispute these charges.

Watch out for the "free trial" offers. Most of these offers are negative option programs. It might be necessary to send a letter by registered mail. Have a representative from the company sign the card that is returned to you.

When all else fails, contact the attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission at

The bank admitted to mis- takes in the case of Mrs Stieger and the money has been repaid.

The corrections were made because a family member got involved. It is so important to help the elderly. It may be a family member or a dear friend that needs help.

As a follow-up Barbara Gilliland is still receiving mail asking to settle a debt she never had.

Companies that use tactics to bluff their way through or charge an account without a contract is putting their reputation at risk. It takes years to build a good reputation and you can lose it in a second.

You do not have to accept an offer sent through the USPS. You can request the mail be returned to the sender.

If you want to file a complaint, write to: The office of the attorney general, Consumer Protection Division, P.O. Box 12548, Austin, TX 78711-2548. Go online. Fill out the form, then mail it to Attorney General Greg Abbott.

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2009-09-17 digital edition

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