Congress Takes a Look at Pop-Ups With Price Tags

Saturday, May 30, 2009

We've written before about the importance of checking all of your bills and financial statements to make sure they're correct. Now even Uncle Sam is getting involved.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday sent letters to marketing firms Vertrue and seeking more information about billing practices, looking into how consumers are notified when they sign up for the firms' membership services -- and how they're told they'll be charged about $10 per month unless they cancel the subscription.

Here's how it works: When you make a purchase through a site such as Orbitz or Fandango, a pop-up window appears during checkout offering you a cashback incentive or other discount. All you have to do is enter your e-mail address and click yes.

Of course, the catch is in the fine print at the bottom of the screen. By entering your e-mail address, you are signing up for the companies' membership service. Your credit or debit card information is then automatically transferred, and the roughly $10 monthly charge will appear on your statement indefinitely.

Spokespeople for both companies said they have received the committee's letter and plan to cooperate. Webloyalty said it sends five to seven e-mails to consumers confirming the registration, including one with tips for canceling the service. Vertrue spokesman George Thomas said consumers receive a confirmation e-mail within 24 hours of signing up, and a second e-mail is sent before the card is billed.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee said it has yet to receive an official response from the firms. We'll keep you posted on any progress, but in the meantime, here's the bottom line: Watch those pop-up ads and always check the bill.

-- Ylan Q. Mui

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