Pricewatch: Readers’ queries
How a website sells wrinkles creams, and how companies deal with requests to transfer accounts from one name to another are exercising consumers this week
A reader has been in touch after she ‘stupidly fell for an email advert’ for anti-wrinkle creams. Photograph: Thinkstock
Caught out by an online ad for anti-wrinkle creams A very cross reader has been in touch after she “stupidly fell for an email advert about using the combination of two creams that would miraculously clear up all those wrinkles and do wonders for the skin”.
The two creams go under the names RVTL and Equinox. We emphasise that there is nothing wrong with these creams or their manufacture, but our reader teakes issue with the way one website sells them.
She came across them on a website dressed up to look like a Good Housekeeping page but that appears to be entirely unconnected with that website. Her justification for trying the creamy combo was that it was “a free trial and I only had to pay for postage and packaging. The parcel arrived with the creams, but on checking my bank account, over €200 has been taken from my account.”
When she noticed this, she “immediately rang AIB who very nicely told me there wasn’t much they could do. They cancelled my debit card, and a letter has been sent to the bank cancelling the direct debit that I had not given permission for. I know I have little if any chance of getting my money back. In a way I feel I deserve the punishment for being so stupid in the first place.”
She is a 40-year-old woman who works with computers every day, “but clearly I am not as clever as I thought I was. I just wanted to warn any other naive women out there who are feeling a bit insecure and unhappy about themselves, we are clearly a niche market, vulnerable and ripe for the picking.”
We had a look at the website and the offer, and we’re not convinced our reader was stupid at all. There is a lot about the “free trial”, and would-be users are warned that this trial is available “for a limited time only”. When we visited the site last Monday it said the trial ended that day. And when we visited it last Wednesday we were told the trial ended on that day too. We were also warned that there was only a handful of offers left and we needed to “act now” to ensure we didn’t miss out.
At the bottom of the page were all sorts of testimonials from users. “For once I was able to do something nice for myself without feeling guilt about the cost,” said one woman. “As a realtor it’s important to look and feel my best, unfortunately the housing market isn’t doing that great so cash has been a little tight lately. Thanks for the info, looking forward to receiving my trials,” said another. A third said she wished she “knew about these products before I had Botox injections. I would have saved a heck of a lot of money.”
Underneath all that is a small link to the terms of the offer. It is very easy to miss. It says that people are offered a 14-day trial “with the eligibility of automatic enrolment in our home-delivery programme” When an order is made, a person “automatically agrees to pay the non-refundable discounted shipping & handling cost of £2.95 for your trial for a full 30-day supply of RVTL Anti-Aging”.
But if they “find that the product is not right” for them, they are given a number to call before the end of the 14-day trial period to cancel membership. “If you do not cancel before the end of your 14-day trial, we consider you as a valued member of our home-delivery programme and charge the credit card on file the full price of £89.00. £95.95 (£89.00 + £6.95 shipping and handling) will be charged on the 30th day from the order, and 30 days thereafter your credit card on file will be billed for the fresh pair of full 30-day supply of RVTL Anti Aging until you choose to cancel the home-delivery programme. No further notice will be sent by the Company.”
We tried to contact the company to see what it had to say but received no response. Some companies make breaking up harder to do A reader, Ian, split from his wife. At the time, two household bills were in her name – Vodafone and UPC. “When I explained the situation to Vodafone they had only one concern – who was going to pay the bill – and had no difficulty transferring the account to my name,” he says.
UPC, however, refused to change the name of the account unless he sends a joint letter with his wife agreeing to a seamless changeover. If he applies for an account in his name, there may be loss of service. “The reason for their refusal – data protection law,” he says. “Today I contacted the Data Commissioner to seek clarification, and learned that UPC were within their rights to refuse to change the name on the account. When I said that Vodafone had no problem, I was gobsmacked to be told they were also within their rights. Incredible as it may seem, the official view is that individual companies may enforce their own policies as they will.”
He would like to know what data is endangered by changing the name on the account. We contacted the Data Protection Commission. A spokesman said that it has received complaints from people who believe their account information has been altered without their consent.
“However, we would also expect data controllers [companies] to adopt a balanced approach to this issue where the matter of continuation of service provision arises, and to facilitate customers where possible. However, this must not infringe on the data-protection rights of the original account holder.”