The ‘web loyalty’ scheme that has left a long trail of complaints

One reader found Complete Savings had taken €12 a month from him for seven years

Complete Savings promises cash back to members if they shop on certain websites. Photograph: iStock

Complete Savings promises cash back to members if they shop on certain websites. Photograph: iStock

 

When was the last time you looked at your bank or credit-card statement? We don’t mean the casual glance you might throw towards the top line close to the end of the month when you are checking to see if your balance will be able to handle the – perhaps ill-advised – purchase of a life-size cheetah table lamp found lurking in the homewares section of TK Maxx.

No, we mean when did you go through the statement line by line, mentally or physically ticking off all the incomings and outgoings listed there?

As we move ever further into a digital world and all those paper statements which arrived carrying mostly bad news every month fade to memory, it is getting easier to lose track of things.

While paper statements were rarely things that set the heart racing and always bad for the environment, they did at least make it easy for us to keep on top of our finances with even the most cursory glance at the contents over your cornflakes.

We have a story from a reader that highlights the dangers of not keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It is a story which may be wearily familiar to some keen-eyed readers but one which we reckon it is worth sharing all the same.

It comes from Cillian Feiritéar. He starts off by telling us that his “tale does not require your assistance but I think might be of interest to you and your readers/listeners”.

And well it might.

You see, Cillian recently “became aware that a company – Complete Savings – have been taking €12 a month every month since July 13th, 2014, out of my MasterCard account without my consent or knowledge”.

And when you tot up €12 a month for just over seven years what do you get?

The Countdown fans among you will have already worked out it is a not-too-shabby €1,032.

The good news is that Cillian has already “obtained a full refund, without too much difficulty, but I’d be very surprised if there were not many other people out there who unwittingly are in the same position”.

“You might ask how I allowed this situation to arise,” he continues. “Well, when I first got a credit card I would religiously scrutinise the statement to ensure that I was not being mischarged. In 30-odd years I never had a problem. When the bank changed to soft-copy statements I just stopped checking them. Out of sight, out of mind.”

We hear you, Cillian.

“Anyway, I recently had an issue on the PayPal site – I signed into PayPal as I wanted to reverse a payment I made, immediately after authorising it – and was led to a site called Just Ask, while I was still in the PayPal site. I was asked for my credit card details, which I gave, secure in the knowledge that I was ‘within’ the PayPal site and authorised a refundable payment of €1 (so they could verify I was who I said I was) but when I was asked to give them control of my computer screen, I baulked and exited the site.

“Worried, I contacted MasterCard Security and after some time eventually got to speak to one of their people. She advised me that unless I blocked them they would begin to deduct up to €40 a month from my account. She referred to them as Just Answer. Naturally I wanted them blocked. I was told that this could only be done by my completing a form on a link that MasterCard would text to me. As I completed the form on the link I found it odd that I didn’t have to type in ‘Just Ask’ or ‘Just Answer’ but rather select them from a long list of companies that appeared on a drop-down menu. I took it from this that other people had had the same type of problem with this company and indeed a lot of other companies. In any event I had them blocked and nothing untoward has since arisen (though I didn’t get a refund of my €1!). I also cancelled my credit card, just in case.”

Now you might just ask what Just Ask has to do with Complete Savings? We know it is what we were asking.

Not a lot is the answer. But Cillian has more.

“In any event, following the above incident I decided to examine my online credit card statements to see if anyone else was dipping in to my account. It was then that I discovered that Complete Savings had been debiting my account every month since July 2014. I had no clue who they were and when I Googled them I saw that at least two other people had had the same problem but managed to get refunds.”

Full refund

So Cillian rang them on a 1-800 number listed for them on their website and demanded a full refund. “Following two lengthy recorded telephone conversations (I recorded them on an old Dictaphone and advised them that I was recording them) and after completing the form emailed by them to me I received a full refund! I had also blocked them using the same link that MasterCard had sent me – yes, they were also on the list of companies in the drop-down menu.”

He also asked how they had come “to be taking money from my account. I was told that I had signed up with them when I was buying tickets on Ticketmaster back in 2014. (He told me that they had a ‘business relationship’ with Ticketmaster). I have a vague memory of one time after having bought tickets on Ticketmaster being asked if I would like to get a 10 per cent discount from my next purchase and filling in some details but at no time was I made aware that I was signing up with them or authorising them to deduct €12/month indefinitely,” Cillian says.

He adds that he was told that the procedure was that initially he would receive three refunds of €12. Then they would send him a form to fill in, after which they would consider his request.

“To my surprise I received the 3 x €12 refund but no email arrived at first. I rang them again (again recorded) and was told that their agent had failed to send the email in error but that she would send it, which she did.”

Cillian sent us details of the form.

“Hello Mr Feiritear,

Thank you for contacting us. If you wish to claim further refunds of additional membership charges please complete the information in the form below, and send it back to us by email.

– Full name (must match your membership profile):

– Cancellation reference number:

– Email address:

– Daytime phone number:

– Did you claim your initial Welcome Bonus?

– Did you claim any Monthly Member Bonuses?

– Did you use any other Complete Savings membership benefits, such as cashback or 20% off gift cards?

On receipt of your completed refund request form we will investigate your claim and will respond to your refund request by email.”

So, Cillian completed the form and sent it back to them but heard nothing further from them, at least until last week. “When I checked my credit-card account yesterday I found that I have received a further 80 refunds of €12 each – a complete refund of all the money they had taken. I just thought that you might be interested in the above as I would be very surprised if a lot of other people weren’t in the same position, unwittingly.”

Now, the first time we featured Complete Savings on this page was in March 2014, not much more than a year after the company had started doing business in this country. We had heard from two readers who had stories to tell that were strikingly similar to Cillian’s. And we have featured other stories from readers over the years that are virtually identical to this one.

So who or what is Complete Savings? Well, it is multinational and self-styled web-loyalty scheme that people sign up for – sometimes without being entirely aware that is what they are doing – after they make purchases on partner sites.

What Complete Savings promises is cash back to members if they shop on certain sites. And that is well and good if members, firstly, know they have signed up for the site and, secondly, are happy to have done so. It is not so well and good if, like Cillian, people sign up for the service without being entirely up to speed with what is going on.

And how would people do that? It is remarkably easy. Let’s say you buy a product on a site that has a relationship with Complete Savings. As the process continues you might be offered the chance to avail of a discount on your next purchase. So, without giving it too much thought, you re-enter your credit or debit card details and, hey presto, you have signed up to the scheme and, as Cillian found out, you might continue paying for many years while getting absolutely nothing for the service.

Negative publicity

The problem is not unique to this country. Complete Savings and its parent company Web Loyalty have been attracted significant negative publicity in the United States and the UK over many years. Users of Trustpilot in the UK remain to be convinced by its charms. At the time of writing, there were 741 reviews of the service on the UK arm of the platform, with 90 per cent of those reviews ranking the company “bad” – as bad a ranking as is possible to give.

Here is just a flavour of the reviews. “I have no recollection of ever authorising any payment or signing up to this service for cashback. I have never received any cashback . . . I didn’t even realise I was paying for this . . . Was completely unaware I was signing up . . . I don’t recall signing up since I am not a big online shopper.”

Even many of the 3 per cent of the reviews that rate the company as excellent focus on how it processes refunds to those who sign up without realising it.

We got in touch with the company asking if it had anything to say about our reader’s story. We also sent it a list of questions we thought it might answer.

They were as follows:

How many customers does it have in Ireland and how many of them are active – ie, have used the service on more than one occasion? We also wanted to know what Irish businesses does it have a relationship with?

We noted that the company must be aware that many people who have concerns about it say they were unaware they had signed up to any scheme and, given the level of complaints about the business here, in the UK and in the US over more than a decade, asked if it believed it gets people to join its schemes in an open and transparent fashion?

We asked how often and in what fashion does Complete Savings contact its customers in Ireland? And we wanted to know how cashback payments are sent to customers. And, finally, we asked how many Irish customers have contacted it seeking refunds since it started operating here in 2013.

Company response

We received a singularly odd response which we will reproduce in full. “The team at Webloyalty has said that many of your questions are covered by previous statements issued to you, so please refer to this for any response.”

And that was all the company had to say. While a more sensitive consumer focused page might feel somewhat miffed that the legitimate concerns highlighted by our readers – and indeed others – would be dismissed so glibly, we took it on the chin. As advised by the company we went in search of previous responses. We went back to 2014 when we first featured the company. Back then we were told people “must enter their name, email address, postal address and their credit or debit card details on the online sign-up page” and at no point “is any data transferred to the Complete Savings sign-up form from their previous purchase”.

A spokesman – way back in 2014 – said the company “want all of our members to be happy with the service they receive and it is not our intention to keep members who do not wish to belong to the programme” and said if people were displeased it would be “happy to offer a full refund as the members had not made use of the benefits the Complete Savings programme offers”.