This is a cautionary tale to make you careful online shoppers. It strikes close to home for me because it involves Buy.com, a favorite of mine at one time, but the scam is also used on Orbitz, Fandango and other sites.
When Buy.com opened its online doors in the late 90s, I thought it was a great resource for computer peripherals and software. Its prices were low and shipping was very fast. Several times I placed an order in the late afternoon and received it the next morning.
As the years passed, I couldn’t help but notice that the web site was getting more cluttered with advertising and more annoying to navigate. The checkout process became more labyrinthine – screens with unwanted credit card offers and coupons and little tiny hidden “No Thanks” buttons.
I didn’t know it but those screens are deadly.
You’re trying to get to the checkout screen. A page appears with a big coupon offering “$10.00 OFF” or $20.00 OFF” surrounded by small print on a page with a confusing layout. It appears that you have to fill in an email address and click the big “OK” button to move on. There is a small “no” button but it’s grey and hidden in the clutter.
Consumers who filled in their email addresses and clicked “OK” had unknowingly signed up with “WebLoyalty,” a sleazy web marketer that purports to send “cash-back” and coupon offers. What it mostly does is charge a monthly fee that starts being deducted from your credit card right away and continues until you notice. For all too many people, it takes months to notice the charges and even longer to figure out how to stop them.
Buy.com supplied the credit card information to WebLoyalty and pocketed a fee for it.
Orbitz, Fandango, and others have signed up with WebLoyalty and other “post-transaction marketers” to put stuff like that in our faces and turn over our credit card information.
CNet.com has an eye-opening story about the scam. WebLoyalty was given a chance to respond; it supplied screen shots of its checkout coupons with annotations about how friendly and easy they are. Take a look! Maybe it’s my legal background but I find them hilarious. The company circles paragraphs in the middle of long dense blocks of legalese and explains that since the legalese is there, the consumer is being treated completely fairly and everything is obvious.
Horseshit. I have no patience for this stuff. Do you remember when Sears got caught with its own online “customer loyalty” scam a couple of years ago? It’s egregious and awful. I’m not going to shop at Buy.com or the other sites. The bruceb favorites page used to have a Buy.com button in the left column. I’ve removed it. (New! Facebook and Netflix buttons – two of the places you’re visiting constantly.)
If you’re shopping online, don’t click OK on things in a hurry! It might be bad for your bank account.