Saturday, September 19, 2009

I've been scammed.

I could have entitled this post, "I'm a dumbass" because it is entirely my fault for not being more careful.

I am kind of addicted to internet shopping. There are a few shops that I use on a pretty regular basis and have never had trouble, so sometimes I get a bit too trusting, and then I end up submitting my personal information to random stores for things I don't actually want or need. So here are my scam stories.

Travelers Advantage
Last year, when I was planning our family's trip to the USA, I reserved a rental car through I have used Expedia several times before without any problems. After reserving a car from Budget Car Rentals, I called Budget directly to also reserve a car seat for Ailin and to confirm a few other details. The customer service rep, after assisting me with my requests went on to convince me to join a discount program called Traveler's Advantage. He wouldn't shut up about it and kept saying that the trial membership was only $1.00 each month for 3 months, if I didn't like the program, I could call them and quit without having to pay their monthly membership fees, yada yada yada. He kept saying that I would receive amazing discounts on future hotel stays, car rentals and plane tickets. He also talked about cash back rewards for my current car reservation, including gas coupons.

He reminded me many times that I could cancel my membership at any point just by calling their toll free number.

At some point during our stay in the USA, I tried using their "amazing" web site to reserve a hotel room, but did not get very far. Their site was so hard to use, and it was really slow as well. The "amazing" discounts were nothing special, and I thought I would just cancel my membership ASAP. I also received a postcard in the mail saying that I had been rejected for something, but I didn't recognize the name of the was some really obscure name that I had never heard of. When I checked their web site, I found that it was somehow related to this Traveler's Advantage, so I figured, "oh, maybe they didn't accept my membership in the end. Oh well."

Of course I forgot to look into this a bit further, and what did it matter anyway...I had been rejected, right? About 6 months later, my mom, who manages my USA bank account, asked me about monthly charges for TRVLRS ADV. At first, I really had no idea what she was talking about. The charges were for $14.99 each month. Um, could it be?

Yes, it could be, and it was. I eventually got around to calling them, but it was mainly because their web site was difficult to navigate on, and I wanted to truly compare their prices with those of Expedia. While planning my November trip to the USA, I tried calling Traveler's Advantage to see if I could get more personalized service. Since I cannot make toll free calls from the USA, I had to get connected by their direct number. The person who answered listened to my situation and then put me on hold, saying she would transfer me to someone else, but she did not explain why or to which department. After several minutes, I was disconnected. When I called back, this time, fully intending to just cancel my membership outright, I got a message saying "Sorry, our system in down, please call back later."

Here is their scam:
1. They offer it to you even though you are not looking for it.
2. They don't shut up about it so your only way to end the conversation is to just say "No, thank you" and hang up immediately.
3. The trial membership is extremely cheap, but if you agree to it, it is their way of getting your credit card information and other personal information.
4. The full membership is an inflated price, let's say 15x higher than the trial membership.
5. They figure that you will forget about cancelling, or be too lazy to cancel, and they can freely charge your card forever.
6. They make it really hard to cancel it ... like, you can only cancel by calling their phone number.
7. They are not helpful on the phone and do not have a good system for taking calls, thus making it harder for you to cancel your membership.
8. Their web site is not easy to navigate.
9. There are no true discounts. I mean, you can log into Expedia for free and get better discounts, and that is just one example.
10. Cash back rewards are bullshit because most people are too lazy to fill out the needed forms and snail mail them in.

I have more scam stories. The next one is about magazine subscriptions.

Magazine Subscriptions
A couple years ago, I was ordering something on-line when another screen popped up saying that if I agreed to answer these simple shopping surveys, which they would send to me every so often, I could get 3 free magazine subscriptions. I would just have to pay 1 dollar for each sub to cover shipping & handling.

I love magazines, but I didn't really want 3 new subscriptions being sent to my house in Japan as that can get costly. And, I didn't think it would be too smart of me to ask Mom to include those heavy magazines in my care packages. But, I agreed to this anyway, and I, of course like a dumbass, input my credit card info so that I could pay the $3 shipping and handling.

The list to choose from was sparse, to say the least. I had never heard of most of the magazines. I decided to get magazines that perhaps my parents would enjoy.

I don't think they really appreciated my gesture because they, themselves, were maxed out on monthly reading, as was I. (I was already subscribing to 2 magazines and that was enough for me.)

Anyway, you know how you can get many subscriptions for $20 a year? Well, after the first free year, my subscriptions were automatically renewed, and I was charged the full price, more than $40 a year, for each of these magazines. Luckily, my mom caught this and called to cancel the subscriptions and get my money refunded.

Here is their scam:
1. They pop up on a new window when you are in the middle or just ending a transaction for another product.
2. They sound too good to be true with their promises of free things if you will fill out monthly surveys or something really easy like that.
3. They get your credit card info by charging for shipping and handling only.
4. Unlike normal magazine subscriptions where you have to manually renew every year, they put you on automatic renewal status.
5. Their choices for your prize (in this case, magazine subs) suck.

By the way, I never did answer the monthly surveys because it was for really high-class stores that I would never shop at. I couldn't answer any of the questions properly.

And, as they say, 3 times a charm. I think I finally learned my lesson. Here is my 3rd story.

Reservation Rewards
As you can probably guess, I ordered that photo album I made from Shutterfly. I had never ordered from Shutterfly before, but I knew several people who had used it without incident. Just as I was finishing my transaction to shutterfly, a screen popped up saying I could get cash back rewards for my future Shutterfly purchases. Thinking this site was part of, I entered and filled out the needed information.

It turned out that this site, called Reservation Rewards, handles all kinds of gift cards that you can buy at a discount. I had heard of these types of sites before as they are sometimes recommended in my parenting magazines, so I thought, what could it hurt to get a $25 gift card only $20? I decided to search for a specific restaurant's gift card and buy that one because I could just use it in November.

I guess you could say I was in a hurry because I didn't really read through all their information, but I do remember seeing something about becoming a member and being able to order up to 4 gift cards per month. Sounds good, but I have to be a member? That thought did run through my mind, but I saw nothing about membership fees.

I filled out my credit card information in order to get the restaurant gift card, but was rejected. Sometimes this happens because my computer's ISP address is in Japan, and for companies that do not ship outside of the USA, they can refuse to ship to me. It was strange though because I had filled out my parent's address for the ship to information. I tried again, and again.

On the 3rd try, it finally worked. But, the next day, my mom emailed to say that the credit union who handles my visa card called with concerns about my recent card activity. They put a block on it until I could confirm my purchases saying that they had been receiving many complaints about a company called "Reservation Rewards."

Here is their scam:
1. They pop up at the end of a transaction and pretend to be directly related to the company that you already trust. In my case, it was shutterfly.
2. They charge a membership fee, 1.00 for the first month. After that, it is an inflated fee - not sure how much though.
3. They pretend to reject your information so that you have to re-input the information more than once.

It turns out that I was charged 3 times for a gift card, so I might be receiving 3 gift cards in the mail. I was also charged 1.00 for the membership fee.

Acai Berry
If you fall for Acai berry scams, you really are a dumbass.
Yes, I admit it. I fell for this one too. I'm fat and wanted to lose weight. It was all over the news in August, so I went to check out their free trial. I found one and ordered. The free trial would be one bottle, and I just had to pay shipping and handling which was a cheap $1.95.

I didn't realize that I would then be a "member" and would have to pay a membership fee to belong and then pay for future bottles of Acai berry. There was no information about how much those future bottles would cost.

When I input my information, I was rejected. A screen popped up saying they do not ship to Japan. Then, I was redirected to a completely unrelated web site. I gave up after that...oh well, I thought.

A few days later, my mom received a bottle of Acai berry in the mail. She told me to be careful because there had been complaints about Acai berry scams, specifically about the product not actually doing what they promise it will do.

Three weeks later, I was charged by the same company, perhaps for their membership fee, for $65.95. The website listed on the credit card bill was What the hell is that, I thought? I noticed I had been charged by them in August for $1.95 so it could only be this Acai berry thing. $65.95 for a bottle of Acai berry!

I checked this news limu web site and all it is is a gray screen with the contact information to call customer service. WTF.

I only discovered this Acai Berry thing because after my credit union blocked my account, they recommended that I frequently go online to check my visa card statements so I can monitor if anything is amiss. I normally don't do this because I just leave it up to my mom, but when I saw the bill, I noticed the Acai Berry thing. My mom is now working on cancelling my membership to the Travelers Advantage, as well as the Acai berry thing.

Just be careful out there!

1 comment:

mary said...

Hi Mande:

I just read your comments about our membership program, Reservation Rewards, and want to give you an official response on behalf of our company. It’s important to me that your concerns are addressed and that your issue is resolved. If you have questions or feedback, please contact our customer service team at 1-800-732-7031. Alternatively, you can contact me directly at If you contact me directly, please reference this post.

Consumer Affairs