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Phone Sales Snafu Proves Costly

91-year-old faced credit card bill of nearly $7,000

The company: Trade Tech Institute

The complaint: I never wanted to trade commodities!

Roger Turner's jaw dropped when he saw the $6,995 charge on his mom's credit card account. His mother, Jane Turner, 91, had been in assisted living for more than a year, with few opportunities for a four-figure shopping spree. She remembered a phone call from someone offering investment information and confessed that she may have given out her credit card number, such as to cover shipping. But she was sure she hadn't authorized such a big purchase.

Jane's daughter-in-law, Kaye Turner, called the credit card company, Capital One. The Trade Tech charge was removed pending investigation but reappeared a month later.

Kaye called Trade Tech, but it "wouldn't back off of the charges," she says. "They also said the $6,995 was only an up-front fee [to license its investment software] — that my mother would have to send at least another $2,000 to actually start investing."

Frustrated and out of options, Kaye wrote to On Your Side.

Credit card companies don't wrangle for refunds just because a customer made a mistake. But the situation seemed outlandish. Trade Tech sells online trading systems to investors. Jack Gold, who manages Trade Tech, explained to me that, on average, a $5,000 investment brought in $30,000 in 22 months for clients, not including commissions. "Of course we can't promise specific returns," he said.  

"If I were 90 years old, would you recommend this?" I asked.

"We wouldn't take you," he replied. Except, of course, they had. I asked Gold about Turner, but he refused to talk about the case, citing confidentiality.

When presented with what we'd learned about Turner's situation, Capital One's Pam Girardo was immediately helpful, and thankful. Within two days she'd arranged for the charges to be erased. "We are always on the lookout for companies trying to exploit seniors," Girardo said. I'm grateful to Capital One for its quick action, and I hope that credit card companies in general take more initiative in protecting vulnerable seniors.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.