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Scams & Fraud
AARP The Magazine, September 2009
It's a sucker play. You go for the free-trial offer online. You pay for shipping and handling with a credit card. Then, when the bill arrives, you find the trial was anything but free—you've signed up for an ongoing supply at a hefty price.
People are taken in by such ruses every day, losing from a few bucks to several hundred dollars if the company makes it hard for you to cancel an order. How can practices like this be stopped?
I'd received complaints about Central Coast Nutraceuticals (CCN), seller of AcaiPure and HoodiaCore, and was getting stonewalled by them. Then I learned that Terry Goddard, Arizona's attorney general, had filed a civil suit against Phoenix-based CCN alleging consumer fraud.
Goddard's account matched the letters I'd been getting from AARP members: CCN had hooked them with a trial offer, then shipped them—and billed them for—products they'd never ordered.
I knew what to do next. Like Woodward and Bernstein, I followed the money.
CCN's online sales are by credit card. Card issuers want to cut down on dubious vendors, don't they? They'd at least suspend CCN pending a court ruling, wouldn't they?
It turned out Goddard's suit was news to the masters of plastic—a communications gap I happily filled. One company acted immediately: within three hours of being informed of Arizona's suit, American Express terminated CCN's merchant account.
Visa, MasterCard, and Discover Card were slower to act—with Discover, it was six weeks—but eventually all of them cut off CCN.
All but shut down, CCN quickly settled with Goddard, agreeing to change its business practices and pay $1,375,000 in fines and restitution.
Our thanks to the credit card companies and Terry Goddard for making this the biggest On Your Side victory to date.
HOW TO GET YOUR MONEY BACK
If you believe you were a victim of CCN's deceptive marketing, file a complaint by August 17 to be eligible for restitution from the settlement. Request a complaint/restitution form from the Arizona attorney general's office or by calling 800-352-8431 (602-542-5763 in Arizona).
Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For (Ten Speed Press, 2006). You can read his journal on AARP.org, where there's also a new On Your Side column every two weeks.
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