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Senate explores aggressive online sales

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TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: The Senate Commerce Committee meets today to investigate what its agenda calls "Aggressive Sales Tactics on the Internet." Lawmakers say unsuspecting consumers are getting caught up in an increasingly popular sales gimmick. Here's our senior business correspondent, Bob Moon:


Bob Moon: You've just finished ordering something online, when a surprise voice calls from your computer:

Online pitch: Thank you for your order today. Click the continue button to get $15 off your next purchase.

Follow through, though, and you could get more than you bargained for:

Robert Meyer: About two or three months later, you begin noticing strange charges coming up on your credit card statement, and it turns out the whole thing sort of was a ruse.

University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Robert Meyer says these so-called "post-transaction" offers can come at you when you buy anything from flowers to movie tickets from seemingly reputable Web sites. Thousands of consumers have complained of unexpected and hard-to-stop credit card charges for some kind of membership service that was hidden in fine print.

Meyer: The skill and the deception is to try to find out ways to distract you from looking at that. So that's why, for example, they tend to have things like mini surveys on there, or prominent arrows that say, "Look here!"

Meyer says the original merchant can rake in ad revenue for sending you and your credit card information to these third-party sites. While they're not necessarily illegal or shady, he sees a simple fix:

Meyer: Come to a customer and say, "By the way, for the last 30 days, you've been a member of this program; if you wish to continue, please give me your credit card information."

Opting in, he says, would protect customers from being left unaware they're on the hook for something they don't really want.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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