Predatory auto-renewals have always been a scourge to consumers.
Auto-renewals are when you sign up for a service, and the company providing the service automatically bills your credit card for a renewal.
Maybe you wanted the renewal, and maybe you didn’t.
The biggest problem comes when you try to stop an auto-renewal. Some companies make the process easy, but others make it near impossible. Or completely impossible, and consumers end up paying for services they don’t want.
That’s why Bamboozled has been keeping tabs on legislation in New Jersey that would protect consumers from getting caught in auto-renewal hell.
And that’s why a recent report of an auto-renewal nightmare got our attention.
Yes, it seems the auto-renewal issue has jumped into the presidential race.
It all started last week when a Donald Trump supporter contacted a CNN reporter to say that he couldn’t cancel his recurring contribution on Trump’s official campaign site.
The website Mic took a look — with the kind of detail Bamboozled loves — to see what it takes to cancel a recurring contribution to the Trump campaign.
It takes a heck of a lot.
Mic also did the same with Hillary Clinton’s campaign site, but that’s a simpler story. We’ll come to that in a moment.
Mic made a recurring donation to both campaigns to see how it works from the inside.
On the Trump site, there is no simple one-click option to stop contributions, Mic found. There’s no “obvious way” to cancel payments on the home page, the “update card” page, or in your contribution confirmation email, the report said.
There’s also no easy way to permanently remove your credit card. You can only change from one valid credit card to another. If you try to put in an invalid card, the system reverts back to your original card, Mic found.
Contributors aren’t told how to stop payments in their email confirmations, either. They can “unsubscribe” to the emails, but that has nothing to do with canceling a recurring donation, Mic said.
Mic did find what it called a “labyrinthine process” to remove a credit card from Trump’s donation system, but it only works if you had registered an account and created a password. Without that, you can’t go through the process.
If you did create an account, the donation page has a small question mark icon you can click on. Then you’d come to another screen, where you can choose “manage.” Then you’re taken to the website of Trump’s campaign vendor. There, you can click “recurring plans” and then cancel your recurring donation.
You still can’t delete your credit card from the system, Mic said.
When Mic made a recurring donation to the Clinton campaign, and it found significant differences in the cancellation process.
First, the confirmation email received by contributors offers an email address that can be used to report problems.
Next, Mic found, there is an easily seen button that can be clicked to stop donations. If you do that and log back into the system, you’ll see that your card number has been deleted.
Bamboozled readers, if you’ve made regular contributions to any campaign and you’ve had a different experience, please let us know in the comments section below.
THE PROBLEM WITH AUTO-RENEWALS
Forcing a consumer to take a meandering path to stop auto-payments to any campaign creates several problems.
First, obviously, a consumer who doesn’t want to contribute any longer can’t find an easy way to stop payments. It reflects the same lack of transparency we’ve complained about when companies hide their cancellation procedures, and it’s simply a crappy way to do business. And we certainly never expected to see it from a political campaign.
Next, if contributors aren’t able to stop the automatic donations, they could easily exceed the per person maximum contribution limit of $2,700 allowed by federal election rules.
We asked the Trump campaign if it would automatically decline recurring donations that would put someone over that limit, but spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t answer the question.
About the issues in the Mic report, she said: “It’s just not true.”
When asked for more detail, Hicks said she provided the information.
The Trump donation site may even be breaking California and Oregon auto-renewal laws, which are the strongest in the country.
Those states require companies disclose in a clear and simple manner any auto-renew provisions. Companies then must get a consumer’s permission before renewing a service, and if the company charges a consumer without getting consent, the service is considered an “unconditional gift” to the consumer.
Granted, auto-renewals are usually for a particular service or product, not for donations to a political campaign.
But the spirit of the laws should certainly apply here.
That brings us to New Jersey, which is getting closer to having its own bill to ban auto-renewals.
Assemblyman Daniel Benson has introduced a bill that would ban the practice in every session since the 2010-2011. It never got past the Assembly because no one in the Senate stepped up to sponsor a version there.
When Bamboozled last wrote about the bill, we called for some senators to take up the issue.
And it seems we had two takers.
Sens. Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein introduced a Senate version.
The Assembly version passed unanimously in June, and now the Senate version is out of committee.
Hopefully we can see a vote in the fall.
On this, we will keep you posted.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.