For the past three years, the North Plainfield woman has purchased season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson.
“Within a season, I normally visit the park about 20 to 40 times,” said Velez, 27. “My favorite rides are El Toro and Nitro.”
Velez’s three children, ages 7, 4 and 2, are big fans of the kiddie areas.
It’s a family affair. When it’s time to buy season tickets, Velez makes the purchase for her husband, her kids and her brother-in-law.
The process didn’t go too smoothly when she tried to purchase her 2013 season passes, and now she’s being hounded by a collections company about a “contract” that Velez insists she never saw, and for passes she never received or paid for.
First, some background. The year before, when Velez wanted to buy her 2012 season passes, she initially decided to use the park’s “Buy now, pay later” offer.
“When March 1, 2012 came, I received the e-mail stating my passes were deactivated and not valid,” she said, noting she didn’t make the required payment. “So two weeks later, I went to the website and set it up again, but this time I just paid it in full.”
The new passes had different identification numbers from the ones that were deactivated on March 1, 2012.
She was never told she would be held responsible for the cost of the deactivated passes, she said.
All was well for 2012.
Then came time to buy passes for the 2013 season.
Velez set it up online on Nov. 14, 2012, selecting the “Buy now, pay later” payment feature. Full payment — $275.59 — was due on March 1, 2013, and she received a few reminder e-mails from the park as the date approached.
She didn’t make the deadline, but like the year before, Velez said she expected no payment would be due because she never actually received the season passes.
That’s why it was a great surprise when she received a letter from an attorney’s office dated June 19, 2013.
“The Law Offices of Palmer, Reifler & Associates (is) claiming to represent Six Flags’ Great Adventure in a claim against me for failure to make agreed upon payments on a ‘Retail Installment Contract,'” Velez said.
The attorney’s office demanded payment of $275.59, plus 5 percent in late fees.
Velez said there was never any contract, nor was there mention of payment being due even in the case of cancellation on any of the many screens she went through during the ordering process.
She asked the attorney’s office for evidence that the contract existed, but it never offered anything.
“I want valid proof such a ‘contract’ exists,” she said, noting she wasn’t asked for payment for her deactivated passes from the year before. “Also, if this contract is real, Six Flags Great Adventure should have a disclaimer before processing any and all orders.”
Velez went through all her communications with Great Adventure to make sure she wasn’t missing anything.
She said there was absolutely no disclaimer that the order still needed to be paid for if she decided to cancel the passes. None of the e-mails she received with payment reminders, reviewed by Bamboozled, noted that payment was due no matter what.
“After carefully reviewing each e-mail I received from Six Flags Great Adventure, there has not been a single piece of evidence to even show a ‘contract’ was in place,” she said. “I called Six Flags Great Adventure and was told by a customer service agent that I would need to contact the ‘Electronic Payment Department’ to clarify the problem.”
But the number she was given was a dead line, she said.
She also Googled “Retail Installment Contract” and Six Flags, and she couldn’t find anything. She reread the e-mails again, she said, and she looked again on the Six Flags website to see what she could find.
“No such obligatory statement is provided,” she said.
Shortly after the notification from the attorney, Velez filed a dispute with the Better Business Bureau.
She received a response from the Florida BBB on June 26.
The attorney’s office responded on behalf of the park. It said: “Please inform complainant we have forwarded her complaint to our client. However, please refer complainant to the contract she entered into with Six Flags Entertainment Corporation.
The contract states that ‘I understand that I am not permitted to cancel my Easy Payment Plan until all monthly payments have been made. If I fail to make a monthly payment, the entire remaining balance will be due and payable immediately and my bar-coded pass may be deactivated.'”
Velez told the BBB she didn’t accept that response.
“The explanation listed as a response to complaint is invalid,” she wrote to the BBB. “As stated prior, there is no said ‘contract,’ and if there happens to be one, I want valid proof. Also, if there were to be such a ‘contract,’ Six Flags Great Adventure would and should have a disclaimer before processing any and all orders.”
The law firm and Great Adventure didn’t respond, so the BBB closed the case as “unresolved.”
“If they were to say I was liable for the deactivated passes, wouldn’t I have been contacted about them?” Velez said. “This is what gets me and makes me feel like it is some sort of shady scam to unsuspecting customers.”
THE FINE PRINT
Bamboozled reviewed all the e-mails and notes on the case and spent some time on the Great Adventure website.
We couldn’t find a contract or payment details that were specific to the “Buy now, pay later” deal. There was more detail for the “Easy Payment Plan” selection, and even though that’s what the attorney referenced in the BBB complaint, that’s not what Velez signed up for.
There are several spots on the website that say season pass purchases are nonrefundable, but we couldn’t find that anywhere in the fine print for the “Buy now, pay later” offer.
Yes, the fine print. We know there are plenty of consumers who regularly miss the fine print.
But like Velez, we couldn’t find any that pertained to the “Buy now, pay later” offer. We reached out to Great Adventure to ask for more information, and to review this customer’s account.
Great Adventure spokeswoman Kristin Siebeneicher said the fine print for the offer wasn’t on the site anymore because the offer is no longer valid. She took a closer look at Velez’s case, sending us a copy of what she called a “system-generated contract.”
“Our system would not have allowed her to proceed to checkout unless she physically opted into the BNPL (Buy now, pay later) program and checked a box acknowledging that she read and agreed to the terms,” she said.
Bamboozled looked closely at the “contract.” It included phrases such as, “Season Passes and online purchases are non-refundable and non-transferable,” but nowhere does it say a customer will be responsible for paying for an order that the customer cancels before any payments have been made.
Velez never had possession of the passes, and if she did, they wouldn’t have been activated until payment was complete. And based on her 2012 orders, she had every reason to expect the 2013 purchase would be treated the same way.
Still, there’s good news for Velez.
“It is my understanding that our corporate loss prevention department dropped the collections claim on this order since the passes were not processed,” Siebeneicher said. “Ms. Velez should not receive any further communication about it. It is my understanding that the claim was dropped at the end of June.”
Why, we asked.
“Because the pass was not processed or used, they decided not to pursue it for collections,” she said, also confirming that the credit bureaus were never notified.
That’s good news, indeed.
Thanks to Six Flags for not pursuing payment for passes that were never received by the customer.