It seems nothing makes consumers angrier than when they conclude that a business has “tricked them,” either selling them something they didn’t intend to buy or making it difficult to cancel a subscription.
A quick overview of ConsumerAffairs reviews finds hundreds of 1-star reviews in the last year when we used the search term “subscriptions.” The reviews cover a wide range of businesses, including dating sites, radio and TV services, weight loss and health club memberships, and software subscriptions.
Brad, of El Paso, Texas gave eHarmony, a dating site, a 1-star review because he said it was so hard to end the relationship.
“Once you sign up, they automatically enroll you into an auto renewal feature that is extremely difficult to find and get out of,” Brad wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review.
Reese, of Oklahoma City, told us he subscribed to Norton antivirus software and was happy with the way it worked. However, he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue subscribing.
“I received a notice from Norton that they had renewed my annual plan, which I did NOT authorize,” Reece wrote. “Immediately I called them and shared how unacceptable this is to renew a subscription and have money taken out of my account. All they could say was that they were sorry.”
Other forums are full of complaints
ConsumerAffairs researchers have checked other forums and found similar complaints. They found Adobe’s Creative cloud annual subscriptions do not allow annual plan subscribers to turn off auto-renewal for their annual subscriptions. Rather, customers are required to manually cancel the subscriptions within the 14-day period each year that the subscription can be canceled without paying a fee.
Adobe is fairly upfront on this point but many customers still claim they were misled into believing that they would be able to cancel their subscriptions more easily. Here’s what Adobe says in its terms of service:
“You can cancel your subscription anytime via your Adobe Account page or by contacting Customer Support. If you cancel within 14 days of your initial order, you’ll be fully refunded. Should you cancel after 14 days, you’ll be charged a lump sum amount of 50% of your remaining contract obligation, and your service will continue until the end of that month’s billing period.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a report that calls out companies that make it hard for customers to cancel subscriptions. The report shows how companies that depend on subscription revenue are increasingly resorting to sophisticated design practices known as “dark patterns” that can trick or manipulate consumers into buying products or services.
As many consumers who have tried to cancel a subscription using a company’s website well know, the process can be a frustrating search. The agency said it is preparing a crackdown on companies that use these tactics.
“Our report shows how more and more companies are using digital dark patterns to trick people into buying products and giving away their personal information,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This report—and our cases—send a clear message that these traps will not be tolerated.”
Many states, meanwhile, have very strict rules when it comes to auto-renewing subscriptions. States with the toughest laws, including New York, Illinois, California, Oregon, and Colorado, require “clear and conspicuous” notice when companies use auto renewal as the default.
California, Illinois, New York, and Maine, require companies selling services by subscription to provide a means for customers to cancel the service online.