If you do a Google search for Simple Escapes, you dont readily find the companys Web site. Instead, you get page after page of complaints from irate and baffled consumers who claim the company has billed them for services they never wanted, never asked for, and never received.

Allison, of Pleasant Hill, California, tells ConsumerAffairs.com: I just received my credit card statement and found a charge for $9.95 from Simple Escapes. I have no idea what this is, nor have I ever used any service like this.

Allison actually got off lightly. Other complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com have told of $100 or more being deducted from bank accounts or showing up on credit card bills. Many are mystified as to how this company, about which they know nothing, got access to their credit card and bank accounts.

Simple Escapes is a membership service company, operated by MemberWorks, a Stamford, Connecticut, direct marketing firm, that provides discounts on travel and entertainment.

For example, after booking a trip on Orbitz, you might be offered an instant $10 discount on your purchase if you enroll in Simple Escapes. Other incentives, like a free Kmart gift card, might also be offered. Once enrolled, members are billed monthly, whether they get discounts or not.

Others apparently find themselves enrolled in Simple Escapes without knowing it.

Angela, of Baytown, Texas, tells us Simple Escapes has charged my bank statement $19.95 for the last four months. I don't know who or what this is. I looked on AOL since that appears with the charge, but I can't find a phone number to call to cancel this service. I can't keep throwing $20 bucks a month out the window for something I did not order.

In fact, many AOL subscribers, going back to 2003, have complained about being blindsided with a Simple Escapes membership charge on their credit card bill.

Dwight, of Salem, West Virginia reported to ConsumerAffairs.com, I received my bank statement and it had a debit charge of $134.95 on it from Simple Escapes. I had never heard of them. When I called the 1-888 number they told me that I had ordered this by a pop-up on AOL. I said I had never done that and besides how did they get my checking account number to which they replied through AOL.

Consumers are often taken by surprise by these charges because they never sent any information to the company directly. Their credit card number is often shared by other businesses with which they had a different transaction.

Simple Escapes, in many cases, received the consumers credit card information from AOL, which had it on file for the consumers Internet accounts. AOL says it no longer shares customers credit card information with other firms because of a change in policy.

States Cracking Down

Meanwhile, states are beginning to crack down on this practice. In April 2000 the State of Minnesota settled a consumer fraud suit with MemberWorks, Simple Escapes parent company. The settlement followed numerous complaints from consumers that they did not believe they had authorized membership charges to their checking or credit card accounts.

The settlement required MemberWorks to substantially change its business practices and provide refunds to consumers who did not fully consent to the MemberWorks charge.

Last year the State of Florida reached a similar agreement. Yet most of the complaints ConsumerAffairs.com has received about Simple Escapes have been since 2003, and they continue today; 180 were filed in the last 12 months.

I have been billed $152.55 in unauthorized charges by Simple Escapes. I called the number listed for them from my bank statement. The rep stated that when I clicked on the ad I agreed to their services. I have no idea what Simple Escapes is, Patricia of Tarboro, North Carolina tells ConsumerAffairs.com.