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Other times, they click a button to do a survey or get a free report and don't see the fine print that says they're signing up for a service with a cost.
A Visa survey in 2009 found that 29 percent of American consumers had unauthorized recurring card charges from negative option plans.
"If you look at all the laws, it would appear that they may be adequate but we'll never know unless the FTC and state agencies start using them more," Patten says.
"They really need to bring more enforcement actions." While many merchants are following the laws, others still pre-check consent boxes (which is now prohibited), bury details of the offer in fine print that's several clicks away and make cancellations or returns difficult.
The disclosures required are already fairly strict when a telemarketer calls a consumer with an offer, says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.
But inbound calls -- when a customer calls about a product after seeing it in a television, print or radio ad -- are not as regulated. See related: Pros and cons of charging automatic payments to a credit card, Consumers sucker-punched by sneaky 'gray charges' We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users.Negative option ads follow a simple principle: they assume that if you don't say no, you mean yes.Often, customers sign up for something like a free credit report or a trial shipment of vitamins, enter their credit card information and then get hit with months and months of charges because they don't realize they have to cancel, can't figure out how to cancel or they just forget.In a recent investigation of negative options offers peddled by e-cigarette manufacturers, Truth in Advertising found many of the companies were difficult or impossible to reach by customers trying to cancel.In addition, the companies promised free samples but required you to cancel before you even got the product, or said you had to pay for the sample if you opened the packaging.The Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureaus and consumer groups from across the country have gotten hundreds of complaints about the practice.