Not sure what to say besides what I included in this letter to the FTC. Hope they get back to me. Am posting here to see for others so they don't make the same mistake I did. This is so bad, especially in tough economic times. TOTALLY unethical. I can't believe this is legal.
Dear Ms. Brill:
I am writing with very deep concern regarding deceptive practices by Direct TV, a satellite television service provider, who is partaking in "negative option" marketing, costing what they deem "lazy" consumers (in the words of their customer service staff) thousands of dollars a year without consumers' consent.
I am a consumer with an MBA in Marketing, I am a former brand manager, and now the owner of a small company, so I have a deep understanding of advertising and pricing practices. You can imagine that I'm somewhat embarrassed that I was unaware that Direct TV participated in negative option marketing, in which they do not seek permission for added services, only cancellation, and that I did not stop this horrendous practice before it spiraled into a substantial financial loss for my family and me. I am out more than $1000 as a result of this deception, and now I feel I should bring my experience to the FTC to see if there is any legal recourse for the tens of thousands of consumers who have unwittingly paid for services that they neither ordered nor were aware they had.
Below are my main points of concern. I hope you will take this case under advisement. Given what the FTC and Obama Administration have accomplished in protecting consumer rights on negative option marketing through legislation this year and in recent years, I have full confidence that you and your team will be able to help consumers, struggling to keep every penny of their hard-earned money in these difficult times. Thanks in advance for your attention.
1. The Bait and Switch Nature of Negative Option Pricing.
When I first subscribed to Direct TV, I registered for a basic package. I was promised a 1 year reduced rate of about $50 per month. I was on auto bill pay through my credit card, and although it is surely my responsibility to look at my bill, it wasn't until it tripled a month ago that I realized I had been exposed to a negative option marketing scheme in which services beyond what I had intended, contracted for, or wanted were added to my bill without my knowledge or express consent.
I understand that I didn't look at the bill. Mea culpa. It's my responsibility to examine each bill. However, when I contract with a company, I find it fair and reasonable consumer behavior to assume that I will be billed and will accordingly receive only the services I explicitly requested. I assume that I don't have to live in fear that the company with whom I've signed a contract for specific services will arbitrarily decide what new services they will give me and then charge me for them without written or verbal active consent.
In my case, my bill went from $50 to $90 to $150 over the course of 1 year on a contract that was for basic cable television services at $49.99 per month. When I finally caught the error and called for rectification, the representatives said that because I didn't reply to their opt-out letter I was responsible for the NFL Sunday Ticket service, a six-month affair that would cost me and my non-football watching family more than $240 over the course of six months. Add this to the $420 in charges incurred for HBO and Showtime, to which I never knew I had access, and we are taking about a serious cost for my family and me.
2. No messages on the service itself alerting consumers about new services and corresponding new charges make it difficult to check activation and cancel if needed.
A main lynchpin of my concern is that satellite TV service is not a physical product. In the case of a product, it arrives and it is a physical reminder that you have been signed up for something you didn't want. You have the option to return the product for which you were enrolled via negative option marketing and then your liability is limited.
With a service such as television, one has no indication that new services have been added (although I believe satellite companies can, from a technology perspective, push out messages to consumers as needed). At no point in time was there a message on my television that new services were available or would be added unless I reached out to Direct TV for cancellation.
3. Helping overburdened consumers with tight finances combat a scheme that prevents them from putting food on their table is unconscionable.
From my research, I know this is a point of active legislation and the FTC and Obama Administration are actively helping protect the rights of consumers who are duped by these money-making schemes that prey on the "laziness" or inaction of consumers (in reality we are busy, trying to raise families, make a living, keep our homes, pay our taxes, and glossy paper inserts and small print on a Web site are low "to read" priorities in these difficult times when I and others like me are just worried about basic survival).
I hope you will consider investigating this unethical practice among federally regulated companies, such as DirectTV, Dish, Comcast and any others who may be partaking in this.
Please contact me with any questions or concerns. Your help on this issue is greatly appreciated and needed.