Government consumer agency focuses enquiry on Adaptive Affinity
Thousands of consumers who have unwittingly paid up to £30 a month to subscribe to vouchers or cash-back schemes may be able get their money back.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it had investigated Adaptive Affinity Ltd, a company that runs many online subscriptions schemes, and it had agreed to refund consumers with a valid complaint.
The OFT was particularly concerned that the company was in breach of certain consumer statutory laws such as the Unfair Trading regulations.
Cavendish Elithorn, of the OFT's Goods and Consumer Group, said: 'The OFT will take action to stop misleading business practices that develop online which leave shoppers out of pocket."
The OFT said that tens of thousands of UK consumers each month sign up to schemes run by the company, which is behind QuickCreditScore, HighCreditScore, CreditScoreMatters, High Street Max, Rewards Now and Rewards First.
However many people fail to realise that they have entered a binding contract with the company and will incur a monthly charge. Depending on the scheme, payments ranging from £9.95 to £29.95 a month are debited from people's bank accounts or credit cards if a trial subscription is not cancelled.
The OFT said it had "formed a view that Adaptive Affinity Limited may be operating in breach" of certain statutory laws. It cited certain provisions of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
For example the company was not making it clear to people that they were signing up for a service and would be charged.
"Some customers thought they had supplied their credit card details for identification purposes to facilitate a credit check, and so were unaware that these details would be used to take monthly payments.
"Some consumers were entered into a separate contract for a discount scheme when they accepted a supermarket voucher or cash back 'reward' without sufficient transparency about the consequences of that acceptance," said the OFT.
Adaptive Affinity has now given the OFT undertakings not to engage "in unfair practices or use unfair terms which could mislead people into signing up to subscription services which carry fees."
The OFT told us that the company had agreed that people with a complaint should contact it for a refund. It went on to say that although it doesn't take on individual cases if people still have complaints about the company they should contact the OFT.
"We will be monitoring Adaptive Affinity to make sure it abides by its undertakings," the OFT told us.
We have contacted Adaptive Affinity and the company sent us this statement:
Adaptive Affinity fully complied with the OFT's enquiry in 2009 and implemented all the changes they requested. In March 2011, Adaptive Affinity went into formal consultation with the OFT and worked closely with them to comply with its requested undertakings.
"Adaptive Affinity has never knowingly misled consumers; everyone who signs up to its products has to enter their credit card details and agree to the terms of membership. Adaptive Affinity only use credit card details to bill customers and customers' privacy and security is protected at all times.
"Adaptive Affinity is one of the UK's leading providers of consumer credit services and online shopping discount programmes. As a group, Adaptive Affinity has over 150,000 members and has established commercial partnerships with some of the most respected retail brands
"It has an impeccable customer service record; with 99 per cent of calls to its UK call centre answered without abandonment and within 30 seconds.
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