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This happened to me... watch out, it could happen to you!

I noticed a $1.95 charge on my credit card bill identified as Privilege Pass.

The phone number 877-564-8534 was listed with the merchant's name.

I googled the phone number but got no hits (that problem will be fixed once google indexes this page :-) ).

I called the phone number and got a message:

Thank you for calling customer service. Your call may be monitored for training and administrative purposes.

Sometimes, though, it says:

Thank you for calling Encore Marketing.

I ask the customer service rep: What is Privilege Pass?

She responds: Privilege pass is a membership that you sign up for over the internet.

I then ask her how come I've never heard of Privilege Pass before?

She explains that Privilege Pass is only offered through Newport News.

What the heck is Newport News? And how come, when I called up twenty minutes earlier, I was told that it was offered through Spiegel?

In futher investigation, I discovered that Privilege Pass is currently being offered through Spiegel, but there's nothing to prevent them from partnering with other merchants to offer the Privilege Pass program.

In any case, Encore Marketing International of Lanham, MD, aka EMI, is doing business as Privilege Pass. They claim that authorization for the purchase was obtained by Spiegel.

The $1.95 charge is for a 30-day trial membership, after which monthly charges will be added to your bill. The amount of the monthly charge may vary depending on the offer details.

The BBB report at http://www.dc.bbb.org/report.html?national=Y&compid=7628 indicates there have been numerous complaints about credit and billing and refund practices.

We infer from this that some people don't notice the monthly charges for several months, and that EMI won't credit the charges when the customer contacts them.

Most people give up at that point, but a small percentage of those people follow through by contacting the BBB. At this point, EMI makes a more generous offer (perhaps crediting all charges). Here's the explanation from the BBB report:

The pattern of complaints generally concern confusion over the assessment of membership fees through the company's marketing methods, and other billing disputes. In its responses, the company explained its membership policy and usually provided a refund, while cancelling membership.

Even after canceling, Privilege Pass continued to bill us $14.95 every 28 days. I had to call again to get those charges removed.

So here's the Cagey Consumer's recommendation:

If you got a charge on your credit card bill for Privilege Pass, and you believe that you did not knowingly authorize this charge, dispute the charges through your credit card company rather than through Encore Marketing.

The credit card companies have generally become quite liberal in honoring dispute requests, and they're often familiar with the questionable practices involved with such programs. You won't have to depend on EMI honoring your request, and in addition to charging back the purchase, the credit card company will impose sanctions against them if they receive a large number of such complaints.



Topic SpiegelPrivilegePass . { Edit | Ref-By | Attach | Diffs | r1.2 | > | r1.1 }
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Revision r1.2 - 21 Feb 2006 - 21:50 by EliMantel web search for EliMantel
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