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automatic renewals and the WSJ
Old 08-03-2013, 07:22 PM   #1
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automatic renewals and the WSJ

I have been charter subscriber to the digital edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and have continued more on than off the last nearly 15 years.

It started of at $79/year and has been steadily increasing. For the last 7 or 8 years I have been engaged ongoing fight with the WSJ and their automatic renewal policies and pricing.

They insist on automatic renewal,and even when I deliberately give them a credit card which will expire before the renewal but they still charge the card. This is evidently legal .

What pisses me off is the renewal is always much much higher (say 50%) more than the teaser rate for new subscribers (which they don't actually track). So each year we do this dance, the Journal auto renews my membership. I call up to complain about the price and cancel and get a refund. A few days or a few weeks I find new subscriber coupon and start the process over any time I talk to customer service I request I be taken off auto renewal. They never promise to do it but do say they'll put a note on my account.

This year, they sent me a notice that my credit card on file was expiring. I ignored it and then in July they auto renewed at 12 x monthly rate of $23= $258 which floored me. A pretty massive increase from the $120 I paid last year. At no time did the WSJ send me any type of notice of how much I was going to be paying or even that I was being automatically renewed. Nor have they ever done so in the past.

I wondered if there was a law against this, and to my delighted found there was a new law. Evidently Hawaii and 1/2 dozen other states, lead by NY which has the strictest laws require notification for renewals.

Quote:
Such legislation also provides that any person who sells or offers to sell any products or services to a consumer pursuant to a consumer contract that has a specified contract term of twelve months or more, under which the contract will automatically renew for a specified term of more than one month unless the consumer cancels the consumer contract, must notify the consumer clearly and conspicuously:
(1) That the consumer contract will automatically renew unless the consumer cancels the contract;
(2) How to cancel the contract; and
(3) The deadline by which the consumer shall respond to cancel the consumer contract and prevent automatic renewal.
The notice provided to the consumer must be sent to the consumer no less than thirty days and no more than sixty days before the date upon which the consumer must respond under paragraph (3) above.
So I call up the WSJ customer service dept. They apologize, (but now days customer service reps are trained to apologize if sun isn't out.) and refund my money. However, when I ask to speak to a supervisor I am told none is available and then ask have someone from their legal contact me. I am pretty sure the CSR ignored me at that point, although I didn't raise my voice or anything.

Of course later today when I clicked on WSJ subscriber article link I am invited to try the WSJ digital edition for $1 a week for 12 weeks = $52 a year.

So my questions are.
1. Does this practice annoy people as much as me.
2. Does it appear that WSJ is violating the law.
3. If I wanted to pursue this further should I contact the state attorney's general office or some place else.
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Old 08-03-2013, 07:29 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by clifp View Post
They insist on automatic renewal,and even when I deliberately give them a credit card which will expire before the renewal but they still charge the card. This is evidently legal .
Even if you dispute the charges? Wow, this is scary if so, and it seems like the only way to put a stop to it is to cancel the account entirely, which sucks.

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Originally Posted by clifp View Post
Of course later today when I clicked on WSJ subscriber article link I am invited to try the WSJ digital edition for $1 a week for 12 weeks = $52 a year.

So my questions are.
1. Does this practice annoy people as much as me.
2. Does it appear that WSJ is violating the law.
3. If I wanted to pursue this further should I contact the state attorney's general office or some place else.
1. Yes. This is life as a satellite TV customer. You have to bitch and be a general pain in the ass in order to get a better deal. You have to keep calling them in order to get these "new subscriber deals" and other deals that are hush-hush to the masses but are sometimes given to certain customers.

2. Don't know about the law, but at very least it feels like you shouldn't be responsible for the charges since they were run on an expired card. Frankly I think it sucks rocks that the CC company allowed it to go through without any verification or approval from you.

3. Possible, I guess, if you live in a state that's friendly to consumer complaints (and not a rubber stamp for the Chamber of Commerce) and you've already tried disputing the charge. My guess would be that if you didn't try to dispute the charge, no one would do anything -- not WSJ, not the credit card company, not the state's consumer watchdog agency.
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Old 08-03-2013, 07:38 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by clifp View Post
So my questions are.
1. Does this practice annoy people as much as me.
2. Does it appear that WSJ is violating the law.
3. If I wanted to pursue this further should I contact the state attorney's general office or some place else.
1) Yes. I've been going through much the same hoop dance you have.
2) I dunno. It seems to me the WSJ could meet the letter of the law for print subscribers by having a little box notice somewhere in every newspaper (legal notices? Page 2 where they have the phone number for the circulation department) advising people that they will be autorenewed at the prevailing (high) rate, how to opt out, and telling them how to read the label to see their subscription's termination date. For digital subscribers the same thing could be hidden somewhere on the site. Or, maybe their subscription period is really 359 days, so it avoids the law's 12 month stipulation.
3) Maybe take out an innocent little advertisement in the WSJ seeking an attorney to handle a big class action suit against the WSJ based on this law. I'll bet that would get a better response from the WSJ than you'd get by talking to the CSR. You probably wouldn't even have to pay for the ad--they'd be in contact with you within 60 minutes.

I wish you luck, on behalf of myself and the rest of the members of this "class".
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Old 08-03-2013, 07:50 PM   #4
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I deal with this all the time with newspaper subscriptions, and cable/FIOS type subscriptions. Companies want to provide "introductory rates" in the hopes that upon renewal you will forget how good of a deal you got and just go with the full retail price without noticing. While it's annoying, I always thought that those of us who renegotiate the rate ever year, in spite of the hassles, are the ones who participate in this ER forum, and are FI and hopefully enjoying or planning to enjoy ER. However, most of the world just ignores this stuff and pays full retail because it's easier to do so that to manage all this stuff and negotiate a new deal each year.

The fact that you've been successfully renegotiating your subscription rate for 15 years tells me exactly why you are a member of this forum! Don't complain, be appreciative that you know enough to do so, and that doing so has brought you here.
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Old 08-03-2013, 07:54 PM   #5
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2. Don't know about the law, but at very least it feels like you shouldn't be responsible for the charges since they were run on an expired card.
The card may have expired but the account was still active ( I assume ). So it would be easy for them to change/update the expiration date since most are done on a regular 2-3 year cycle.

This may be a good application for the virtual CC number where the number expires. It's basically good for one use or so many days.
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Old 08-03-2013, 08:19 PM   #6
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The fact that you've been successfully renegotiating your subscription rate for 15 years tells me exactly why you are a member of this forum! Don't complain, be appreciative that you know enough to do so, and that doing so has brought you here.
I do it and I still complain. It's a rotten way to treat long-time, loyal customers. And I have no qualms about doing so.

Now get off my lawn!
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Old 08-03-2013, 08:27 PM   #7
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I did not renew my subscription to "USA Today" a few weeks ago. I refused to pay their increased price. Especially when I can get all the news I need free of charge on my iPad.
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Old 08-03-2013, 09:49 PM   #8
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Such practice won't change unless customers go elsewhere. I dropped a subscription to a newsletter than auto-renewed against my instructions.
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Old 08-04-2013, 06:06 AM   #9
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This is why I don't auto-renew anything and pay by check.
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Old 08-04-2013, 07:01 AM   #10
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Such practice won't change unless customers go elsewhere.
Or the state makes such arrangements illegal. If consumers aren't willing to stand up and assert an element of consumer power, then they don't deserve that power.

I found this listing:
Quote:
  1. Auto-renewal laws that apply to contracts with individual consumers, not companies, that require only clear and conspicuous disclosure of auto-renewal terms (California, North Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon fall in this category);
  2. Auto-renewal laws that apply to contracts with individual consumers, not companies, that require clear and conspicuous disclosure of auto-renewal terms and require a service provider to notify its customer of the auto-renewal within a certain period of time before the cancelation deadline (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Hawaii and Utah fall in this category); and
  3. Auto-renewal laws that impose similar requirements as those described above, but only with respect to very specific types of contracts, such as (for example) contracts for health club memberships, home security services, leases of certain types of personal property or retail telecommunications service subscriptions. (Arkansas, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin fall in this category).
Contract Auto-Renewals Not Necessarily So

If you don't live in one of those states, or live in one of the states in category #3 and engage a service other than those listed in category #3, you should be aware that you're not covered by such protections.
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Old 08-04-2013, 12:18 PM   #11
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This is why I don't auto-renew anything and pay by check.
I am with you on that Walt. On all my subscriptions, Internet and satellite, they get a check each month. This way I always get the best deal. I do auto CC payment on my cell phone and local newspaper because they do not try to put the screws to me and I get the best rate on an ongoing basis without having to play their game.
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Old 08-04-2013, 12:29 PM   #12
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Bugs me too. If there is one benefit to when a credit card is changed by the issuer because of fraud, it automatically stops the auto-renew.

Just because it is against the law doesn't mean there is a penalty for the lawbreaker. A complaint to the State Attorney General and the appropriate Federal Regulatory agency may not bring any relief but it may add ammo to a future call for more and better enforcement.
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Old 08-04-2013, 01:31 PM   #13
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I didn't play the game of re-subscribing, I just canceled. I thought I got an email before each renewal and knew the price also, so the auto renewal wasn't a big factor, just the price.
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Old 08-04-2013, 02:14 PM   #14
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As mentioned in another post, company customer service departments have the capability of "flagging" accounts where customers have caused a rep some extra work or where there have been more than one or two complaints. Asking for a supervisor just means that another (nonsupervisor) takes over with canned responses which eventually lead to either a "hang up", music and ads, and then, some other tech with an original "Welcome to *******).

In the end, there is no one to complain to. Am able to keep sanity by accepting the old adage that says... "when rape is inevitiable, relax and enjoy it". Doesn't help the ego, but lowers the blood pressure. I look at a few defeats as being cheaper than a hospital stay.

Just sayin'...
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Old 08-04-2013, 02:30 PM   #15
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Why not just let your subscription expire? That's what my wife and I did. Then we re-upped for print/digital for $99 for the year when they were sending us all the "Come back!" letters.
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Old 08-04-2013, 03:01 PM   #16
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Bugs me too. If there is one benefit to when a credit card is changed by the issuer because of fraud, it automatically stops the auto-renew.
I'm not sure that is the case. I cancelled my credit card completely with Bank of America, only to find that skype automatically renewed my premium account on the cancelled card, which reactivated the card. I called Bank of America to complain, and they told me there was a new regulation that just took effect which allows a merchant to reactivate an expired or cancelled card if the card holder signed up for a service on it that automatically renews. This was the case even if the automatic renewal was not mandatory and I had the right to cancel immediately. I tried to dispute it and they got angry and hung up on me. Since the charge was legitimate, I just paid the bill and cancelled the card a second time.
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Old 08-04-2013, 03:12 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by clifp View Post
...(snip)...
So my questions are.
1. Does this practice annoy people as much as me.
2. Does it appear that WSJ is violating the law.
3. If I wanted to pursue this further should I contact the state attorney's general office or some place else.

4. Should I cancel the WSJ and go with other news sources?
Sorry, I can't resist adding the #4 which you should have asked.

Why be annoyed by these guys? I dropped the WSJ years ago after subscribing for around 30 years. Saved me from reading a lot of bunk. WSJ is a highly questionable value proposition.

I think there are some great free news sources plus even better investment advice. Some ideas for online:
New York Times
BBC
Business Week
Swedroe blog
Financial Times
Spiegel - for a German perspective
France 24 - for a French perspective
Mobius blog - EM markets

And for my $'s the Economist is a good financial plus general world news source.
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Old 08-04-2013, 03:54 PM   #18
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I'm not sure that is the case. I cancelled my credit card completely with Bank of America, only to find that skype automatically renewed my premium account on the cancelled card, which reactivated the card. I called Bank of America to complain, and they told me there was a new regulation that just took effect which allows a merchant to reactivate an expired or cancelled card if the card holder signed up for a service on it that automatically renews. This was the case even if the automatic renewal was not mandatory and I had the right to cancel immediately. I tried to dispute it and they got angry and hung up on me. Since the charge was legitimate, I just paid the bill and cancelled the card a second time.
Any chance you have a link to that? I don't know of any regulation like that and I don't see how it could be legal. That is the same as opening an account in your name without authorization from you.
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Old 08-04-2013, 03:57 PM   #19
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Any chance you have a link to that? I don't know of any regulation like that and I don't see how it could be legal. That is the same as opening an account in your name without authorization from you.
As a matter of fact, it was when I asked Bank of America for a link to that regulation that they hung up the phone on me! I searched all over the internet but never found it. I believe the credit card reform act of last year is what they are referring to, but whenever I've tried to find information on it, I've come up with nothing. They said it was written to protect the merchants from cardholders agreeing to make recurring payments and then canceling the cards to get out of paying their bills.
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Old 08-04-2013, 04:00 PM   #20
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This article talks about the recurring charge problem, but still does not identify where in the regulation merchants are allowed to take advantage of it.

Pull the Plug on Recurring Charges - NASDAQ.com
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