Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

June 20, 2000 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357

Curran To Consumers: Be Wary of New "Buying Club" Scam Utilizing Clever Mailings

Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. and his Consumer Protection Division are warning consumers across the state about a new scam that uses clever mailings to financially trap consumers into a costly, unwanted membership in a buying club.

The scam often begins with an offer of "thanks" at the conclusion of a previous transaction with another company, whereby the purchaser is offered two free airline tickets and a trial membership in a discount buying club (perceived to also be free). That offer is followed by the mailing of a letter and buying club membership card with promises of huge discounts on everything from travel to televisions to furniture. The letter also says that their credit card number (which the company already has obtained without the consumer's knowledge) will be charged for the membership fee ($72.00) unless they call to cancel within 30 days. When any of the consumers who contacted us tried to call the company to cancel, it was difficult or impossible for them to get through to anyone. Many also do not recall ever receiving such an offer when making other purchases and were upset to learn that the company had obtained their credit card number.

In addition to conducting an investigation into such practices, Attorney General Curran wishes to provide unsuspecting consumers with these tips:

  • Always check your credit card bill, as you should your telephone bill, to make sure all the charges listed are items you purchased or intended to purchase. Immediately call your credit card company to place any unauthorized item in dispute.

  • When you order anything by phone, be alert to everything the order clerk says. If they make an offer you aren't interested in, make sure you are very clear in refusing it.

  • If you are offered a free trial membership in a discount buying service or other plan such as a credit card fraud protection plan, it's probably wisest to refuse. Many consumers say it's very difficult to cancel before the trial period expires. And you may forget that you agreed to the trial membership and if you don't cancel within the given time period, or the company never sends you anything, you will be charged the membership fee.

  • Also, think twice before cashing "promotional checks" sent to you in the mail. Usually by signing and cashing the check you are giving permission for the company to enroll you in some kind of service for which you will be billed. We have also received complaints from consumers that discount buying clubs claim the consumer enrolled in the club by cashing a promotional check.