Be wary in doing online survey

June 10, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG

THE Q:

After making a purchase on Restaurant.com recently, reader Richard Szymkiewicz decided to take a survey for a $10 coupon good toward a future purchase.

He said he later discovered that he was "fraudulently charged $14.95 per month for a membership" he did "not knowingly join."

"Restaurant.com gave our card information to a company, AP9/Shopping Essentials, without our informed consent," Szymkiewicz said. "They do tell you your information will be given to companies they think you might be interested in. What they don't tell you is that all information means your credit card number as well. ... If Restaurant.com is running a reputable business, it should not be passing on credit card information to AP9."

Is Restaurant.com guilty of sharing customer credit card numbers with another business without permission?

The A:

Have you never seen an online survey you didn't like? Do you occasionally fill out questionnaires to get freebies, coupons or other deals? Are you then shocked to discover some obscure charge on your credit card?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I must tell you to please read all fine print carefully and be mindful of where you click should you choose to participate in survey offers.

Many of those "freebies" aren't so free.

Restaurant.com connects consumers to the $10 coupon offer, but the offer comes from Shopping Essentials, a separate company.

To take advantage of the coupon, consumers must fill out the survey and agree via electronic signature to join the Shopping Essentials' savings club for a monthly fee, said Jeff Conlin, vice president of Restaurant.com's corporate communications.

'Clearly stated'

"Terms are clearly stated on a page that the customer must click on and thereby agree to before any agreement with Shopping Essentials is formed," Conlin said.

In examining the 2007 Consumer Survey offer, which asks three questions about your shopping habits, the end of the survey does clearly state that by "clicking 'Yes,' I have read and agree to the Offer Details displayed to the left and authorize Restaurant.com to securely transfer my name, address and credit/debit card information to Shopping Essentials+, a service provider of Restaurant. com."

Offer details

To the left of the survey, the offer details say that: "The membership fee of $14.95 per month will be charged/debited by Shopping Essentials+ to the credit/debit card you used today with Restaurant.com, after the 30-day FREE trial and then automatically charged/debited each month at the then-current monthly membership fee so long as you remain a member."

Should you wish to cancel within the first 30 days, the disclaimer says you can call 888-999-0564 and speak to a Shopping Essentials+ member representative - "you will have paid nothing and owe nothing. Please note that by agreeing to these Offer Details, you are authorizing Restaurant.com to securely transfer your name, address and credit/debit card information to Shopping Essentials+, a service provider of Restaurant.com."

There are several similar accusations against Restaurant.com and Shopping Essentials on online complaint boards, but in this case, Restaurant.com has fully disclosed what you're getting yourself into.

It's your responsibility to read the caveats.

"Still, we take this person's concerns and our customers' privacy very seriously," Conlin said. "We have already contacted Shopping Essentials to review this complaint and are discussing additional ways to clarify the offer to avoid future misunderstandings. We sent [Szymkiewicz] an apology letter, made ourselves available for discussion and will work through all issues to earn back his trust."

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests @baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming. Read the blog at www.baltimore sun.com/consuminginterests.

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