2-for-1 fine print can trap consumers

BJ's agrees to pay penalty

April 02, 2010|By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com

Coupon masters, here's a question for you: Have you ever had to pay extra to take advantage of a "buy one, get one free" offer because the price of the "free" item exceeded the price limit stated on the coupon?

BJ's Wholesale Club will pay a $40,000 penalty as part of a settlement with the state attorney general's office for giving Maryland consumers "buy one, get one free" store coupons with fine print that capped the value of the free product.

In some cases, the language capped the coupons at less than the price of the product, so consumers had to pay extra for the item they thought they would receive for free, according to the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division.

For example, a consumer purchased cheddar cheese to get a box of crackers free. However, the coupon was capped at $5.29, and the crackers really cost $7.59, said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the office. The consumer had to pay the difference, she said.

The coupons were distributed in late 2008 and early 2009, and according to the attorney general's office, as many as 2,000 Marylanders may have paid to receive their free products - or rather, not-quite-free.

In the settlement, BJ's denied it violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act but did agree to refund the extra money paid by consumers and to not charge customers extra for products that should be free, according to the attorney general's office.

If you were one of those customers, you'll be getting a letter from BJ's along with your refund check.

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