(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that refund checks totaling about $700,000 are going out to approximately 2,800 Iowa consumers who had been unlawfully charged for memberships by AmeriMark Direct, LLC of Cleveland, Ohio.
The refund checks are part of a settlement agreement from last May, called an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, which required AmeriMark to make payments into a fund to provide partial refunds to Iowans.
AmeriMark has sent all required payments, and the Consumer Protection Division is now mailing refund checks to eligible Iowa consumers. The refund checks range in amount from $63 to $1,780.
The Consumer Protection Division investigated AmeriMark after receiving a complaint in September 2010 from an Iowan who discovered that her credit card had been charged more than $1,500 over a four year period for a membership she didn’t know she had.
“Our investigation found that AmeriMark had been making phone pitches for memberships when customers called in to order items from the company’s catalogs,” Miller said. “But Iowans were being enrolled without getting the notices and disclosures required by Iowa law. The company agreed to stop the unlawful enrollments and charges, and to provide money for refunds.” The company denied liability in the agreement.
The Consumer Protection Division contacted a number of Iowans who were long-term members of AmeriMark programs, typically paying monthly membership charges through their credit or debit cards. Like the Iowan who had complained back in September of 2010, each person contacted was unaware of the membership and the ongoing charges, according to Miller.
AmeriMark sells women’s apparel, personal care products, jewelry and health-related merchandise, primarily through catalogs such as Anthony Richards, Healthy Living, Windsor Collection, Beauty Boutique, Time For Me, Feel Good Store, Complements, and Essentials. The membership programs were called Passport To Savings, Passport To Health, ID Sentinel Alert, and Easy Living.
Customers placing phone orders from a catalog received an unexpected sales pitch urging the customer to try one of the memberships for a small initial charge that increased for subsequent months if the consumer didn’t cancel.
“Some Iowans had been unknowingly paying monthly charges for more than ten years for memberships they didn’t want, didn’t use, and didn’t know they had,” Miller said. “That’s why compliance with our Buying Club Memberships Law is so important – it prevents unintended enrollments and charges.”
“This shows, yet again, just how important it is to be on the watch for improper or unintended charges,” Miller added. “We do what we can to require transparency and above-board marketing, but the first line of defense is a vigilant consumer.”
“Trial Offer” Tips
- Be wary of trial offers and “free trial” offers. Get the details: Will you be billed automatically if you don’t cancel? By when must you cancel? How do you cancel? Will you receive a mail notice? Remember, they already may have your bank or credit card number to charge you.
- Examine your credit card bills every month, and also your checking account and debit card statements, other financial accounts, and phone bills. Watch for unauthorized charges, and dispute them at once, in writing.
- Watch your mail and e-mail for notices that you will be billed unless you cancel. These mailings may look like “junk mail.”
- Beware of cashing a check that comes in the mail with a “free trial offer.” The fine print may obligate you to future payments.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or e-mail directly at email@example.com. Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 1-888-777-4590.
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