(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Minnesota-based jewelry and general merchandise catalog retailer will refund nearly $10,000 in membership fees the company charged several dozen Iowa consumers, through an agreement with Attorney General Tom Miller.
In an agreement called an “Assurance of Voluntary Compliance,” Stauer, of Burnsville, Minnesota, agreed to change its marketing practices and cooperate in providing refunds to 56 Iowans who had been enrolled and charged for a membership in the company’s “Platinum Club.” In exchange for $99 annual membership fees, the company provides special offers and discounts to club members.
Last fall, an Iowa consumer filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division, alleging that the company withdrew $89 from his checking account without permission.
“We determined that Stauer was not complying with Iowa law, particularly our Buying Club Law requiring specific disclosures in membership sales,” Miller said. “This can result in membership enrollments and charges a consumer may not have intended.”
Stauer enrolled most of its Platinum Club members, many of whom were subject to automatic annual renewal, when customers placed catalog orders. The company mailed out notices of upcoming automatic renewals, but consumers who missed them could get charged repeatedly without intending to continue their membership.
“Stauer was cooperative throughout, and agreed to make consumer-friendly changes to the way it markets its memberships,” Miller said. The company denied wrongdoing in the formal agreement, which was signed by NeXtten Stauer LLC, the company that markets Stauer products. Stauer agreed to pay the state $5,000 for the costs of the investigation.
Stauer has provided a list of affected customers, and the Consumer Protection Division will contact them about refunds.
“We can’t stress enough that Iowans would be well-advised to carefully review every credit card and bank statement for unauthorized charges,” Miller said. “Consumers are the first line of defense against less-than-transparent marketing practices that may create pitfalls for people who don’t review their bills.”
“Free Trial Offer” & Buying Club Tips
- Be wary of trial offers, “free trial” offers, and membership offers. Get the details and ask questions. 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, 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 email for notices that you will be billed unless you cancel. These mailings may look like junk mail or spam.
- 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 email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.