It used to be you bought things: software, music, media.
But today, in an increasingly large series of little bites, the monthly “rental” bill is growing quickly, with no signs of slowing down.
Here’s just a glance at my recurring software costs:
Netflix $16 per month
Adobe Premiere $22.85
Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom $10.88
Big Vu Prompter $9.99
Microsoft 360 $11.88
Siteground Hosting $17.95
File this Fetch $2
So, just a quick look at my credit card shows that my monthly digital bill skyrocketed with lots of little charges — some known, while others coming as a complete surprise. That’s over two grand a year, and growing. So I’m digging in to cut back and narrow charges to services I actually use.
But even with diligence and focus, there’s one big surprise charge that I just can’t seem to stop: Amazon Video’s network charges.
A few weeks back, I found I had ‘“subscribed’ to PBS Masterpiece and HBO on Amazon. No email notification, no listing in any of the MANY emails I get from Amazon. The info was buried deep in the site, deep in digital subscriptions.
So I texted with Amazon support, and the results were surprising, to say the least. In one text exchange, I had Dinesh tell me that well, HBO had been used on my iPad. Could he see the usage? He could! And sure enough, after some digging, it turned out that “Chernobyl” had been viewed for 15 seconds.
Perhaps that had been a mistake? I asked.
Deepak explained that billing was instantaneous.
I asked if Amazon didn’t require a PIN to buy a subscription, and Deepak suggested that I turn on that feature.
Ok, sure but when I checked, it was already on.
Then Deepak admitted that digital subscriptions didn’t require a PIN, were instantaneous, had no email notification, and the company was, in fact, getting a large number of accidental subscriptions.
This is what in the billing world is called SLAMMING, adding charges to an account without the customer’s knowledge or consent.
When I checked back two weeks later, the HBO subscription had not been changed, and the promised rebate for six months had not been credited (maybe somewhere on my credit card, but Sathish couldn’t provide documentation of any rebate.).
This was what he wrote: “all subscritpions [sic] are started with 1-click. If you try watching a video that is not included under Prime and included under one of the video channel subscriptions like HBO, PBS, the subscription gets started and renews automatically to provide customers uninterrupted entertainment.”
But what if I don’t want “uninterrupted entertainment”?
Well, you can cancel your Prime subscription. That’s about it. There’s no way to limit Prime Video or Prime Subscriptions.
And, since Amazon has my credit card — well, it’s up to ME to chase THEM to get my money back.
Turns out I’m not
alone in getting caught in what is now known as “subscription traps.”
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2017 reported some $5.7 million of these losses by U.S. consumers. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about them doubled from 2015 to 2017.
So, what to do?
The solution may be services like Do Not Pay, an iPhone app that works by generating an email address that forwards to your real one after disabling read receipts and location tracking. Users receive a card number meant to free them from ever using their personal financial information for a free trial again. So, no credit card charges, no fees racking up. Pretty neat, don’t you think?