Deception in Post-Transaction Marketing
Benjamin Edelman - November 19, 2009

Post-transaction marketers Webloyalty, Vertrue, and Affinion have attracted criticism for solicitations that tend to deceive consumers. Their services typically entail recurring billing programs that promise a savings or discount, but actually charge users on an ongoing basis. They promote these services while customers are finishing the checkout process at trusted e-commerce sites -- a time when few users expect unrelated offers from third parties. Furthermore, they obtain consumers' credit card numbers from partner sites -- so a user may enter a billing relationship and face credit card charges without providing a card number to the company that posts the charges.


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This page presents key primary source documents (internal company emails and analyses and reports from victim consumers) as well as outside analyses (a Senate staff report and testimony from industry experts).

Senate Staff Report

Aggressive Sales Tactics on the Internet and their Impact on American consumers - staff report, Commerce Committee, United States Senate

Presents "highly aggressive sales tactics [which] charge millions of American consumers for services the consumers do not want and do not understand they have purchased." (3) Concludes that post-transaction marketing practices "exploit consumers' expectations about the online 'checkout' process." (3) "Misleading 'Yes' and 'Continue' buttons cause consumers to reasonably think they are completing the original transaction, rather than entering into a new, ongoing financial relationship with a membership club." (3)

Reports that 35 million consumers have paid $1.4 billion for post-transaction marketing offers. (4) Of this $1.4 billion, $792 million was paid out to the merchant web sites that presented post-transaction offers. (4) received more than $70 million. (5)

Identifies the deception resulting from "data pass" automatic transfer of customers' credit card information from merchant to post-transaction marketer. (8) Citing FTC and NAAG authority and experience in telephone billing, notes that the act of typing payment information provides an indication of a consumer's willingness to enter into a transaction. (8-9) Reports companies' estimates that requiring customers to type their credit card numbers would reduce signup rates by a factor of 3 to 4. (21)

Chronicles the history of post-transaction marketers, including a series of state attorney general and class action lawsuits, as well as (for Affinion/CUC) overstated earnings giving rise to SEC investigations and imprisonment of company executives. (13-17)

Reports that post-transaction marketers pay a "bounty" of $10 to $30 when a customer responds to a post-transaction offer and becomes enrolled in a membership club. (19)

Presents low levels of consumer awareness of their memberships in post-transaction clubs. (22) Cites numerous consumer complaints. (23) Presents companies' training and scripts for customer service staff to respond to customer complaints, particularly complaints that customers do not know why they were enrolled. (25-27) Identifies high cancellation rates and low usage rates as further facts confirming that subscriptions were unwanted. (27-29)

Identifies efforts to shield merchants from customer complaints about post-transaction marketers, calling it a "strict no-no" to refer customers to the merchants who presented the offers. (29-30) Quotes selected complaints from customers who learned which merchants had referred them to post-transaction marketers. (31) Quotes a variety of complaints from merchants concerned about deception in post-transaction offers. (31-35)

Exhibit 1 details merchants with particularly large earnings from post-transaction marketing, including (more than $70 million), as well as,, ColumbiaHouse, Confi-Check, Expedia/, Fandango, FTD, Hotwire, InQ, Intelius,, Orbitz, Priceline, RedcatsUSA, Shutterfly, Travelocity, USAirways, VistaPrint (more than $10 million each).

A May 2010 Supplemental Staff Report explores post-transaction marketeters' efforts to avoid providing refunds -- including scripts to minimize the amount of money returned to consumers, denying refunds unless consumers used specific words in making their demands, and intentionally failing to notify consumers with multiple memberships (even when a consumer called to complain about one such membership).


In November 2009, the Senate Commerce Committee posted large multi-document files of materials obtained from post-transaction marketers and partner merchants. For readers' convenience, the documents are presented here in separate files with brief summaries.

In May 2010, the Senate Comerce Committee posted further documents revealing post-transaction marketers' strategies at "refund mitigation" (scripts to minimize the amount of money they returned to customers), "magic words" (denying refunds unless consumers used specific words in making their demands), intentionally failing to notify consumers with multiple memberships (even when a consumer called to complain about one such membership), and generally failing to follow applicable card network rules.

Victim Testimony

Expert Testimony


Screenshots and Screenshot Analyses



Posted: November 19, 2009.
Last Updated: June 7, 2010.
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