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Caveat Emptor: Priceline & NetMarket = Highway Robbery

By eries in News
Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:05:26 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

I'm pissed. What follows is a rant. Today I discovered separate charges of $69.95 on not one but two of my credit cards from a CT company called Netmarket. I just finished an agonizing conversation with them in which they agreed to refund my (two) membership fees but - get this - pro-rated from last month when the credit cards were billed. Now, I didn't sign up for Netmarket at all (let alone twice), but I have traced the problem to its root: the notorious Priceline.com!

Yup, that's right, the William Shatner approved company that is designed to help me name my own price. Here's my unfortunate story.

Over two months ago, I wanted to fly from San Diego to San Francisco at the last minute. So, I put in some bids on Priceline. I had a bid accepted for $100, which wasn't bad considering that the nearest commercial rate I could find was about $150. However, when I finally got the bill from Priceline, they charged me $179 for my $100 ticket - thanks to taxes, docking fees, and (my favorite) gasoline charges from United Airlines. Now, I called them up and explained to them that my definition of "ticket price" was the rate that was charged by the airline to get me from point A to point B. To make a long story segment short, I eventually won the argument and Priceline grudgingly reversed the charges to my credit card.

Enter Netmarket. When you place a bid on Priceline.com you have the opportunity to reduce your fare by signing up for various programs. So while I was researching fares, I clicked the Netmarket box. Turns out that you get signed up for this service whether or not your bid is accepted! So, on both bids that were rejected, and on bids that are eventually overturned because of Priceline's own mistakes.

Netmarket maintains that I agreed to pay $69.95 for their service at the moment that I checked the box on Priceline's website. Where can we draw the line? What constitutes giving someone my permission to charge my credit card?

The unhappy ending: Netmarket has agreed to reverse all but $10 worth of charges to my cards. To get the last $10 reversed, I have to send a physical letter vial snailmail to their "review board." What a complete hassle. Lesson learned, in this new cyberconomy the old rule still applies: Caveat Emptor!


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Caveat Emptor: Priceline & NetMarket = Highway Robbery | 28 comments (27 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Contact your credit card (3.80 / 4) (#1)
by fluffy grue on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 04:39:42 PM EST

This is consumer fraud, no two ways about it. Tell your credit card company that you never requested these services. Because they never got a physical signature authorizing these charges, Priceline and Netmarket will have no choice but to refund you the money. I believe that this is the case even for Visa debit cards now.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

No Agreement? (5.00 / 3) (#10)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:57:05 PM EST

How about that new digital 'signatures' act, wouldn't that be considered a legally binding agreement (for the one he clicked on)? And, even for the other one, if they put it in legalese somewhere, by clicking 'accept' for priceline wouldn't he be billed for that too?

Yeah, this is going to get even suckier. And I'm not going to be changing my mind about buying anything online anytime soon.... These 'improvements' aren't making me feel any more secure with allowing people to have access to my finances.

What's the status of e-cash solutions?

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
Re: No Agreement? (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 08:14:12 PM EST

These charges probably went through before the bill was passed, so I agree with the other posters that he should contest it with his credit card company.

N.B., YOUR FRADULENT CHARGES COMPLAINT MUST BE IN WRITING. DO NOT BELIEVE THE DRONE IF YOU ARE TOLD YOU CAN SETTLE THIS OVER THE PHONE. Dateline NBC had a story a while back on Citibank (IIRC) accepting verbal complaints about a $20 charge, then nailing consumers with multi-thousand dollar fradulent charges because of the fine print in the law said that if your complaints aren't in writing then you permanently forfeit the right to complain about *any* subsequent charges (or maybe, only charges from that party). It is probably not an overreaction to ask for a new CC# be issued!

On a related note, the banks will only consider yanking merchant agreements if they get chargebacks. If you settle for partial repayment it won't increase the likelihood that they'll lose the ability to pull in another sucker.

However, with the "electronic fraud" bill companies *can* hit you with charges if you don't follow through with a purchase. What, exactly, this means isn't known yet, but critics worry that this means that Priceline (as an example) *could* hit you with a $25 fee if you post an offer, you get a reply, but you don't accept it because your plans change.

[ Parent ]
Re: No Agreement? (none / 0) (#12)
by eries on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 08:22:44 PM EST

Actually, this fee is $75 - it took me over an hour with three customer "service" drones to convince them to reverse that charge too.
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project
[ Parent ]
Re: No Agreement? (none / 0) (#15)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 01:22:45 AM EST

On a related note, American Express has stopped allowing online pr0n sites to accept AE credit cards because the rate of (probably false) claims of "I didn't pay for that", etc... was too high. I tried searching on Yahoo! news for it, but could not find a link to the story.

[ Parent ]
AMEX for p0rn (none / 0) (#16)
by h2odragon on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 02:22:59 AM EST

it might also have something to do with numbers being stolen after having been used on porn sites. Despite the presumably high number of honest and honorable pr0n merchants out there, it's gotta be an easy way to scam numbers.

[ Parent ]
Agreed, *his* plan of action... (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 03:18:11 AM EST

But what about the future?

Is this not a plausible way of reading the digital signatures act (for companies)? And as of right now, there's no incentive for priceline, etc, not to engage in those predatory practices - is there? Consumer fraud, I didn't really see -- unfairness yes, but it was all laid out. Just like socking him with extra fees, on the legal side, but shady, very shady.

If that's the case, I'm probably never giving up a credit card online. But, where's my e-cash? Dead in the water?

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

[ Parent ]
Re: No Agreement? (none / 0) (#23)
by fluffy grue on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 02:50:07 PM EST

I was under the impression that the "digital signatures" act referred to strongly-encrypted signatures, like a PGP fingerprint, since those have SOME sort of authentication behind them. And since when does checking a box on an order form constitute a signature in physical transactions either?
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Signature bill not what you think (none / 0) (#25)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 07:04:26 PM EST

There was an article on Technocrat.net, "Signature bill not what you think", that discussed this.

Instead, these electronic signatures are a "sound, symbol, or process". By the simple act of pressing a telephone keypad that makes a sound ("press 9 to agree or 7 to hear this menu again"), clicking a hyper-link to enter a web site, or clicking "continue" on a software installer, the consumer consents to be bound to an electronic contract.

It links to this page on Cryptome.

BTW, it may be possible for a checking a box on a physical order form to be legally binding. I believe it's legal for you to sign with an "X" if you want to, although the vendor might not accept the order (since it would be hard for them to prove you signed it).

[ Parent ]

Re: Signature bill not what you think (none / 0) (#28)
by fluffy grue on Thu Jul 13, 2000 at 10:35:15 AM EST

Ugh, now that's just STUPID! No authentication whatsoever... basically it just legalizes the de-facto way that online merchants have already been doing it. But regardless, Pricewatch/NetMerchant added these charges on AFTER THE FACT. If I were to go to Target and pay for a $10 pair of boxers with my credit card and on the form it said, 'Boxers, $10, sign below for more information on these items', and then they go and charge me $50 to put me on a boxers mailinglist (which I never explicitly authorized), I doubt they'd be able to argue that by signing I had authorized those spurious charges.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: No Agreement? (none / 0) (#27)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 13, 2000 at 10:06:44 AM EST

The digital signatures act merely states that a 'signature' cannot be discounted solely because it is digital.

They no longer must require a physical handwritten signature; however, whatever digital method they use, they must be able to show that it was *you* that *knowingly* authorized the transaction (after all, that's what a signature is all about.)

If it was trickery, he can make the online company *show* him how he agreed to it, in something that's not easily fakeable. ie: A contract, digitally signed (as in, public-key) by both parties, including the date, so that it can be protected against modification, and that the date the party signed it can be proven.

[ Parent ]
William Shatner (1.75 / 4) (#2)
by Neuromancer on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 05:03:05 PM EST

It's ironic that William Shatner pretty much detests trekkies and has even written a book to the effect of "hey, fuck you guys." You would think that if he were more embracing of the fact that he is Captain Kirk (I know, amnesia) he wouldn't be stuck doing any commercial that comes down the pipe.

Hehe, sorry...

Re: William Shatner (2.50 / 2) (#6)
by KindBud on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:34:54 PM EST

Shatner has made his peace with being typecast as Captain Kirk. Anywhere I have read about it, he says now that Star Trek was the best thing that ever happened to him, that he is humbled that so many people were so deeply affected by the series, that he feels privileged to have been a part of it.

It was Leonard Nimoy who wrote a book titled I Am Not Spock.

Perhaps you were thinking of the Saturday Night Live skit Shatner did about 15 years ago, when he raged Get a life! at the convention-going trekkies. That was some funny shit! ;)

just roll a fatty

[ Parent ]

Re: William Shatner (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by diggman on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 11:26:38 PM EST

Don't forget, Leonard Nimoy also wrote another book after I Am Not Spock. I believe the title was I Am Spock.


How come Sarah Brady can handle a gun and not turn into a raving lunatic? Oh yeah, she already is one. Never mind...
[ Parent ]
Re: William Shatner (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 13, 2000 at 09:15:20 AM EST

Sarah Brady is my sister you cretin. Step outside now

[ Parent ]
That was funny (none / 0) (#18)
by Neuromancer on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 07:54:44 AM EST

Yeah, that skit was funny!

[ Parent ]
Re: William Shatner (2.00 / 2) (#9)
by iceyone on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:44:45 PM EST

Of course, there's also the fact that Shatner doesn't get paid cash for his work with Priceline - He takes huge throbbing loads of stock for everything he does for them.

So, really, if one was pissed at Shatner, all they'd have to do is not use priceline... That's in essence taking money out of his pockets.

[ Parent ]
Your credit card company will take the charges off (3.20 / 4) (#4)
by KindBud on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:28:10 PM EST

You should be taking this up with your credit card company. They'll remove the disputed charges - in whole, not a pro-rated amount.

You should also see if they can do some investigating of the fraud that was perpetrated on you. And of course, there's the Better Business Bureau, who will happily listen to your rant, and unlike me, they will not ask you Why are you telling me this? Do I look like someone who cares?


just roll a fatty

Re: Your credit card company will take the charges (1.25 / 4) (#5)
by eries on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:32:54 PM EST

I think it's pretty clear why I'm telling you this: this is inflammatory hate speach that is encouraging you to BURN DOWN AND DESTROY the headquarters of these organizations and William Shatner's house!!!!!!!!

Just kidding. I actually just thought it might be useful to help others avoid this situation.
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project
[ Parent ]

Re: Your credit card company will take the charges (1.00 / 3) (#7)
by KindBud on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:37:49 PM EST

Speaking of inflammatory, the word is spelled s-p-e-e-c-h.


just roll a fatty

[ Parent ]

Re: Your credit card company will take the charges (1.00 / 4) (#8)
by eries on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 06:42:41 PM EST

Actually, I believe it's spelled n-a-t-a-l-i-e-p-o-r-t-m-a-n-h-o-t-g-r-i-t-s
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project
[ Parent ]
Oh no the trolls have started to come here! (1.00 / 3) (#13)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jul 11, 2000 at 10:02:21 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Re: Your credit card company will take the charges (none / 0) (#22)
by chicmome on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 01:49:38 PM EST

The Better Business Bureau is bogus. I've talked with some small business owners and on the off occasion that someone actualy complains loud enough the BBB calls up the business and asks for an explanation. Since the BBB has membership dues it's in their best interest to resolve and/or disavow any knowledge of complaints. A local photographer told me that an explanation along the lines of "that customer was a pain in the butt," is sufficient to get a complaint dropped. I'm sure "they didn't read the fine print," is probably equally sufficient.

[ Parent ]
Go through the credit card company (4.70 / 3) (#19)
by Alhazred on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 09:44:51 AM EST

I know it may seem unlikely in this cynical age, but your credit card company will generally speaking back you up to the hilt.

Case in point, a friend of mine got a royal hassle from Gateway one time. They basically mesed with him for at least 6 months over a very bogus deal they tried to pull. Well finally one day he calls up the Master Card people and viola! Problem solved. Master Card simply explained to Gateway that if they wanted to keep accepting their credit card, that they had damn well better clean up their act. Now Gateway must charge bizillions of dollars a year through their merchant accounts, yet good old Master Card still kicked them in the ass, HARD.

Remember, the credit card companies ultimately make all their money off YOU, and for that reason they're actually pretty good about blowing idiots out of the water. Give them a try.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
Deja Vu (none / 0) (#20)
by Grimster on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 10:00:40 AM EST

I had this exact thing happen to me, except it was something called "Best Price USA" that mysteriously showed up on my debit card, I called the bastards up and they explained that "something" I had bought recently came with the option to become a 3 month! (for $78?) member of Best Price and I had opted to accept, I can only assume declining requires specifically selecting to DECLINE and that default answer is acceptance.

I threw a fit and they reversed the charges, I am still not 100% sure who I bought from that this got added from, I don't do much online purchasing, I figure the $10 or $20 I might save on "insert item here" will be more than paid for in hassles, aggravation, and just plain shitty service. If I need a harddrive I'll go to the local mom & pop PC store who I have a longstanding relationship with and pay that extra $15 for a drive knowing if it pings or formats with bad sectors all I gotta do is take it back and get another one, no muss, no fuss.

I really hate these kinds of things, you order "something" and along with it comes stuff you aren't informed about or even know about, I wonder how many thousands of dollars they make from people who don't pay such close attention to their card statements?

--- Do Not Click! Grimster
Human error... (none / 0) (#21)
by SwampGas on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 01:25:43 PM EST

Sounds like a classic case of "I didn't read the fine print". In the fine print, it clearly says "Yes, I want to sign up for this service" if you check the right box. It's all a matter of being informed.

Sure, I agree the trickery involved isn't exactly the best thing, but you really have no room to complain if you didn't first research it. I've been using Priceline to name my gas prices since it started, and have had no trouble.


The moral is correct (none / 0) (#24)
by ubu on Wed Jul 12, 2000 at 04:54:12 PM EST

Caveat Emptor... the article's author is entirely correct when he concludes with this moral. You can't legislate away the confusing and obfuscated contortions of private companies who seek to fleece the consumer. Never assume that someone else -- let alone Uncle Sam -- can save you from the immoral business practices of many companies.

It's your wallet. You're not to blame for the misdeeds of despicable businesses, but you are responsible for how you safeguard yourself. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
Caveat Emptor: Priceline & NetMarket = Highway Robbery | 28 comments (27 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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