In today’s mail I received what appears to be a check from Plow & Hearth, a company from which I have occasionally ordered things. At any rate, it was their logo on the outside. Tear off stub on each end, unfold … a check for $5. Nice! Probably only valid toward my next Plow & Hearth purchase, I thought. Still, a nice little promotion. Then I started reading the fine print. By cashing or depositing the check, it seems, I’m purchasing a membership in Travelers Advantage. That’s in 6-point type though. Not exactly a red-letter warning. Okay, admittedly, if I flip the whole thing over, the details are there. 2% cash back on credit card purchases! Everyday savings! Travel discounts! All that good stuff you get as a Travelers Advantage member. Eventually you get to this:
When you cash or deposit the attached check, we will automatically charge the $12.99 monthly fee to your card on file with Plow & Hearth for a membership in Travelers Advantage, unless you call 1-866-614-1614 to cancel during the thirty-day period and owe nothing. … Travelers Advantage is not affiliated with Plow & Hearth. … We will not have to ask for your account number or further consent in order to charge you.
Call me old fashioned, but I think this is a sneaky, despicable way to do business. Despite the Plow & Hearth logo on the front — by far the largest type on the entire mailer — this is not a mailing from them. And the way the mailer folds, the P&H logo is not actually on the check; it’s on the back of the disclosure. Took me a while to notice that. Had the logo not been on the front, along with “Check Enclosed,” the thing would never have been opened in the first place. So it’s all a trick to get me to cash the “check from Plow & Hearth” and thereby authorize Travelers Advantage to charge $12.99 to my credit card every month without their ever asking me for my credit card information (and thereby warning me that I’m about to get charged for something). Not to mention I never travel, so would never receive any benefit whatsoever from that monthly fee. They say in their disclosure that they are not affiliated with Plow & Hearth. But clearly they’ve gotten my name, address, and credit card information from P&H. This goes way beyond the common practice of one company selling its mailing list to another. Shame on both companies for participating in this very deceptive marketing. I’ll never knowingly do business with either of them again.
I fired off an email to Plow & Hearth customer service after writing this post. Just on the off chance that someone there might actually care. This was the reply:
Thank you for contacting us. Please about this issue pleases address this email to the Travelers Advantage customer service, unfortunately we do not carry about that card. If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at the address listed below. Sincerely, ——— Martinez Sales and Service Specialist
That’s “Customer Service” in the 21st Century.
“Don’t cash that check! It’s a scam” Hmm. Everything old is new again.
Travelers Advantage is one of many “services” marketed by Trilegiant Corporation. Trilegiant has been sued many times for scams like this. Often named with them in complaints is Chase Bank, now JPMorgan Chase. That’s the bank on the “check” I received.
Update, June 16, 2012: I just came across a series of comments on Amazon (regarding a seller other than Amazon itself) that seem related to the above. Same methodology, Trilegiant mentioned, and something called Buyers Advantage.
See also: A rare victory for the little guys