Have you ever been unhappy with a service — like your phone or Internet — and tried to cancel it? But, when you tried, you found it difficult or nearly impossible?
The Federal Trade Commission announced that Vonage, a phone company, didn’t give customers an easy way to cancel their telephone services.
Instead, the FTC said, the company used a series of hurdles. These “dark patterns” made people hunt for the cancellation phone number; when they were able to call to cancel, they were often passed from agent to agent with repeated sales pitches; and, if they succeeded in canceling, many wound up being charged surprise high-cost Early Termination Fees (“ETFs”).
In many instances, even when people managed to navigate Vonage’s process and cancel their accounts, the FTC said, Vonage continued to charge them without their permission.
As part of a settlement, Vonage must pay $100 million that the FTC will send to the small businesses and customers who were harmed by the company’s practices. Vonage must also stop using dark patterns, let people know important information at sign-up, make it simple for people to cancel, and get their consent for every charge.
If you’re considering a product or service check out the company’s policies on:
- Easy and simple cancellation. It should be as easy to cancel as it was to sign up in the first place. Before you place an order, look at the company’s refund and return policies, and whether you’ll be charged any cancellation fees.
- Automatic renewal. As soon as you know you don’t want to renew your plan, look at the company’s cancelation policy. Make sure it won’t automatically renew before you can cancel it. For more on avoiding charges in auto-renewal plans read Getting In and Out of Free Trials Auto-Renewals and Negative Option Subscriptions.