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Negative Option…

I usually come up with a witty title to grab your attention, but “Negative Option” seems to grab enough attention without adding anything of my own to it.

So, what is Negative Option?  Negative Option is a term coined by the FTC in the United States to describe a scam where the mark is offered a “free” trial or service over the internet, but asked for a credit card or other method of payment.

Now, anyone with half a brain can see where such a situation is going to lead.  If it’s really free, why do they need your credit card?  Well, they’re usually prepared to answer those questions.  Netflix says, “It’s just in case you steal from us.”  WTF on an ironic stick!?  Me steal from you?  I think the big question is how do you walk with bollocks that big?  Music website, eMusic, said it was so they could make sure one person isn’t getting multiple free trials.

So, the odd thing is, anyone who wasn’t fooled before is not going to have their mind changed by those half-assed, maliciously false answers.  First of all, you can only get the “free” trial from eMusic if you bought the software from Alfred where they put the flier, so it’s already a heavily limited offer.  Second, we know how it’s going to end.

I performed a test just to find out if they were attempting to charge my credit card for the “free” trial.  I used an identity generator.  For those of you who don’t know, this is online software that makes a fake person’s entire history for testing or artistic purposes.  The credit cards it makes for them don’t actually work for purchases, but they do pass the Luhn check.  This means, as long as they’re not trying to charge the card, they’ll never know it’s fake.  They knew it was fake.  Ergo, if I had provided a real card, they would have charged it.  Free trial my arse.

So, if anyone with half a brain can see this scam coming from a kilometre away, why do some people deny Netflix is a scam in spite of overwhelming evidence and common sense?  Does anyone actually use eMusic?  I never heard of it before I got the flier in my software and I forgot about it again until I moved here.  I imagine there must be a market for it.  There’s still a market for pigeon drop, foreign lottery, quick change, and Nigerian billionaire scams.  Somehow common sense and public knowledge don’t seem to stop these scams from being effective.

So, I phoned up eMusic today and spoke to a lady called Beverly.  She wouldn’t tell me her surname, but her operator number was 115.  Faced with the undeniable evidence that she was working for a scammer, surely she quit her job, right?

Wrong.  She rationalised what she was doing, “I don’t think it’s a scam because you won’t be charged if you cancel before the trial period is over,” and then ceased speaking with me.  She landed back on faith.  When everything you thought you knew to be true is crushed, don’t let that change what you believe.  Just believe it on faith.

I kind of feel sorry for Beverly.  She may be screwing people out of their hard earned money, but she’s just as much of a mark in all this as the people she’s screwing.  As being someone who knows about scams, your accomplices in the scams don’t always have to be in on it.  They can be just as much marks as the people you’re screwing.

So, in conclusion, stay away from any “company” that demands a credit card for something they claim is free.  It doesn’t matter why they claim to need the credit card.  The real reason is always the same.  Negative Option scamming.  I’ll take you one further, though.  Don’t put your credit card on file with a company whose policy it is to always autobill.  They like to pretend that’s supposed to be a convenience for you, but how convenient is it to try to fix an error on your bill after they’ve already taken the money?  Chargeback is your only recourse at that point.

And that means scammers that otherwise socially appear to be legitimate companies like Netflix and eMusic should definitely be avoided.

UPDATE:  In many jurisdictions, including the United States, Negative Option scamming is still technically legal.  This changes your available recourse from being taken by it.  Please check laws in your area if you’ve been taken by it to determine your recourse.

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