THE CONSUMERIST MANIFESTO BLOG

Having The Last Laugh for Bad Products, Poor Services and Broken Promises

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September 16, 2010

Tags: SimpleEscapes, hidden fees, VerTrue, Member Works

SimpleEscapes’ Complexity Defense—And Payoff

Imagine my surprise when I discovered an annual fee for a service I never used or
knew I had or realized I had been paying for. I study monthly credit card statements—or thought I did until I caught the Simple Escapes charge for $84.00. I called its toll-free number to ask who they were, what I was paying for and how they got my credit card. That triggered the Complexity Defense, a favorite of corporations caught in the act of collecting hidden or obscure fees.

The 1st Law of the Complexity Defense: Take the offensive: Supply credible-sounding, mind-boggling detail in sufficient quantity to derail dubious consumers. SE assured me that it provides a number of services related to travel. It said I might have placed an order long ago also involved my agreement to subscribe to SE’s services. I said I want some proof. SE switched to the defensive.

The 2nd Law of the Complexity Defense: Take the consumer away from requests for proof. Rather than sending a copy of my “agreement” to be a customer, SE sent a two-page letter. It claimed I was a member but my satisfaction was its concern.

And the 3rd Law of the Complexity Defense: Admit nothing but pay up. SE sent me two checks for $183.95 (two most recent years) and full credits for each of six additional years appeared on my credit card: $1,229.65. Total refund of $1,413.60.

How did I miss it for so long? Answer: These guys are good at what they do. I still cannot figure it out. Articles by Mark Huffman (found on ConsumerAffairs.com in August and October 2005) reveal SE’s past names and games (VerTrue and MemberWorks) along with court settlements that avoid SE “liability” but make SE pay up if challenged. SE apparently can manipulate a legitimate, Internet purchase in ways that seem to get an unsuspecting consumer to unwittingly agree to future services. Huffman describes California, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York judgments. SE is based in Connecticut, calls itself a marketing company, and has reported revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars. As I said, these guys are good. So was Willie Sutton.