Watch Out for Unexpected Recurring Charges on a Parent’s Credit Card

Over dinner at my parents’ house recently my mother commented that a recurring charge appeared on her Mastercard statement every month for at least a year.

Read this Seattle Times March 2012 Article

Read this Seattle Times March 2012 article.

“I have no idea what it is,” she said. She had been checking her bills and was unsure about what to do.

I looked at the bill and sure enough, on the second of the month during all of 2013 mother was charged $9.95. When I did a bit more research, I found that the company charging the fee presents as a savings club, offering discount opportunities.

I’ve listed some of them below.

      • Quarterly grocery rebates
      • 20% savings on grocery gift cards from trusted vendors
      • Pre-paid debit cards for trade-ins
      • Discounts on auto maintenance at a variety of car repair franchises
      • Up to $250 reimbursement on the deductible on your homeowners or renters insurance when an insured loss occurs.

Trouble is, the person who sold my mother this “membership” when she was buying a blouse at a well-known mid-range national department store, did so without telling my mother what she was really purchasing. My mother thought she was getting a $10 discount on the sale and on subsequent purchases at the store.                      

So here’s the problem.

An older person visits a store to make a purchase — a place that he or she trusts and where the family has been shopping for more than 70 years. The individual, in this case my mother, expects to be treated with courtesy and without guile. But this did not happen. Instead a sales person convinced my mom to join a savings club, making my mother think she was going to get discounts at the store. The total cost, $120 for the year, was equal to about two weeks worth of groceries. This type of transaction is a type of ageism.

Now I am not saying that this savings club is bad for people. But I am saying that it is unconscionable for sales people to attempt to sell the product to older adults. I expect that the sales person gets a small commission for each of these sold, and I fault that person a lot less than I do the management of the department store chain.

When I called the “club” to stop these charges, the first person I spoke with wanted me to mail my power of attorney in order to stop the charges.

“No way,” I said, “I am not sending you one more piece of our family’s personal information. Please put me through to your supervisor.”

The supervisor was a bit more savvy and businesslike. She asked for a few things like my mom’s telephone number and wondered if we might be able to get her on the phone.

It turns out that my iPhone makes this really easy. My husband called my mom on his phone, told her we were going to call her, and explained what questions she would be asked. I put the supervisor on hold, made a call to my mother, and merged the two calls.

My mother was great, requesting a stop to the charges, stating that the person at the store had misrepresented what she was signing up for, and asking for a refund. The supervisor was good, too. After some conversation she offered a refund of 50 percent of the total costs. While I would have liked to get the whole amount that my mom paid, I was satisfied with the amount that we agreed to and so was my mom.

The take-away for all of this? Whether in person or on the Internet, it’s easily possible for any of us to sign up for things with recurring charges that we do not fully understand. For an elder adult, getting caught up in these situations — and in a way they are scams — is even easier. It’s important to check monthly statements regularly to spot problems.

Most consequential for me is that I do not want my mom to feel bad. Irritated? Yes. A bit more on guard for these situations? Yes. Aware the these situations occur more often to elder adults? Yes. But my mom is smart and savvy, and I want her to recognize that these things are set up to prey on people’s good will. My mother manages her life very well.

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