Virginian-Pilot Subscription Auto Renewal Investigation
The Lyon Firm is investigating potentially illegal automatic renewal schemes and deceptive billing practices on behalf of plaintiffs nationwide. If you have questions about an auto-renewal of your Virginian-Pilot subscription, contact The Lyon Firm to review.
Deceptive billing schemes have become a frequent complaint for consumers across the country. Many modern business models rely on auto renewal contracts and companies feed on this continual cash flow. These companies are quick to charge you for a service, but they may be overlooking consumer protection laws that make them liable for deceptive billing violations. If you have encountered subscription issues, contact us for a free consultation.
Online automatic renewal programs are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), which requires clear disclosures of contract terms, informed consent before a purchase, and an easy method to cancel the charges. Violations of this law are regarded as unfair or deceptive acts or practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
Joe Lyon is a class action consumer fraud lawyer investigating Virginian-Pilot subscription auto-renewal claims, and other deceptive billing practice complaints for plaintiffs nationwide.
What Are the Requirements for Proper Auto-Renewal?
To be clear, entities like the Virginian-Pilot can legally automatically renew subscriptions if they make all terms clear and obtain your written consent. Too often, however, companies rely on customer confusion, deliberately bypass these requirements and violate consumer fraud statutes.
There are specific components that must be included in subscription automatic renewal contracts:
- Clear disclosures about the offer: Companies must present the terms of any automatic renewal offer “clearly and conspicuously.”
- Disclosures about the contract period: The contract period must be clearly presented prior to a consumer purchase.
- Obtaining consent: Consent must be “express” and “informed.” Written consent is voluntarily given by a competent individual after details of the offer have been disclosed.
- Written confirmation following a purchase: Written acknowledgment must be given to the customer after a purchase, and must include the initial disclosures, and specific information on how to cancel. If a free trial is offered, this must also include details on how to cancel the subscription before being charged.
- Cancellation mechanisms must be simple: Methods to cancel a subscription must be cost-effective, timely, and easy.
- Renewal reminders must be timely: These vary by state, but companies should send proper notice to customers before their subscription is automatically renewed.
Virginian-Pilot: What are Automatic Renewal Law Violations?
There have been allegations that the Virginian-Pilot may not entirely comply with Automatic Renewal Laws, and may be liable for relevant violations. Virginia law states the following:
No supplier making an automatic renewal or continuous service offer to a consumer in the Commonwealth shall do any of the following:
- Fail to present the automatic renewal offer terms or continuous service offer terms in a clear and conspicuous manner before the consumer becomes obligated on the automatic renewal or continuous service offer and in visual proximity, or in the case of an offer conveyed by voice, in temporal proximity, to the request for consent to the offer.
- Charge the consumer’s credit or debit card or the consumer’s account with a third party for an automatic renewal or continuous service without first obtaining the consumer’s affirmative consent to the agreement containing the automatic renewal offer terms or continuous service offer terms.
- Fail to provide an acknowledgment that includes the automatic renewal or continuous service offer terms, cancellation policy, and information regarding how to cancel in a manner that is capable of being retained by the consumer. If the offer includes a free trial, the supplier shall also disclose in the acknowledgment how to cancel and allow the consumer to cancel before the consumer pays or becomes obligated to pay for the goods or services.
- A supplier making automatic renewal or continuous service offers shall provide a toll-free telephone number, an electronic mail address, a postal address only when the supplier directly bills the consumer, or another cost-effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanism for cancellation that shall be described in the acknowledgment specified in subdivision A 3.
- In the case of a material change in the terms of the automatic renewal or continuous service offer that has been accepted by a consumer in the Commonwealth, the supplier shall provide the consumer with a clear and conspicuous notice of the material change and provide information regarding how to cancel in a manner that is capable of being retained by the consumer.
- The requirements of this section shall apply only prior to the completion of the initial order for the automatic renewal or continuous service, except:
- The requirement in subdivision A 3 may be fulfilled after completion of the initial order; and
- The requirement in subsection C shall be fulfilled prior to implementation of the material change.
Can I File a Lawsuit for Deceptive Billing Practices?
Virginian-Pilot subscribers who have been unwittingly entered into an automatic renewal agreement should contact a consumer fraud attorney and consider taking legal action. The Lyon Firm believes that companies that mislead their customers into agreements should be held liable and compensate customers for any violations.
You may ask yourself the following questions before contacting an attorney:
- Are your subscription terms and conditions clear and conspicuous?
- Did the company clearly explain their automatic renewal program?
- Does the company have clear instructions on how to cancel a subscription?
- Did the company obtain your affirmative consent before charging you for the product or service?
- Did the company give you proper notice (30-60 days) before your subscription contract was renewed?
Multiple states have updated consumer protection laws that prohibit companies from automatically renewing subscriptions without obtaining proper consent or clearly explaining the terms and conditions of the contract. Federal laws also protect consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), businesses must take proper steps to ensure that charges to customers’ credit cards and accounts are authorized.
Any violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act by the Virginian-Pilot or another subscription-based entity may constitute an unlawful practice and affected individuals can contact an attorney to consider seeking compensation and justice.