Thousands of Washington state consumers to be refunded approximately $18.95 each
SEATTLE—Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that Change-My-Address.com will pay $3 million back to consumers to resolve complaints of deceptive practices. Approximately 433,000 consumers were affected nationwide in 2013, including 20,000 Washington consumers. Consumers who purchased the defendants’ services will receive roughly $18.95 each unless they have already received money back.
Change-My-Address.com is an Ohio internet-based business that offers online change of address services.
The AGO alleges Change-My-Address.com defendants used deceptive business practices, most notably, by failing to disclose the total $19.95 charge billed to consumers for change of address services.
“Consumers deserve clear, straight forward information before agreeing to buy any service or product,” said Ferguson. “Companies that use deceptive business practices to earn a profit like Change-My-Address.com will be held accountable by my office.”
Overview of the scam
The Washington Attorney General’s Office was tipped off about the scam by a local consumer reporter and decided to investigate further. Washington discovered the Ohio Attorney General also had an open investigation. There were 500 complaints against the defendant at the Ohio Better Business from consumers across the country. At least 22 complaints came from Washington consumers.
After finding Change-My-Address.com via an internet search engine, consumers would click on the defendants’ website, believing it was the United States Postal Service (USPS) change of address service. USPS charges only $1 for change of address services.
When the consumer filled out the appropriate address and forwarding information on the defendants’ website form and clicked “continue” to complete the transaction, he or she was taken to the page requesting payment information.
The defendants programmed the payment information page so that it automatically jumped down to the middle of the page where the credit card information was requested.
This jump allowed the defendants to deliberately obscure the top of the payment page which said, “To prevent fraudulent address changes and to cover the cost of processing and handling, you authorize us to charge your credit or debit card a one-time $19.95 fee.” Consumers had to manually scroll to the top of the page to view the disclaimer.
The defendants furthered the scheme by creating the impression on the website that the cost of services would be limited to the $1 charge assessed by the USPS for address changes. The disclosure at the top of the landing page stated that the consumer would be assessed, “a one dollar processing fee charged by the USPS for submitting an online address change request that must be paid with a valid debit or credit card.” Many consumers believed they would only be charged $1 for services, and only learned of the $19.95 charge when it appeared on his or her billing statement.
In addition, the defendants refused to refund the full amount charged when consumers contacted them to complain.
The Washington and Ohio attorneys general each filed lawsuits under their state consumer protection laws in 2013 against the defendants. The states’ settlements provide relief for consumers nationwide, regardless of their state of residence.
Overview of the settlement
Change-My-Address.com has agreed to:
• Provide up to $3 million in refunds disbursed among all affected consumers nationwide;
• Disclose the actual full change of address service charge;
• Disclose Change-My-Address.com is not affiliated with the USPS; and
• Pay attorney costs and fees.
Consumers to receive a full refund
The defendants are required to email all consumers who haven’t already received a full refund.
The email, which must be sent by May 24, 2014, will contain a notice of the ability to make a claim for a refund minus the $1 that was paid by the defendants for the USPS postal service address change. The email will also include instructions on how to file a claim, and the time in which the claim must be filed. Consumers have until August 7, 2014 to file a claim for a refund after receiving notice.
The defendants may also try to contact the consumer by U.S. Mail if email contact is unsuccessful.
Washington State filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Act.
Washington state Senior Counsel Paula Selis is lead on this case.
The Washington state Consent Decree can be found here.
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