Individually, an unauthorized charge of less than $20 might easily go unnoticed by a consumer. When it happens many times, people begin to take notice.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin found five businesses with similar unauthorized billing complaints. BBB discovered these businesses all related to diet services: Diet Instructor MD (www.dietinstructormd.com), Health Leader MD (www.healthleader.com), Slender Guide MD (www.slenderguidemd.com), Diet Leader MD (www.dietleadermd.com) and Lean Inspiration MD (www.leaninspiration.com). Consumers say they never signed up with the businesses and never visited their websites.
BBB also found advertising issues with all five websites, which have similar layout and content. BBB asked the businesses to clarify offers of personal advice “from a doctor or M.D.” that were contradicted by a disclaimer, “The site does not provide medical advice.” None of the five businesses responded to BBB’s requests to modify or support their claims.
Although each business has an Austin, Texas address and a separate corporate filing with the Texas Secretary of State, a BBB investigator contacted all five businesses and in each case was told the parent company was New Jersey-based WellnessWatchersMD.
Most of the complaints about unauthorized billing referred to charges in the amount of $19.65, though some reported other amounts, such as $17.94. Some complainants reported being charged more than once in the same amount by different business names.
Diet Instructor MD replied to BBB’s letter about its pattern of disputes about unauthorized billing. The reply stated that the business has a 90-day no-questions-asked refund policy and that consumers must have signed up after purchasing a health product or after receiving a sales call. However, the reply did not address BBB’s concerns about how to resolve the issues that led to the pattern.
The other companies did not respond to BBB’s requests to address concerns about unauthorized billing complaints.
As of May 21, 2014, BBB complaints against the businesses over the last three years were as follows:
Diet Instructor MD has failed to resolve 15 complaints.
HealthLeader MD has failed to resolve five complaints.
SlenderGuideMD has failed to resolve 21 complaints.
Diet Leader MD has failed to resolve eight complaints.
LeanInspirationMD has failed to resolve three complaints.
In cases where the companies responded to BBB, they promised to issue refunds and said the consumers must have been billed after signing up for memberships while purchasing health-related products or receiving a sales call.
Blake Potter of Austin said Diet Instructor MD charged him $19.65 on July 6, 2013 without authorization. He reported it to his bank and canceled his debit card to prevent future charges by the company. He said he researched the company and found numerous other complaints by people who say they had unauthorized charges from the company.
“I never heard of this company,” Potter said. “The bank refunded the money after I reported it as fraud. I never heard anything from the company afterward. I’m 6’4” and 145 lbs. I have no need for a diet website.”
Melody Bright of Las Vegas, NV, said she was charged several times in the amount of $19.65 without authorization between December 2012 and June 2013. She said the charges occurred under different names, but always in the same amount. Diet Leader MD refunded three charges of $19.65 each after she filed a complaint with BBB.
“I have no idea how this company obtained my info,” Bright said. “I have never heard of them and did not sign up for anything from them. They were charging me $19.65. The names were different, but it was always in the same amount. I’m seeing three refunds for $19.65 after I complained. When I called, they said I had signed up for a newsletter. I didn’t. I don’t sign up for newsletters.”
BBB offers the following advice to avoid being billed for services you don’t want:
- Review your statements. Review credit card and bank statements for any unusual or questionable transactions. Contact the financial institution immediately if any are found. Be prepared with your credit card number and an explanation of when and how the charge might have occurred.
- Investigate. Once you have the exact name of the company charging your bank account or credit card, check out its BBB Business Review to see if it has a pattern of similar billing complaints.
- File a complaint. If you are being charged for services you didn’t order, speak up. Visit bbb.org to file a complaint with BBB. Let the FTC know as well by filing a complaint at ftc.gov or by calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
- Dispute charges. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed up to 60 days after the purchase.
- Be wary online. Avoid giving your credit card and other sensitive information online without first researching the business.