BBB Investigation: Did someone say free? Austin company’s free product allegedly comes at a cost

A website geared towards survivalists is causing consumers around the country problems. SurvivalLife.com offers its customers tips, news and products on how to prepare for an unexpected disaster.

But it is the company’s free products that catch the attention of consumers. However, some are alleging not only are they not receiving their free products, but that it comes with a price.

Madelyn Thompson of Illinois said she ordered something she considered “insignificant” in price, then began noticing charges on her credit card that she didn’t authorize.

“It was an EverStryke Match. They also sent a knife that I don’t recall ordering,” Thompson said. “Then I started noticing charges on my American Express account.”

It turned out she had signed up for a recurring subscription service but didn’t remember doing so. She received a refund for one month after filing a complaint with BBB and was refunded for two more months after filing a second complaint.

“I’m furious about it. Nowhere did I see anything about a membership fee. I was ordering a $3 or $4 item. The membership fee was $9.95 per month.”

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received 81 complaints against Survival Life in the past year. Thus far, the company has not responded to three of the complaints.

Consumers are alleging products they order through Survival Life are never delivered. After the transaction, customers say they have little to no communication with the business. When they try to reach the business to ask about a possible delivery date, the company does not respond. Additionally, complainants allege they are signed up for subscriptions they did not authorize while trying to purchase goods from the business.

BBB contacted Survival Life regarding these issues in January 2015. The company responded to BBB’s dispute resolution process by providing refunds. However, the pattern continued throughout the year.

Edgar Bautista purchased a Stone Mountain Gauntlet watch in August. He received an email that confirmed the purchase and stated it would arrive in 7-10 business days. After the item never arrived, he emailed Survival Life twice. The company contacted Bautista back and told him the product was on backorder. Bautista was told he would have to wait 15-21 business days until the watch would arrive. But, it never came.

“There was no customer support or anything. I had bought the watch for a friend,” Bautista said.

BBB also contacted the company with several advertising concerns.

In addition to complaints of items not being delivered, BBB has continuously received complaints from consumers who allege they don’t recall signing up for a membership to Family Protection Association. Consumers are later billed and are confused as to why. Survival Life offers the membership when ordering some of its free products.

BBB’s Code of Advertising states companies with any negative option plan must include a clearly visible disclosure of all materials including the negative option plan, the costs of the additional product or service, how consumers can cancel and avoid future shipments or charges, and how consumers can return unwanted items.

Additionally, BBB’s Code of Advertising states companies must ensure consumers firmly consent to the negative option feature before enrolling the customer in the plan.

Survival Life told BBB steps would be taken to ensure the negative option plan was visible to consumers. However, BBB continued to receive disputes, and as result, recommended they include a checkbox option at the end of the purchase.

Louisiana resident Scott Skiles said he remembered a little check box at the checkout page. He unclicked it and was never subscribed to any membership. But the survival bracelet and pocket knife he ordered was never delivered.

“The checkbox was very small and it was all in a clutter among the many things on the page,” Skiles said. “It was automatically clicked to subscribe, so it’s your responsibility to unclick it.”

Survival Life’s use of terms free and sale were also of concern to BBB. The Code of Advertising states sale should only be used when there is a significant reduction in the usual price and only for a limited time. Free should only be used temporarily and should only be offered a maximum of six months. BBB requested for Survival Life to verify if the promotion has been available for more than six months.

As of November 2015, Survival Life has not responded to BBB’s advertising requests.

When buying merchandise online, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed up to 60 days after the purchase.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online order process, there should be a final confirmation page or an email confirmation. Save any receipts for future reference.
  • Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.
  • Do your research. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org before making a purchase to see its complaint history, details about complaints and any advertising-related issues.

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