Consumers losing money through 'grey charges'

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Imagine paying out extra cash each month, even hundreds of dollars every year, but you have no idea.

They're called "grey charges": they're legal, they're sneaky, and they're ways for companies to make big bucks.

How do you know if you're one of the "one out of four" consumers paying them and how can you avoid it?  

From the bottom of the ocean to snow top-covered mountains, travel blogger Kim Orlando writes and tweets about her many adventures.

To make life on the road easier, she paid a company for a trial subscription to track reaction to her tweets: "I thought I was going to pay $149 for that one month."  

But instead, she was billed four months in a row for something Orlando says she never signed up for, and she points to this email from a company rep as proof.

"I thought, 'Well this is fishy.'"

Experts say a "trial subscription turned permanent" is just one type of "grey charge."

"Grey charges are unwanted sneaky little charges that are, that are starting to show up on consumers' credit statements and bank statements."

How do businesses get away with it?

A survey found "eight out of ten people merely skim their credit card and bank statements."

"I'm embarrassed to say that it took me four months to figure out I had been billed every month," Orlando said.

What other grey charges could pop up on your bills?

"Unknown subscriptions": That's when you make an online purchase and forget to click or unclick one little box, so you end up opting in for another purchase.

"Over the past half a year, we have seen more and more of these charges."

Another way for companies to "run off' with your money: zombie subscriptions.

Say you cancel a gym membership or a magazine subscription. Sometimes a few months later, the charges come "back from the dead."

One more creepy charge is "cost creep," where a monthly subscription slowly increases in price.

Many grey charges are legal if businesses spell them out in those "terms and conditions" most of us also just gloss over.

"Make sure when you are purchasing anything, or that you read everything and understand exactly what you're doing; that's partially your job."

But federal regulations require that offers be "clearly and conspicuously" disclosed.

The Federal Trade Commission tells us it's definitely getting consumer complaints about grey charges.

The Direct Marketing Association says sometimes they're a misunderstanding, but admits other times companies just don't follow the rules.

"There are bad actors, but don't let that stop you. Trust the good marketers."

Orlando challenged her grey charges, but says the company insists she signed up, so it's now in dispute with her credit card company.   

Despite her busy travel schedule, she's now going to check every charge on her statements and
has this message for those "bad actors": "That's just going to make me an unhappy customer. I'm certainly not going to sign up for anything that they have to offer in the future."

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