Dear Lifehacker, A while ago I purchased a subscription for an online service. I was a regular user for a while, but I haven’t visited it in over a year. Recently I noticed the automatic yearly renewal for the site being charged to my credit card. I didn’t receive a renewal notice so I find this rather annoying.
The terms for the site specify that once a renewal is made no refunds will be given for any reason. Other than calling my bank or PayPal to report an unauthorised transaction, is there any consumer agency I can turn to for help? Every other service I use issues a reminder and offer an option not to renew. Any suggestions? Thanks, Subpar Subscriber
Terms and conditions picture from Shutterstock
Unfortunately, we think you’re going to have to treat this as a learning experience. The lesson? Check the terms and conditions carefully before you sign up for any online service (whether that’s email or storage or a webapp or porn), and make sure you understand whether the service will automatically charge a renewal every month or every year.
It’s extremely common for sites to automatically renew your subscription unless you explicitly cancel them beforehand. It’s certainly not best practice, but it’s the reality of the marketplace.
Many sites will issue a reminder email, but not all will, and they’re not legally obliged to. If the terms and conditions include a statement that the site will auto-renew, and you agree to those terms, then you’re responsible for cancelling if you no longer want a service.
Making sure you don’t get caught out by this kind of tactic requires organisation. If you do sign up for any kind of web-based service with an automatic renewal, make a calendar entry for a few days before it expires to remind yourself to cancel if you’re no longer using it. You could also use a disposable credit card, which means that even if the service tries to auto-renew, it won’t work. (Some services won’t accept those cards for that reason, but it’s worth trying.)
Many web-based services offer a discount if you pay for a year up front, or charge more for a non-renewing service. Saving money is wise, but if you’re not the organised type, choosing the more expensive non-renewing service can make more sense, especially initially.
In your specific case, if you could demonstrate that there was nothing in the terms and conditions of the specific service to indicate automatic renewal, you might have a case to take to the ACCC or your state consumer regulator. And it’s certainly worth trying to contact your bank or PayPal, though again the fact you willingly signed up and paid for the service a year ago (and didn’t dispute that original transaction) will probably count against you.
Ultimately, however, I suspect you’re going to have to chalk this one up to experience, and learn to think twice before clicking the ‘subscribe’ button.
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