The Federal Trade Commission recently reached a settlement agreement over charges against an online marketing operation accused of deceptively luring consumers into expensive subscriptions by offering “free trials” of teeth-whiteners and related products. According to FTC, the defendants obtained consumers’ billing information under the pretense of a nominal fee before unexpectedly charging them up to $200 per month. The order imposes a judgment of over $92 million on the defendants and bans them from engaging in negative option sales in the future.
Negative option marketing refers to the practice of billing a consumer on a periodic, recurring basis for a product or service until the consumer affirmatively opts out of the subscription. While negative option marketing is legal when conducted appropriately, regulators are willing to pursue companies that abuse this practice.