Website Ripoffs: How to Get a Refund from an Uncooperative Website Owner


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Most of us have fallen for it at one time or another. A website offers a “free” or reduced fee trial for its services, but asks for a credit card upfront. It tells you that your membership will automatically renew if you do not cancel before the end of your free trial. You use the service, but do not want to pay for it, so you try to cancel and get charged anyway.

This scenario may sound all too familiar. Sites offering “free” or discounted trial periods want to make money, just like any other business, so they often use this hook to entice people to give them a way to collect their fees. Unfortunately, many of them have “glitches” that always seem to favor the site owner, allowing them to charge the user even after an attempt to terminate. These shady practices are not just unfair, in many cases they may be illegal. So, what can you do?

Dispute the Charge

The first thing to do is contact your credit card issuer or other payment provider. Most offer protection against illegal charges such as these, and will be happy to reverse all or a portion of the misappropriated funds back into your account. All you have to do is make a timely call to your payment provider, explain the circumstances, and ask for the reversal.

There are a few things to consider, though. First, payment providers do not like to reverse charges, so they may require you to provide proof of your attempts to cancel the service. Be sure to print confirmation screens whenever you cancel one of these service trials, and keep any email communications from the website regarding your transactions. Second, you will need to report the charge as soon as possible. Many payment providers will not allow you to contest charges after a certain date, or may reduce the amount that will be refunded to you if you wait too long.

Talk to the Police

If the site clearly charged you despite its own acknowledgment of your timely cancellation, refuses to give you a refund, and/or continues to charge you after you bring the issue to the site owner’s attention, you may need to get law enforcement involved. Under those circumstances, it is entirely possible that the site is running an illegal operation to collect fees in a fraudulent fashion. If that is the case, alerting law enforcement may be the only way to have any hope of recovery or prevent others from suffering the same fate.

Police tend to be resistant to pursuing crimes such as these, feeling that they are more civil matters than criminal. Be persistent when speaking with law enforcement and understand the underlying legal theory behind your complaint. Collecting fees when not authorized to do so or under false pretenses amounts to fraud, and could include a wide array of other charges. Speaking with an attorney before contacting law enforcement may be helpful, as the attorney can help you to better understand the process of making your police report, help you get the assistance of law enforcement, and help you better enunciate your claims against the site owners. To find an attorney in your area, use HG.org’s attorney search feature.

Fine Your Own Lawsuit

Finally, if other options fail to bring the results you need, consider filing your own lawsuit. This will probably only be an option if the amount charged is particularly high and you have been unable to gain a refund from your payment service or through law enforcement.

Your civil suit will likely rely on several core legal theories. Among them: fraud (or negligent/intentional misrepresentation), conversion, civil theft, estoppel, and/or breach of contract. Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, you may have other claims, as well.

You may also be able to join other plaintiffs that have been similarly charged despite a cancellation in a class action suit. This could help defray some of the costs associated with your claim, increase the amount in controversy, and make it possible for you to find an attorney willing to take the case on a contingency fee basis (meaning you would not have to pay attorney fees upfront, and only paying from the proceeds of a favorable settlement or judgment obtained by that lawyer). Again, to truly understand your options, consult with an attorney.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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