This has been a year where people got mad in mass at financial institution. It’s hard not to when you think about the amount of money that flowed into their coffers and the size of expected bonuses this year – of all years. Frankly, it disgusts me.
But I’m not one to take on the big investment banks – I’ll save that for somebody else. But something happened during my Thanksgiving break that has me so extremely pissed off at the predatory practices of a financial institution the preys on the elderly, less educated and lower-income people that can least afford it. It made me so mad that I would dedicate 2 hours of my Sunday to publicizing it and use this platform to talk about it. I hope you’re OK with that. At a minimum maybe it could prompt you to check in on your relatives that might easily fall prey to deceptive practices. But I’m also sending this to a couple of class-action lawyers.
Trilegiant Corporation, (who is owned by Avis Budget Group (yes, that Avis & Budget), in turn owned by the private equity group Apollo Management) does business as PrivacyGuard and has engaged in the most unethical of business practices I have come across in years. It dupes uneducated or elderly people into spending thousands of dollars.
It seems this is already widely known as reported in this Wikipedia article about the Affinion / Treligient Group, “According to the Better Business Bureau, thousands of issues have been reported by consumers for deceptive selling practices, unauthorized charges to consumers’ credit cards, and failure to respond or resolve issues. Many of these complaints stem from the charges individuals found on their credit card statements.” Or again here in Consumer Affairs dating back to 2005.
I was home visiting my father in Sacramento. My dad has Parkinson’s disease, which mostly affects your body but over time begins, like aging itself, to play a part in memory loss and lack of general organization skills that we possess in our youth. My dad was and is a smart person. He’s a retired pediatrician. But in the past few years I’ve entered what is called the “sandwich years” in which you start helping to take care of your parents as well as young kids. I have mostly taken over helping my dad with his finances.
I was going through some of his bills and noticed that on his credit card he was being charged about $60 / month for a combination of “privacy protection” and an “identity protection.” I asked him why he signed up for these services and he said that he wasn’t really aware that he had signed up or why he did. He has been billed all year or more than $600 in total. At the time I felt that somehow somebody from this organization must have taken advantage of my dad but I had no proof so I just worked with my mom to help him cancel the service and chalked it up to a nasty lesson.
Then just a few weeks later (yesterday) I found this check in my mail.
This company is sending what looks like an $8.25 check to me. I could easily see how the elderly or people who are less educated could have just thought it was a check and cashed it. But there is fine print (font size probably beneath the actual amount on the check that says “By cashing or depositing this check you are purchasing a membership in PrivacyGuard.” Then it was clear to me how my dad was duped. He would see a check with his name on it and just deposit it in his bank. How is this legal? I tried to find out who this company was and it is quite difficult. The PrivacyGuard website says very little. Frank Abagnale has lent his name to this unethical company (he’s the guy featured in “Catch Me if You Can.”) I note that the company is happy to put Frank’s mug on their website but not any of the management team on either site. Hiding from something?
I had to put in a bit of web research to uncover an intricate web of ownership that leads to the Avis Budget ownership and worse still up to a well-known private equity group called Apollo. My research reveals that this known scam artist company has been duping customers for some time. See this article talking about previous class action lawsuits.
I was pleased when Michael Arrington wrote his Scamville series. I hate the thought of parents being duped into signing up for services like monthly ringtones without their knowledge and often by kids who don’t understand the financial consequences of hitting a few quick buttons on a computer. It reminded me of the way that the ringtone companies marketed themselves 10 years ago and the articles about lower-income mothers having to foot the bill for hundreds of dollars for their kids. It absolutely disgusts me.
But this is a new low. Praying not only on lower-income, less educated people but on the elderly. And in this economy where people can scarcely afford it. I know many of you have seen scams like this and it’s easy just to be disgusted and throw it out. But I’m hoping to find some lawyers or legislators interested in doing something.
If anybody has any access to Charles Schummer, Barney Frank or anybody else in congress involved with financial services reform I’d love your help in reaching out to them. Somebody has stop scumbags like Trilegiant Corporation / Avis Budget and its owners, Apollo Management, from these forms of deceit on our most susceptible members of society.
What do you think? … have you had similar experiences? … should I avoid blog posts like this that might be outside my normal remit?
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)