MINNEAPOLIS - The pop-up box on her screen promised Pam Hanson an instant $15 discount.

Almost as a reflex, she clicked. She typed her e-mail address twice on the next screen and completed her purchase from BrylaneHome.com: a set of fleece sheets to keep her granddaughter comfy in college.

Hanson, 72, a retired teacher who lives in Arden Hills, Minn., had unwittingly signed up for discount services that cost her $24 each month - a $9 net loss. By clicking on the oval blue button marked "YES!" she had authorized the charges to her credit card.

She admits that she didn't read through the fine print to the left, and that she didn't notice the little brown button below that said, "No Thanks." When some e-mails came later, she assumed they were junk and deleted them without reading them.

A few months later, she noticed the two recurring $12 charges on her credit card. She canceled the service, and canceled her credit card to make sure it would never reappear.

"It makes you feel kind of stupid that you get taken like this," Hanson said.

It is can be easy for e-tailers, once they have your credit card info, to get you to spend more with a reflexive click.

After Hanson complained to the Star Tribune, the newspaper contacted BrylaneHome's parent company, Redcats USA of Indianapolis, itself a subsidiary of French retailing conglomerate Redcats Group (2008 revenue: 3.69 billion euros, or about $5.2 billion). Spokeswoman Pat Cross said Hanson had plenty of warnings and opportunities to cancel the discount programs.

"Ms. Hanson would not have been signed up for the program unless she selected the options to do so - and, as stated earlier, periodic reminders were sent to Ms. Hanson as well, allowing her a generous time frame to opt out of the program," Cross said in an email.

Nevertheless, the company agreed to refund the $60 charged to Hanson for the discount programs. Hanson got a letter dated May 19 from Becky Sweazey, customer advocate for Redcats USA.

"I want to offer my apologies again for the misunderstanding and assure you there was no intent to scam or deceive you in any way," Sweazey wrote.

Hanson is grateful but unconvinced.

"I think they just count on people not to read the fine print," she said.


If an online purchase leaves you feeling fleeced, you can complain to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov) or 1-877-382-4357.

Even if you buy something from a foreign Web site, you can file a complaint at econsumer.gov.

(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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