This week, state Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis a letter to the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) regarding measures to protect consumers from auto renewal subscription-based service fees related to popular media streaming services and products.
“As Florida’s CFO, my goal is to protect consumers, and I’ve made it my mission to look for common-sense solutions to problems that everyday Florida families face when it comes to finances. Opting out of recurring billing should be easier, plain and simple. Floridians should not be given the runaround when it comes to these subscription-based service fees, which is why I’m calling on OFR to work with creditors to support consumers. Now more than ever, Floridians have turned to online streaming services but are left in the dark when it comes to terminating their service and ending the recurring fees from the subscription service. Consumers should be empowered to have complete control over their financial decisions and ensure they are not being taken advantage of by unscrupulous business tactics. Thank you to OFR Commissioner Weigel for researching this important issue, and I look forward to your findings and suggestions on how to further protect Florida consumers,” Patronis said.
The letter is below.
Dear Commissioner Weigel:
During the pandemic, Floridians turned to online subscription-based services more than ever to entertain themselves and their family from the safety of their homes. These days, everything from movies, television, music, mobile apps and video game services, revolves around some sort of subscription-based payment plan that locks a consumer in to a monthly or annual fee. This tactic is known as “negative option billing” where a consumer’s silence is interpreted as consent to continue charging them without ever sending a bill. In the last year, many Florida consumers signed up for dozens of online streaming services – often setting them up for recurring service charges they didn’t fully understand. This leads to what is being coined in the news as “subscription fatigue” and the alarming personal financial issue of overwhelming credit card charges and unknown recurring payments that are often seemingly impossible to stop.
When a consumer decides to cancel these subscription services, it can be suspiciously difficult to determine how to terminate the service and end the recurring fees. Often, canceling one of these plans is far more difficult than registering and requires a lengthy phone call and detailed explanation of why you are canceling. These services also use deceptive auto-renew features to keep consumers paying them long after the consumer stops using the service. This leads to confusion and frustration from the consumer and frankly feels like a tactic to keep the consumer in a never-ending contract to the service.
As you may be aware, the Federal Trade Commission recently announced a settlement with MoviePass, a subscription service that took active steps to prevent users from utilizing the benefits of their subscription membership. The Federal Trade Commission is also reviewing its rules on negative option billing with an eye for increasing consumer protections. I’m writing you today to request that the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) weigh in by working to research this issue and provide suggestions on how consumers can protect themselves from being duped by recurring charges and work with your industry partners including lenders, banks, and credit card companies on how best to tackle this issue. Some possible recommendations are:
• Create and publicize a consumer protection database with updated information on how to unsubscribe from the top subscription-based services – a one-stop-shop for subscription cancelation information.
• Work with credit card companies to create a subscription monitoring and cancelation service, that would allow consumers to cut-off access to their credit card or form of payment – bypassing the cumbersome cancelation process that benefits the company and not the consumer.
• Review major credit card agreements for their definition of voidable “fraudulent transactions” and post those criteria publicly so consumers know what kind of subscription charges can be canceled on the basis of being fraudulent or otherwise unauthorized.
Pending the outcome of your research and suggestions, OFR could provide comment on the FTC’s pending rule amendments regarding negative option billing.
As CFO, I’ve made it my mission to look for common-sense solutions to problems that everyday Florida families face when it comes to finances. It has been my priority to empower consumers to have more control over their financial decisions and ensure they are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous business tactics. Thank you for your assistance in this matter on behalf of all Floridians.
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