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Tangled web of scam sites uncovered

Posted by Mitch Lipka  January 30, 2012 01:00 PM

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Hundreds of thousands of consumers have recurring credit card charges from a tangle of shady self-help websites that bill them monthly and typically shut down when complaints start pouring in, according to a credit card monitoring company.

These sites -- more than 350 of them -- count on consumers to pay credit card bills without carefully examining statements, allowing charges to recur month after month, said Yaron Samid, chief executive of “Simply because they aren’t checking their bills diligently, they’re missing it,” he said.

BillGuard is a free service that examines credit and debit card charges of registered users and flags those that look suspicious or have generated complaints on social networks and websites. Samid said consumers are usually surprised when BillGuard flags recurring charges, unaware that they had signed up for such programs.

It typically works this way: Someone goes to a site and orders a “free trial” of a diet product, anti-aging cream, or self-help program. What they don’t realize is they are signing up for a so-called negative option – a slimy tactic that puts the onus on the consumer to cancel an order. If consumers don’t, they start ringing up monthly charges ranging from about $49 to $99.

Consumer Alert called several of the sites. Calls either went unanswered or the line was disconnected. The site owners also paid a fee to obscure domain registration information, which normally includes a name, phone number, and address.

Once analysts at BillGuard started looking into these unscrupulous charges they noticed similarities. The sites share templates and tactics. Their computer servers are overseas. Even when a consumer tries to cancel, Samid said, it is rare that they actually reach someone. “The credit cards are continually being charged,” he said.

Billing that appears on credit card statements shows up under different names -- sometimes a web site, sometimes a credit card processing company, sometimes other handles. And when consumers begin to catch on, the sites close and nearly identical ones take their places. “It’s a very organized scam,” Samid said.

If you find one of these questionable charges on your bill, dispute it immediately and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI’s online complaint site,

For more information, see BillGuard's blog on the scam.

Here is a list of sites provided by BillGuard that are associated with the charges:

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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