Webloyalty, Affinion, and Vertrue, three Web marketing companies who are currently investigated by the US Senate Ethics Committee for unfair business practices were reported to have solicited the services of top PR firms in Washington DC to help them salvage their tarnished image. Some high profile PR representatives were also seen in Capitol Hill talking to Senators in what is being suspected as an attempt by beleaguered firms to garner support from lawmakers.
The three companies are under fire lately after thousands of complaints were lodged at them by disgruntled customers who felt they were deceived into joining membership programs which charged monthly fees. Many consumers who found themselves being billed with monthly fees by the said companies never knew that they would be joining a subscription program and only initially thought that they would be receiving gifts from online retailers.
These Web companies would flash promotional signs to consumers performing transactions with legitimate Web stores, informing them that they would receive a gift if they click on a button. Many customers, believing that they were being rewarded by online retailers for doing business with them, would quickly seize on the offer and click on the confirmation button, not realizing that by doing so they are giving consent to the Web companies to charge monthly subscription fees. All policies of the programs were cleverly hidden in fine print.
The three firms were quick to deny any wrongdoing stating that they followed proper business procedures and that they never employed deceptive practices. Lawmakers did not buy their alibi and launched a full scale investigation designed to expose their illegal practices and make them accountable for their actions.
The Web companies also employed the help of many online retailers who sold them credit card information of their customers. Many of these firms were able to make millions of dollars for passing off classified information to the three firms.
However, after the US Senate brought into the open the modus operandi of Webloyalty, Affinion, and Vertrue, many companies, including Continental Airlines, Priceline, 1-800-Flowers and VistaPrint, decided to cut business ties with the three firms.
The three Web companies have also made considerable modifications in their practices after the US Senate launched their investigation, but experts doubt if the changes are enough to protect consumers.
Industry analysts are also pleading with lawmakers, in particular the US Senate Ethics Committee, to also look into the practice of companies selling credit card information as there are no existing laws yet criminalizing or penalizing this type of business activity.