Do you find it difficult to make all the decisions that are asked of you in a day? Everywhere you turn someone is trying to sell you something, enroll you in a program, or get you to check a box or sign your name to something. Never fear – Citi is trying to help you out by making some of those little decisions for you.
If you didn’t look carefully at your Citi credit card statement recently, you may have missed the opt-in box for a security service called “Watch-Guard Preferred,” which provides credit monitoring, cash advances, and identity theft protection. Don’t worry, though – Citi thoughtfully checked the box for you.
David Lazarus, a reporter for the L.A. Times, writes that Julian Bermudez of Cypress Park, in Los Angeles, was one of many customers to take note of the pre-checked box on his Citi card statement, enrolling him in the $5.95-per month service. Lazarus spoke to Bermudez, who said “I don’t like someone saying yes for me. That’s so not cool.”
Just Sign on the Dotted Line
Turns out, Citi wasn’t exactly saying yes for customers – they were only encouraging them to say yes by checking the box for them. To be enrolled in the security program, they still would have had to sign underneath the box, something that wasn’t clear to many Citi credit card holders, who saw only a “YES” box that was already checked.
This explanation, along with the instructions to sign underneath the pre-checked box to enroll in the service, was on a slip of paper accompanying the statement – filed in along with the advertisements and terms and conditions in fine print. Most customers discard those flyers as soon as they open the bill, leaving only the payment slip – which is where the pre-checked box in question was located. The line where customers could opt-in for the Watch-Guard security service was right next to the payment amount box.
Citi’sSide of Story
According to Emily Collins, a spokesperson for Citi, the box was on the May statements of only “a portion” of the Citi’s customers – though she decline to say how many. Citi has more than 20 million customers in North America, so “a portion” could easily be in the millions.
Collins said, “We apologize that some customers may have found this message confusing, and are always listening to feedback as we work to ensure that it’s clear and simple for customers to find the information they need.”
She also pointed out that if Citi customers enrolled in the service – knowingly or unwittingly – “should they change their mind, we cancel their enrollment and credit them appropriately.”
Troubled Track Record
If this sounds like an innocent mistake made by a company that’s simply trying to do business and generate revenue while offering their customers a useful security service, consider this: The company that owns Watch-Guard Preferred – a Connecticut-based firm called Affinion Group – has paid out more than $22 million in settlements due to what their own spokesperson, Mike Bush, acknowledges were shady marketing practices.
Bush stressed that the illegal marketing tactics “had nothing to do with our ID theft protection products,” which may or may not make potential customers feel better about giving Watch-Guard Preferred $5.95 a month.
For its part, Citi says it will no longer include pre-checked boxes on their credit-card statements, but Roman Shteyn, founder of Credit-Land.com and credit expert, has a better idea.
He suggests that customers enroll in paperless statements whenever possible, to avoid this sort of misleading marketing practice. “If customers simply set up direct online payments and opt out of receiving all this paper mail junk, not only will they avoid making late payments that could lower their credit scores, they won’t be subject to these offers in the first place,” says Shteyn.