The claim. Fifth Third Bank, which serves 15 states, most in the Midwest, and Affinion, a leading provider of ID-protection products to banks, market Identity Alert by offering 30 days of service for $1. Customers can sign up online and must provide credit-card billing information to pay the small fee.
The facts. Giving up your credit information also allows Affinion to automatically charge your card a monthly membership fee after the trial period, which is disclosed on the sign-up form. Of course, you can cancel at any time, but auto-charging your credit card forces you to do all the work to opt out.
During the last three years consumers have filed more than 2,500 complaints against Affinion with the Better Business Bureau (which gives the company a C- rating), mostly related to advertising, sales, billing, and collections. Affinion is also the target of more than a half-dozen class-action lawsuits, a civil suit by the state of South Carolina, and investigations by many state attorneys general—all related to its marketing and sales practices.
Michael Bush, an Affinion spokesman, says those cases involve “marketing practices that we voluntarily ceased over two years ago.” In 2010, one of them cost Affinion $8 million in penalties, costs, and restitution to settle with New York state for sending consumers checks, which, when deposited, automatically enrolled them in a variety of its programs, including Privacy Guard and IDSecure.
What you should do. Before signing up for one of these services, check out the company with the Better Business Bureau. If you see a pattern of complaints about deceptive sales tactics, steer clear.