Budget: Cash This Check And You'll Be Enrolled In A Service You Don't Want

Reader Larry writes in with a complaint about a commonly used “scam.” We call it a “scam” because we believe it’s misleading and designed to take advantage of people who do not read things carefully, but you judge for yourself. Here’s how it works:

  • A company you’ve done business with partners with a company that offers some sort of service. Life insurance. Coupons. Whatever.

  • The company you’ve done business with solicits your enrollment in the service by sending you a check that, if cashed, automatically enrolls you.

  • After the “risk-free” month (or whatever), you are charged for the service via whatever credit card they company has on file for you (or whatever). It is possible that you did not understand that by cashing the check you were enrolling in a pay service, but since you agreed to be enrolled by cashing the check, all you can do is nicely ask for a refund.

Larry has scanned an example for us. If you see these checks, we recommend destroying them.

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/budget1-thumb.jpg?w=450&h=181

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/budget2-thumb.jpg?w=450&h=195

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/budget3-thumb.jpg?w=450&h=181

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/budget4-thumb.jpg?w=450&h=183

Comments

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  1. ancientsociety says:

    LOL. I JUST got one of these yesterday in my mail. At first, I was like “cool! maybe they’re giving me cashback for the our 2-week Rt 66 rental” but I read the fine print and chucked it.

    I agree this should qualify as a scam. I’m sure a lot of people cash the check and think nothing of it – free money, right?

  2. joemono says:

    Directly under the dollar amount it says “By cashing or depositing this check you are purchasing a membership…” That’s written directly on the check itself.

    I just can’t feel bad for anyone who cashes a “check” that they randomly receive in the mail. Especially one that clearly states that you are enrolling in a service.

  3. Lacclolith says:

    I destroy pretty much everything that starts off reading “Dear Valued Customer…”, anyhow.

  4. SBR249 says:

    Except the check clearly says “By cashing or depositing this check, you are purchasing a membership…blah blah blah.” I would understand if this was in a booklet of terms and conditions fine print tucked away in the envelope. But if it’s right there on the check…

  5. QuirkyRachel says:

    Isn’t this the same thing as the Chase letter? It was a check for only $10, ostensibly for using Chase’s online services. If you cashed it you were enrolled in some type of program I think…

  6. scoobydoo says:

    Interesting. Trilegiant (who run this scam) are a spinoff from Cendant. And guess who owns Budget? Cendant.

    Looks like Cendant spun them off to save money on the lawsuits:

    [www.consumeraffairs.com]

  7. MercuryPDX says:

    how very Magritte…. Ceci n’est pas une cheque

  8. banned says:

    Can you not just call the credit card company, put a block on Budget, like putting a stop payment on your bank account, then cash it anyways? Also it says you can cancel anytime in the 30 days, so cash it, then call and cancel. The only way to stop these people is scam them right back!

  9. FatLynn says:

    Hmmm…I just cashed a dividend check from my life insurance company. Now I am suspicious.

  10. dbeahn says:

    Makes me want to write on the back of the car payment check in small print: Cashing this check means you accept this amount as full and final payment on this loan…

  11. not_seth_brundle says:

    I always cash these and cancel within the trial period. Free money and only as much hassle as the CSRs will give you (heh heh).

  12. Nytmare says:

    If I wrote “by cashing this check you agree to give me free phone service for the next year” on my monthly check to the phone company, and they cashed it, do you think it would carry any weight? No? Then neither does this.

  13. Brawndo says:

    I get these about once a month from my own credit card companies. They’re always for something like “identity theft insurance.” One of my CC has a cash-back plan and I lawys have to check that if I cash it, I’m nOT signing up for anything. Such a scam!

  14. tracilyns says:

    @not_seth_brundle:
    my mom does this too, and she gets a ton since she runs her own business. i wonder how much free money she gets annually from these checks…

  15. SOhp101 says:

    @nytmare: You’re right but they’ll do it anyway and most people won’t bother to fight this in court. I usually just cash the check then call a week later to cancel. Free money.

  16. QuantumRiff says:

    This is similar to “mail in rebates”.. They know that only 1/3 (or less, much less) will actually remember to call in and cancel in the first 30 days, so they are going to get some money out of the rest. Just like big retail stores know that only a fraction will actually fill out all forms, mail in the original receipt, and do everything needed for a mail in rebate correctly. Free money!

  17. Aladdyn says:

    @ Dbeahn and @ Nytmare

    Actually if you write a contract on your check and they sign and cash it, it is a binding contract just the same as it is for you. I read an article many years ago about some guy who wrote a contract on his check stating that if the store sold his information for advertising purposes they would have to pay him $200 or something like that. He somehow determined that they did, he sued and got his money.

    Also I know that if you write paid in full on the face of your check and they cash it. That does constitute an agreement that you no longer owe them any money. I wonder how hard it would be for a big corporation to wiggle out of something like that.

  18. Hawkins says:

    Mr Nytmare.

    Interesting idea. perhaps you should send an unsolicited check for $9.32 to Budget, or whoever sent you this. Write “By cashing this you agree to the enclosed terms” underneath the amount, and enclose a document that commits them to… Ten free car rentals, or fifty upgrade coupons, or something.

    Assume that they deposit the check (first rule of business for large companies: deposit the check).

    Then, when they don’t pay, take them to small claims court.

    I’m not anything remotely like a lawyer, but if you showed the judge the exact same scam, coming from your victim, I wonder what chance you’d have?

  19. Shadowman615 says:

    @rocnrule: I’m with you on this one. I was going to suggest cancelling the credit card first, but that sounds a bit easier. Although it seems like a lot of trouble for $9.95.

  20. mmcnary says:

    I got one of these once and cashed it. I was supposed to put my major credit card number on the thing before I cashed it, but I didn’t have one, so I left it blank. They tried to reject it, so I got my credit union involved. There was no requirement that you have a major CC listed on the check, so they eventually gave up. Free $5!

  21. Type-E says:

    I got these once in a while, for the ones over $15, I usually cash it and file in my calenders so that I will cancel it after 15 days. So far, they never scammed me. So these are actually easy money for people

  22. acambras says:

    When I get these checks, they go right into the shredder. Although reading all the comments about free money makes me think I should reconsider that move…

    I find it a little unsettling that they say they’ll use the credit card number they have “on file.” I don’t really like the idea of them having my information “on file” — i.e., hanging onto it long after the transaction is completed. I know lots of businesses do this — hell, even Dominos once asked me if I wanted to pay for my pizza with the card ending in 5019 (which I’d used months before). I went a little apeshit about Dominos keeping my info. Perhaps businesses would say they’re doing it for my convenience, but I don’t like it.

  23. CreativeLinks says:

    Gosh I remember back in the 90s when Sprint and ATT would send out “siwtching” checks like every week.

    And they were for $50. Think I made about $400 switching phone services, and then switching back.

  24. roamer1 says:

    @CreativeLinks: I’m sure you never had this happen, though… :p

  25. ronaldscott says:

    @Shadowman615: Stop Payments cost money (a lot more than 10 bucks.)

  26. humphrmi says:

    I wonder what happens when the new check clearing system kicks in, and the check (which is their only proof that you accepted their terms) is destroyed and is converted to an electronic charge against your account.

    Besides the obvious markings on the check, the thing that would get this into the shredder in my house is the $100 / year limit on the 2% cash-back. That’s quite possibly the worst cash back program I’ve seen. I get around a thousand dollars a year cash back from my CC. A hundred buck limit is just goofy.

  27. bluegus32 says:

    The scam to me is not the enrollment part but the fine print. If you cash the check and are surprised that you were enrolled in something, then you have made a big mistake that really can only be attributed to you.

    However, the fine print is the part that bothers me. The progrma offers savings of UP TO $100 per year. Did you notice the annual fee? $119 the first year and $139 the second year. there’s no savings. They are just stealing money from you.

    Am I missing something?

  28. acambras says:

    @CreativeLinks:

    Oh, those were the good old days! Sometimes, if you held out a little longer, they’d send checks for $75 or $100. I think the biggest one I got was for $125.

    Now “the new” AT&T just takes my money. :-(

  29. timmus says:

    I think one big point that’s being missed is that Budget is clearly getting into some very shady practices, and should be avoided. Remember when you go down and rent a car and they put a credit card number on file? You don’t think they’ll destroy it once you return the car, do you? I would be worried.

  30. Trick says:

    I will cash any check sent to me by these idiot companies. If I have to call a 800 number I will do so the moment the check clears my account.

    If the check “requires” you to put your credit card number on the back of the check, I put my credit card number with one number off towards the end.

    I gladly take the money and *never* buy whatever crap they are selling… Send me more!

  31. kingoman says:

    You can’t really call this a “scam,” it is all right there on the check if one just bothers to read it.

    Now tricky, sneaky, shady, underhanded, or many other such words may apply.

    Phone companies did this constantly in the 80s and 90s, have we all forgotten (or all we all just too young to recall)? ;-)

    Two phrases to always look for on any business check: “by cashing this check…” and “expires N days from date of issue.”

  32. eldergias says:

    I almost always cash these checks, then I cancel within the trial window period and keep the money without paying for the service. One of my friends says that doing that and paying my credit card in full each month when I earn cash back is unethical because the company is losing money on me. I think he is crazy, all the company would have to do is make it so that you could not get the money for free by removing the trial period, or by charging a monthly credit card fee. Anyhow, these companies are trying to scam me, so if I can play their own game and beat them how is it unfair?

  33. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @acambras:
    I remember those AT&T checks.
    They started at $40 & went up to $100 for me.
    But they had a $5.95 a month service fee, so I wasn’t that dumb.

  34. JayXJ says:

    @rocnrule:

    There is a further level to this scam. Cancellation requests require infinite patience going throug automated menus, to get to a person that barely speaks English, who will ‘misfile’ your request. Lesson learned. Trust me, just throw the damn thing away. The hassel is not worth $9.99.

  35. flipper baby says:

    @ALADDYN: Accord and satisfaction, via tender of an instrument declared full payment, generally only works where the amount is in dispute- car payments or credit card bills, for instance, are not likely to be in dispute and it won’t work.

  36. balthisar says:

    My mortgage contract has language against “paid in full” schemes when writing your checks the negate your ability to do that. I have to imagine that this is standard practice these days.

  37. velho says:

    What if you just cross out all that language before you sign in and keep a copy for your records?

    I’ve done that before on my wife’s disability/maternity leave checks that had language attached that I didn’t like. It never got to be an issue either way though. But I’ve always wondered.

  38. Sudonum says:

    @bluegus32: You’re not missing anything. I got the same offer from a credit card company a couple months back. I sent it in to Consumerist then, pointing out that same fact; that I can only earn a maximum reward of $100 per year, and they are going to bill me $119 the first year and $139 the second. My comment to the Consumerist wasn’t about entering a contract by cashing a check, but about spending $139 to make $100, and are people stupid enough to do that?

  39. Hawk07 says:

    I’ve gotten about 3 of these from Chase Credit card division in the four months I’ve had one of their cards. I’ve had USAA for a couple of years now and have received 0 from them.

  40. kaikhor says:

    When I worked for Chase in their mortgage dept, we constantly got these with these really old “mortgages” people had signed up for with a company that had since been bought by Chase. It was a $5000 check sent to people, which officially put a “mortgage” on their house simply by cashing it. The thing is that so few people realized it was a mortgage, so never paid on it and the company never pushed it (other than it was such a small amount, no idea why). When the checks were first issued, the mortgage company made money because when someone would refinance, their new mortgage would cover the $5000 plus interest, but 20 years later, we just let it go (too hard to try and make the money up and not enough interest).

  41. calacak says:

    While technically this is not a scam, it should be. It obviously preys on those people that are too lazy to read the entire thing — especially old people.

    I use to work for one of the largest companies in this sector (Affinion Group) and I am willing to bet that the people mentioning the Chase examples were really from Affinion and it’s services.

    While the people that dream up these little plans usually believe that people will join because they really want the service, th truth is everyone knows it’s a deceptive practice. I had the opportunity to listen in on some customer calls and call after call were from old people, who cashed the check and didn’t know what they got themselves into. Of course the company line was “The check clearly stated these terms” and would try their best to get people from canceling.

    The truth is, no matter lawful this practice is, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

  42. angelzero says:

    I don’t really see the scam here. It says, in no less than 3 places, that cashing this check enrolls you in a for-cost plan. I’d hold a different opinion if it only said such a thing in one place, in the smallest human-readable font, but come on: three places?

    Besides, “there is no free lunch”. If someone you don’t know sends you money, why would you not think there is a catch?

  43. RebekahSue says:

    right into the shredder. *

    the $25 from chase are very deceiving because they come close to when i think i’m due for a $25 amazon gift card. they nearly got me the first time.

    ====
    * (unless my brother in law is coming over. the day will come when he steals a check from me since he’s a thief, and i’m looking forward to pressing charges.)

  44. loueloui says:

    I have a far better idea for these fake checks. Just copy down the routing numbers, and give them away to your friendly neighborhood 419 scammer.

    Problem solved.

    The scammer gets what’s coming to him because I don’t think Chase is going to settle for some dumb shmuck in Namibia drafting their account. Time to start a new scam.

    The bank gets what’s coming to them because shame on them for sending out these fake checks to begin with. Maybe it will give them more reason to stop trying to scam their customers.

  45. beenthere says:

    I used to work for a company which was involved in an identical “service”. It’s true that the goal is for the cashers of the checks not to realize that they’ve enrolled in a membership until they’ve paid a few times and then call to either stop payment or get a refund. In the case of the company I worked for it was always possible to get a refund for as long as you’ve been paying (even if it’s been years) but if you are abusive to the representative at the call-center they will have justification to hang up with only a current-month refund whereas you would get more money back if you are polite and keep insisting to have everything back.
    Some savy people were able to take advantage of the first free month, though. The service I’m familiar with offered 20% off gift cards at stores like Home Depot and Target. You could potentially order 500$ worth of gift cards, pay only 400$, and then cancel before any membership fees came into effect.

  46. aikoto says:

    You shouldn’t have to read the fine print to look for information that CONTRADICTS the bold print. It’s a scam, pure and simple because of the “RE: Money Back on Your Credit Purchase”.

    Their boldfaced (baldfaced lie) is that “RE:” this is in response to something and “Money Back” you’re getting a refund of money you spent already and “Your Credit Purchase” from a credit card transaction you had with them.

    Granted you have to be kind of dumb to not read past the first line, but to use such a blatantly deceptive subject line is no better than a spammer.

  47. Mary says:

    Somehow, a few months ago, I got signed up for a scam called Traveler’s Advantage. After they gave me the runaround I finally got them to cancel the account. I complained about the way they had cheated me into the program by promising a savings on a hotel stay that they then said I was inelligable for.

    When I got the first check in the mail from them, it was simply a check. No accompanying paperwork, just a little extra slip the check was attached to that was an ad for their service. The fine print was on the back, and I don’t recall it saying anywhere on the check itself that it was purchasing a membership. I suppose it probably did, but I didn’t see it. Since I felt the company owed me money for that hotel stay, I thought they had listened to my complaint and reimbursed me. Sure, it was only $10, but it was $10.

    Thankfully I didn’t make it to the bank for a week, because the next check came in and I looked at it a little closer. I read the fine print and saw what was going on. Since then, even though I’ve cancelled my membership, they continue to send me checks every week or so, all of which say “Since you’re such a great member…” Except I haven’t been a member since before I was getting the checks. These checks would be re-enrolling me along with adding the new service.

    It’s a scam. Just because there’s fine print doesn’t make it okay. It’s a bait and switch that some people will fall for and it’ll net the company a profit at the expense of treating customers fairly. To me, that’s a scam.

  48. savvy9999 says:

    @FatLynn: Was it State Farm? I have a $27 “dividend” check in my hand from them right now, was going to put it into the bank this afternoon.

  49. kracer22 says:

    Only thing I cash are rebate checks. As soon as I see something like this it raises a red flag.. and usually I can skim through the fine print pretty quickly to find the catch. Sometimes I don’t bother and just shred it.

  50. Major-General says:

    @CreativeLinks: I got one of those switching checks while living in the dorms in college. It somehow had listed on of the campus switchboard numbers as my listed personal number. Ohh, the fun, and expulsion, to be had with that.

  51. Sidecutter says:

    @FatLynn and SAVVY9999,

    You’re fine, both of you. I have Auto and Life insurance through State Farm, and yes, they really DO send out dividend checks. I have one in my wallet right now for $55, waiting to be deposited at my bank. It’s not the first one, either, but they don’t send them out on a regular schedule. Go read the check, and the letter it came with and you’ll find there’s no small print or any conditions. State Farm, yes, an *insurance company* is really giving you back part of your premiums.

    Yeah I know, strikes me as way out of the norm for what you expect from insurance companies, too…

  52. lhm says:

    Hi,

    I received one, too. Or rather, one came for the person who used to live in my apartment.

    I know a bit about her: immigrant, nurse, nice person. But not necessarily the sort with the ability to read the fine print.

    Could this scam be making money off people whose English skills are poor?

  53. Matthew says:

    Back in the long-ago days when I worked as a bank teller, we would (very occasionally) see the person-to-person example of this principle: someone putting qualifications on a personal check to someone else. As far as the bank was concerned, enforcing the “contract” on such checks was none of our business, and purely an issue between the person who wrote it and the person cashing/depositing it.

    This makes sense, right? Because I can write you a check that says “valid only if so-and-so loses 15 lbs. as promised.” But the bank teller isn’t going to weigh you.

    Presumably, though, these companies have better capabilities for enforcing their back-of-the-check conditions than you or I do. I mean, try writing this on your next check to those thieves at Verizon: “By depositing this check, payee agrees never to bill me again.” And see what happens. Probably not much.

  54. econobiker says:

    As for those folks commenting on the “writing a contract on a check” deal I know that this is true as a recently reviewed a credit card “change in terms” where the cc company specifically mentioned this issue and said that they wouldn’t honor this action or something to that effect.

    The info was pretty buried in the micro text of the “change in terms” but what drew me to it was the quote “Paid in Full” which you rarely see referred to on credit card terms….

  55. Kornkob says:

    To those people who insist this ‘isn’t technically a scam’, I beg to differ.

    This scam is not that different than the short change scam that is perpetuated against any number of retail workers every day.

    There’s a world of difference between entering into a mutually beneficial business relationship and getting bum rushed into a losing proposition using the same sorts of switch ups used by confidence men.

    This transaction is obviously a scam because of 2 major earmarks: a) it is not mutually beneficial and b) it uses misdirection to get the mark to participate in the transaction.

  56. savvy9999 says:

    @Sidecutter: Thanks for the advice. The State Farm letter and check looked to be on the up & up, so I deposited it on Friday. It’s rather stupefying that any company would out of the blue give $ back because they ‘made too much’.