Best Buy's "Same As Cash" Credit Card Conceals Major Hidden Fees

UPDATE: Best Buy EECB Scores A Direct Hit
Reader Jason just finished paying off his 0% Best Buy/HSBC credit card, or so he thought, because this devilish card just sucker-punched him with a load of hidden fees. He did some research and found out he was entered into a program that makes him pay for “debt cancellation,” something Best Buy never discussed with him. He also discovered that there are many other people who feel tricked into joining this strange program. To make matters worse, HSBC, the card issuing bank, is giving Jason the runaround about reversing the fees. Jason’s letter, inside…

I’ve been a reader of the site for a quite a while and have come across an issue I’ve been attempting to resolve completely, with five different levels of call center supervisors without success.

I applied for a Best Buy credit card with the normal 12 months, 0% Interest deal that they offer consumers on large items and purchased an HDTV in December 2005 in San Antonio, TX.

As of yesterday my account is closed and paid off, much longer than I had expected it to be open for, though reviewing the last two months statements I came across monthly miscellaneous charges that I wrote off as being fees associated with deferred interest due to its unspecific, generic Transaction name of “Debt Cancellation-TX”. The “Debt Cancellation” charges varied monthly, but it ranged from $1.96 to to $2.93 to $5.57. Billed monthly, sometimes twice a month.

The name of the service that they signed me up for without my consent I have discovered is “Account Shield” or “Account Secure”. A 100% profit charge that the credit card provider stuffs into their pockets, especially considering they’re signing up their customers for it without approval or notification.

Yesterday on the 20th, I called over 10 toll-free numbers. 1-800’s, 1-888’s. I tried Executive Customer Relations for HSBC (Got their number from Consumerist) but they don’t handle Retail Services accounts. Any outsourced (overseas) CS calls I placed resulted in dead ends. They’d only let me talk to their supervisor whom kept repeating the same scripted response over and over– about how apparently I must have elected to subscribe to the “Account Shield” service as that’s the only way it could’ve been added to my account.

Nevermind the pages and pages of people at this site whom experienced the same thing, signup for this scam of a service without their consent, signature, approval – whatever you’d like to call it.

MSNBC details another person whom has gone through the exact same thing I did. Dead ends, no one would admit that they even had the CAPABILITY to refund the charges.

Finally, I spoke with Yvonne Thomas, Badge Number “Y1T”, at the Wood Dale, IL call center for HSBC. I had spoken with 3 levels of supervisors / escalations (she represented herself as a supervisor) before getting to her. After going through the same process of explaining what happened, how I did not sign up for this, she would not understand where I was coming from, that I had not signed up for this service, it had been added to my account without my consent and as it has a generic name, I wrote it off as a financial charge that was required.

I asked to speak to her manager and she obliged, unfortunately it resulted in only a voicemail being left at “Renee Teresina”’s mailbox. I pleaded my case quickly to make sure the entire message was recorded and hung up. Not two minutes later, Yvonne Thomas called me back and said that her manager was in meetings all day but she agreed to reverse “half” of the fees that they can see a history of. Apparently they only see back one year into my history which means $62.87 in charges. She’d be willing to reverse $32 of that $62. I said that would work for the time being until I could speak with Renee directly and she said she’d go ahead and reverse that portion of the charges.

I called the overseas “Debt Cancellation” department back and somehow they were able to see the entire account history of the Debt Cancellation charges on my account that total $172.37.

To me, $32 being refunded is not enough as this is a service that I didn’t agree to and wasn’t warranted. I’d like to see if my story can be heard and looked into, hopefully getting more if not all of the $172 refunded.

Some quick research uncovered that there are many that feel they have been tricked into this program. The most common scenario is that a Best Buy employee offers you 0% interest on a credit card for 12 or 18 months. The employee tells you to sign here and here, but what you have done is unwittingly signed up for “debt cancellation.” Some customers say they never signed up for such a program and virtually all of them say that they were never told about it by Best Buy. Some employees may have even told customers that this program is required to be approved for 0% interest, but it simply isn’t true. What is debt cancellation? MSNBC says,

What happened to [the victim] is that he was signed up for something called debt cancellation, which is very similar to credit insurance — once commonly offered by credit card issuers. Consumers pay a few dollars a month, based on an outstanding balance of the loan, and if they die or are incapacitated, the loan is forgiven.

But debt cancellation is a relatively new development, slightly different but much preferred by retailers. Debt cancellation doesn’t involve a third-party insurance company, so the retailer and its credit partner keep all the revenue. Also, it’s been deemed a non-insurance product by federal regulators. That’s important, because many state insurance regulators now limit the price of credit insurance, and mandate clear disclosures. Debt cancellation, on the other hand, is hardly regulated at all.

Debt cancellation really insures the store, not the consumer, who is generally dead at the rare times the policy is invoked. The store gets paid, even when the consumer is no longer in a position to care. As with credit insurance, consumers should always decline the product, says consumer advocate Birny Birnbaum, from the Center for Economic Justice.

“This does nothing for consumers,” says Birnbaum, who is the former chief economist of the Texas Department of Insurance. “It’s 99 percent profit for the companies. Just say no, no, no, no.”

This isn’t a case of 1 person not reading the fine print, this is a large group of people with the same complaint about the same card. Even if what Best Buy and HSBC are doing is legal, it certainly isn’t right. Remember, there is usually never such thing as a free loan. If you ever have erroneous or fraudulent fees on your statement make sure to contact your credit card company as soon as possible. Here are some tactics for mind-controlling CSR’s when it’s time to escalate. The EECB can also be an effective tool. Never rely on a commission-earning sales rep. to give you the facts and read what you are signing.


(Photo: Getty)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.