SEATTLE — An agreement negotiated by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office means “game over” for a video game company’s practice of signing up customers under false pretenses for hard-to-cancel recurring charges. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office, which reached the agreement yesterday with Delaware-based Oberon Media, Inc., calls the company’s tactics “unfair and deceptive” under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
Oberon Media sells video games at www.i-play.com and through third-party websites, including Comcast.net, Yahoo.com and MSN.com. Games are downloaded individually or through subscriptions that entitle customers to a certain number of games per month. But consumers complained that charges continued well beyond the terms to which they had agreed – and trying to cancel the arrangement was a losing fight.
“Consumers were misled to believe they could cancel anytime,” said Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein. “Perhaps they should have been told they could try to cancel anytime. In truth, consumers were stuck with subscriptions that lasted two to twelve months. Monthly subscriptions often automatically converted into ongoing, month-to-month plans. For those who were dissatisfied with the arrangement, stopping credit card charges was difficult by design.”
One consumer who complained to the Attorney General’s Office also wrote a letter to Oberon panning their cancellation process, alleging that the company had “a corporate policy of making it so difficult to cancel the membership that most people just give up.” She wrote that in order to cancel her account, Oberon required her to remember the email address she originally used to sign up. “[S]ince that was three computers ago, I just can’t,” she protested, adding that Oberon knew her current address because they used it to contact her about free downloads associated with her membership.
Under the terms of a consent decree filed yesterday in King County Superior Court, Oberon – which denies the Attorney General’s allegations – agrees to:
· Clearly and conspicuously disclose terms of its membership service before accepting payments from customers.
· Send notices to customers explaining how to cancel memberships 10 days before they are charged for services beyond their initial subscription.
· Obtain a consumer’s permission before an initial charge is to be placed on a consumer’s credit or debit card for any game service membership of undefined length, including month-to-month subscriptions.
· Honor cancellation requests and refund charges mistakenly initiated after a request for cancellation is received, provided such cancellation request is in accordance with contractual requirements.
Oberon will also pay $50,000 in attorney’s costs and fees. An additional $25,000 in penalties is suspended, assuming Oberon abides by the terms of yesterday’s agreement.