Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) pushed the top federal consumer watchdogs to help Americans receive better warnings about automatic subscription renewals that can rack up thousands of dollars in costs without their knowledge. In a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Casey called on the agencies to require that consumers be given better notification of so-called “evergreen clauses” that require formal notification of their intent to discontinue a particular service. These clauses are often buried in fine print that prevents consumers from canceling a service in the same easy manner that they signed up.
“Consumers shouldn’t be charged for automatic renewals that are buried in fine print and nearly impossible for the average person to identify,” Senator Casey said. “The CFPB and the FTC can take commonsense steps to better protect Americans and ensure that consumers have appropriate information about the services they have.”
The full text of Senator Casey’s letter can be seen below:
The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Federal Trade Commission.
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
The Honorable Richard Cordray
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street, NW
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez and Director Cordray:
I write to express my concerns about automatic renewal or “evergreen” clauses. As you know, evergreen clauses in certain service contracts provide for automatic renewal unless subscribers provide formal notice of termination. These clauses are common in everything from gym memberships to telephone services to certain bank credit lines. Because renewal clauses are often buried in fine print and the termination requirements are onerous, many consumers become trapped in service contracts that they no longer want or cannot afford.
I understand that some state legislatures have recently taken measures to address this problem, primarily by limiting the enforceability of evergreen clauses and forcing service companies to make the clauses more visible to consumers. I also understand that several rules and regulations exist at the federal level to protect consumers from unwanted automatic billing. For example, the FTC’s Prenotification Negative Option Rule requires that companies offering “opt out” shopping clearly present to consumers some of the key terms of the shopping plan.
While these efforts are helpful, many consumers are still not adequately informed of automatic renewals. As a result, they remain vulnerable to needless financial strain. I recently heard from a constituent who was surprised to discover a deducted renewal payment to McAfee Antivirus on her bank statement. To her knowledge, she had never signed anything authorizing such a deduction. Last year, a local news outlet reported that a Philadelphia resident had been locked in a home security contract for more than twenty years despite not wanting or using the service.
Stories like these are far too common in my home state of Pennsylvania and across the country. We need to do everything we can to protect consumers from this kind of financial risk. As the leading federal agencies with oversight over consumer protection and financial education, the FTC and CFPB are well-placed to inform consumers about this risk, protect them from potential abuse and regulate the use of automatic renewal clauses.
I therefore request that both your agencies increase efforts to alert and inform consumers about the risks of these clauses. I also request that you explore regulatory options to clarify or standardize the use of these contracts in order to better protect consumers from any potential abuse or unexpected financial strain.
Consumers deserve basic clarity when entering into service contracts. They should have full control over money that they have worked hard to earn and strive to manage carefully. It is essential that we do everything we can to protect them from financial strain caused by obscure evergreen clauses.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact my office.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator