CONSUMER ALERT: Attorney General’s consumer survey reveals that millions of Washingtonians may have been unintentionally enrolled in a subscription service

AG Ferguson encourages Washingtonians to file complaints with his office if they have been unintentionally enrolled in subscription services when attempting to make a one-time purchase

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson released the results of a consumer survey revealing that 59% of Washingtonians may have been unintentionally enrolled in a subscription plan or service when they thought they made a one-time purchase, highlighting a problem that may be impacting millions of Washingtonians. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that just over 6 million adults live in Washington state. Consequently, 59% represents 3.5 million Washingtonians. Respondents reported that pre-check boxes constitute a significant source of the problem.

The survey also reveals that approximately 100,000 Washingtonians may have been unable to cancel the unwanted subscription because it was too difficult.

The Attorney General’s Office recently commissioned the online survey of 1

,207 adult Washington consumers. The survey is part of the Attorney General’s Honest Fees Initiative.

Here are some of the highlights from the survey:

  • 59% of the 1,207 respondents noted that in the last four years they unintentionally enrolled in a subscription plan that automatically billed them when they thought they were making a one-time purchase. Of those:
    • A majority (51%) cited a pre-checked box as the reason they unintentionally enrolled. 37% did not remember if a pre-checked box was present. 12% reported that a pre-checked box was not present.
    • 63% reported that they unintentionally enrolled in a subscription more than once.
    • 2.75% reported that they did not cancel the subscription because it was “too difficult to cancel.” Extrapolated over the population, this represents 1.6% of adult residents, or approximately 100,000 Washingtonians who could not cancel an unwanted subscription
  • A significant majority of the respondents (70%) noted pre-checked boxes should be prohibited.
  • Washingtonians cited online retailers (29%) as the most common source of the problem, and Amazon was the company that received the most mentions by consumers.

Attorney General Ferguson urges consumers to file a complaint with his office if they inadvertently signed up for a subscription while attempting to make a one-time purchase. The Attorney General’s Office responds to every consumer complaint. It fields approximately 24,000 complaints annually, and returns approximately $18 million per year to consumers through its informal complaint resolution process, which involves working with businesses to resolve consumer complaints pre-investigation or litigation.

“The average consumer has to keep an eye out all the time. Merchandisers are constantly changing their tactics,” one respondent from southwest Washington noted after taking the survey.

“This survey reveals that corporations are deceiving Washingtonians into paying for unwanted subscriptions – and consumers want this practice to end,” Ferguson said. “If you unintentionally signed up for a subscription service, contact my office so we can help.”

“Before signing up for any new subscription, membership or trial offer, it’s important that consumers take the time to understand exactly what they are agreeing to,” said AARP State Director Marguerite Ro. “Reputable retailers will give you straightforward procedures for setting up, canceling or changing your account settings. If those terms are difficult to find or understand, beware.”

Survey

Hardwick Research conducted its online survey from June 24 through July 7, and 1,207 adult Washington consumers answered the survey. The survey included some of the following demographics:

  • Respondents came from across the state, primarily from the Puget Sound area at 57% and 43% from other areas of Washington state.
  • Respondents split between 50% female and 48% male.
  • Respondents split among age groups: approximately one third were between the ages of 18-34, one third were 35-55 and one third were 55 or more years old.
  • The average respondent’s household income was $76,500.
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