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Some online service providers list optional "free trials" for services when you make a 1-time purchase. Let's assume that someone marks the box for such a free trial, but never makes use of the service. The vendor uses the credit-card info provided for the 1-time purchase to debit the credit account for multiple months of service before the consumer notices. The vendor then refuses to issue a credit for any but the last debit.

Would it be reasonable to consider those recurring charges "False Claims" or fraudulent?

In this context, I'm not referring to the federal qui tam statute, but the idea that presenting or causing the presentment of a bill for services that were never rendered is dishonest.

The initial charge on my credit card was fine, as it was for a fixed duration of services (10 years in my case.) What gives me heartburn is that they continued to charge my card without a meeting of the minds on that.

Reviewing an example of the vendor's website, it says in big print "Monthly Plan $0.00/mo" and in fine gray print it says "Renews at $5.88/month."

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  • What does the agreement provide in regard to cancellation and billing after the trial period? What reason is given for demanding a credit cared? Jul 29 '21 at 1:29
  • If you're talking about "false claims" in the context of the False Claims Act, the answer is almost certainly "no."
    – bdb484
    Jul 29 '21 at 14:08
  • @bdb484 I assume you mean the Federal False Claims Act, but that's not what I mean. However, Federal False Claims seem to be a subset of the broader topic of False Claims that could include consumers too. Jul 29 '21 at 22:28
  • @DavidSiegel, I've updated the question with more details. Jul 29 '21 at 22:44
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In all such offers that I have seen, there is an agreement explicitly saying that if the service is not cancelled by the end date of the trial, a recurring charge for the price of the service will be made, and the customer authorizes this. If there was such an agreement, the charges would be authorized, not fraudulent.

The question does not say what agreement accompanied the free trial. But any reasonable person would know that credit card info is only provided when a charge is at least possible.

Addition:

The question now says:

Reviewing an example of the vendor's website, it says in big print "Monthly Plan $0.00/mo" and in fine gray print it says "Renews at $5.88/month."

In that case it seems to me that the customer agreed to the recurring charge. What was purchased was access to the service, and whether the service was in fact used is not relevant. Unless there is a consumer protection law specifically requiring such terms to be "prominent" or otherwise making this deal unlawful, it seem to me that the customer has agreed, and the charge nis in no way a false claim. But it is possible that a court would rule otherwise.

It is my experiences that in such cases the credit card company can and sometimes will act as an agent for the customer, and can often obtain refunds for multiple past charges. No doubt they have mush stronger negotiating power. But such refunds are not a matter of law, I think, rather of business practice and good will.

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  • Thanks, David. I left it generic so as not to run into legal advice ethical restrictions, but in my case, I frankly don't remember. There was certainly no signed agreement for me to refer back to. I certainly did know (and approved) a hefty one-time charge for services with a 10-year duration. The initial charge is not the problem. It's more the nickel and dime charges on a recurring basis after they captured my card number I'm concerned with. Jul 29 '21 at 22:24

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