Investigation into alleged unfair practices by an online trader offering credit score and discount reward membership subscription schemes to consumers
Complainant: Office of Fair Trading (OFT) (own-initiative investigation)
Case Reference: Adaptive Affinity - CRE-E/25810
Investigation into: Adaptive Affinity Limited trading as QuickCreditScore, HighCreditScore, CreditScoreMatters, High Street Max, Rewards Now and Rewards First, Company registration number: 05493004, with a registered office address at Cavendish House, 369 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 5AW
Consumers were being signed up to online credit score and discount reward membership schemes and being charged a monthly subscription fee for each service. We were concerned that there was a lack of transparency in relation to how consumers were being signed up to these schemes.
The Enterprise Act 2002, The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
This investigation (see note 1) was opened by the OFT on its own initiative to investigate Adaptive Affinity Limited's membership scheme websites. Adaptive Affinity Limited operates a number of membership schemes, which it describes as offering shopping discount rewards and credit protection services. Customers are signed up to these membership schemes through various Adaptive Affinity websites, which may be presented to a consumer through a variety of mechanisms, including directly after another transaction or the sign-up process for a separate Adaptive Affinity scheme, or through a pop-up or a search engine.
Customers incur charges ranging from £9.95 to £29.95 a month for each membership scheme they are signed up to, and some are signed up for two, incurring charges of up to £59.90 per month. We were concerned that Adaptive Affinity Limited was not doing enough to ensure that consumers were aware when they would be liable for payments. For example, some consumers only discovered they had been signed up to the membership schemes when they saw the charges on their bank statements.
As part of its investigation the OFT reviewed customer complaints and information (including the information presented to consumers on the websites) provided to it by Adaptive Affinity Limited.
As a result of its investigation, the OFT formed a view that Adaptive Affinity Limited may be operating in breach of certain provisions of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). In particular, the OFT identified the following concerns:
- Not making it clear to consumers when they were being signed up to a
service, and when they would be charged for a service. For example:
- some customers thought they had supplied their credit card details for identification purposes to facilitate a credit check, and so were unaware that these details would be used to take monthly payments and
- some consumers were entered into a separate contract for a discount scheme when they accepted a supermarket voucher or cash back 'reward' without sufficient transparency about the consequences of that acceptance.
- Failing to provide sufficiently clear information to consumers about
the terms of the contract, including:
- the nature of any offer claiming to be free or claiming to be a gift or reward
- the nature of the service that was being provided
- when they had entered into a binding contract with Adaptive Affinity Limited and would incur a monthly charge if they did not cancel their subscription during the trial period and
- in the case of the credit score service, when the consumer would be able to view their credit score.
Failing to operate procedures sufficient to review advertising material produced and circulated by partners and affiliates on its behalf and to control the conduct and actions of those partners.
- Incorporating potentially unfair terms in some of the standard terms and conditions of its membership schemes.
Adaptive Affinity Limited fully cooperated with the OFT's investigation. Further to its investigation, the OFT consulted with the company to ensure that the alleged infringements were not continued or repeated. Adaptive Affinity Limited and its director then signed undertakings to address the OFT's concern that the above practices may breach the law, which the OFT accepted.
The undertakings require that Adaptive Affinity Limited does not continue or repeat the conduct of concern in this case. For example, the company has agreed:
- To not mislead consumers, by making it clear to the consumer, among
- what their financial details will be used for
- where payments may be taken, what the authorisation process is, and - where applicable - that the provision of payment card details is the authorisation for payment to be taken
- when they are entering a legally binding agreement (contract)
- which payment card details the payment will be taken from
- what service they are signing up for, including by explaining the nature of that service and the charges for it, at the point of entering into the contract
- when a service they are signing up for is separate and different from a previous service already signed up for
- when a consumer's eligibility to obtain a reward is contingent upon them signing up to a membership scheme
- the full details and nature of any 'free' offer, when this relates to a trial period only, including the duration of the free trial, and the consequences of not cancelling during this period
- when the consumer will receive any service.
To not use contract terms which have the effect, among other things, of allowing Adaptive Affinity Limited to increase the periodic fee paid by the consumer without directly notifying the consumer.
- To ensure that adequate procedures are in place to detect misleading advertisements by third parties for Adaptive Affinity Limited's services, and to take steps to restore the position of consumers who were signed up as a result of any such adverts.
- Press release OFT takes action against online subscription operator (13 December 2011)
- Undertakings signed by the company (pdf 68kb)
Note 1. This investigation was separate from an earlier investigation, which focused on customers being signed up to Adaptive Affinity Limited's schemes following purchases from other internet retailers, which was concluded when the company signed undertakings to address those particular concerns in February 2009.