Last year, I had a major smoothie addiction. A couple times a week, I would trudge over to a downtown office building where I picked up a $5 chocolate banana coffee smoothie for lunch. So when I found out that the website was offering deeply discounted gift certificates for my smoothie shop, I snapped one up.

I didn’t know until a year later that my smoothie discount had cost me $180.
I began to notice a recurring charge for $14.95 on my bank account a few months ago, but I wasn’t immediately suspicious because the description of the charge was something like “Health Plan Ilus.” It was only after the charge would clear my account that it turned into “Shop Discnt Svc.” I kept forgetting about the charge, until it increased to $17.95 this month.
I called the toll-free number that was listed on my bank statement and spoke with Chelsea from Shopping Essentials Plus, an online discount service. I finally realized I had been duped like millions of other online shoppers who inadvertently sign up for services by clicking on a discount offer, usually while making another purchase. My colleague Kara McGuire had even written about the practice here.
Chelsea told me that I signed up for the service through last November. She couldn’t tell me how I authorized the charge, but said if I had any more questions I needed to contact She refunded the most recent charge of $17.95 but said there was nothing she could do about the $180 I had already paid in for the service I didn’t even know about.
I didn’t press her for an explanation, because I was so embarrassed that I hadn’t questioned the recurring charge earlier. I don’t think that I clicked on a free gift or cash-back reward offer, which is the way most of these businesses sign you up for their service, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should have known better.
I know I’m not alone with this problem, has this happened to you? What steps have you taken to get your money back? Are these deceptive business practices that the federal government should rein in?