Realm Of Randomness

November 16, 2007

Scammed! A 108$ lesson on online theft [Updated]

Filed under: Scam — Randomizer @ 1:52 am

Putting my earlier 2$ lesson to shame, I now am unwittingly ‘enlightened’ by a new lesson – unfortunately, this one cost me fifty times more than the last one :( .

How do I know if I’ve been scammed?

When I checked my bank account yesterday, which is connected to my debit card, I saw a 9$ charge that looked like this:

CHECK CRD PURCHASE 11/11 WLI*RESERVATIONREWARDS 800-7327031 CT …

I could not really recollect what this was, so I googled ‘WLI reservation rewards’, only to see that from the second search listing onwards, every listing had the words Webloyalty and scam in it. I quickly went back to my account to see how long this has been going on… and to my utter shock, it ran all the way till late 2006! And this charge totally collected 12 x 9$ = 108$ from my bank! In a statement full of bills that often run to hundreds of dollars, this 9$ charge easily escaped my attention.

What is it?

I looked up the website of WebLoyalty and found that it is supposedly some kind of ‘discount program direct marketing firm’ which claims to have millions of satisfied customers. To this day, I don’t remember ever signing up for it. Apparently, I am not alone. More than 2000 other people don’t remember this either. I researched on this scam and made a diagram showing how it works:

WebLoyalty Scam

(1) Sites like priceline.com, orbitz.com, expedia.com and many more reputed sites are legal ‘clients’ of WebLoyalty. When a customer purchases something on these sites, a pop-up window shows up.

(2) The window in some cases asks you ‘would you like 10$ off your next purchase from expedia?’ or in other cases, it might be a step in the check-out phase for your buy. You are never asked to provide any credit card/debit card details, all you are asked is your email-address or a button to say ‘yes’.

(3) Voila! That is all there is to it -> Your secret, treasured credit-card information happily travels through the all-so-secure gateway from expedia.com straight into the hands of WebLoyalty, with no notification to the user that this ever happened!

(4) WebLoyalty enrolls you into their ‘discount program’, which does exactly what? Nothing. It just takes 9$ from your account every month. What a great deal, huh?

How are they getting away with it ?

Though I’m a victim of this scam, I’m amazed at the pure brains behind it.

  • The 9$ charge goes unnoticed by millions of customers. A dollar more and it would catch your attention.
  • They send mails to the users who ‘signed up’, but they make sure the mail looks like spam! If it gets past your spam blocker, you will see a mail saying ‘Save 10$ on dining services today!’. What you don’t know is that at the bottom of this mail that is disguised to look like spam, they inform you of your 9$ charge! Pure genius, if you ask me.
  • They refund money instantaneously to anyone who complains :). The first option when I called their toll-free number was ‘Cancel membership?’. That is the mark of a true mastermind. Who cares about the 5000 people who were smart enough to notice the charge? Let’s give them their money back, no questions asked. There are millions of people who don’t know, and they comprise our ‘satisfied customers’.
  • They are rich enough now (I read somewhere they have a turnover of 560 million US$) to hire lawyers to build a fortress around them. They are an evil and strong empire, just like Scientology and it will take time to bring them down. They were sued in 2006, but I have yet to find out whatever resulted from the lawsuit. They seem to be functioning as usual.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Your credit-card is on sale, and there is nothing you can do about it. The only choice is to scrutinize your account statements every month and make sure you remember every transaction. If you can’t, make sure you find out – otherwise, you might just be paying a monthly sum to a shady business somewhere in this mangled world of the internet. Check your accounts right now!

And help spread the word !

[Update: I got my refund back yesterday, and I can finally put this scam behind me, carrying forward the knowledge of this whole exercise. Luckily, Webloyalty is so scared of the American justice system that it is willing to refund everyone who discovers these charges… no questions, no roadblocks – ask for a refund, get it in 3 days. They know they didn’t offer me any service during the last year, so they can’t even say ‘Hey, but what about all that we have done for you over the last year?’ . Anyways, next time around, we may not be so lucky – so keep your watch on all those statements! ]

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