The Better Business Bureau is warning Utah consumers about a Connecticut-based company that has been using affinity marketing to bilk customers out of hundreds of dollars through their credit cards.

The bureau said in a news release Tuesday that Affinion Group, which recently changed its name from Trilegiant, had been the target of more than 2,200 complaints from online shoppers regarding unwanted charges to their accounts. Nineteen Utahns were charged more than $1,110 in small monthly fees, and most of them didn't notice the charges for months.

Over the past year, bureaus nationwide have fielded complaints from consumers who discovered charges, ranging from $9.99 to $59.99 every month, on their credit cards for membership services such as "Shoppers Advantage," "Privacy Guard" or "Great Fun."

Some consumers had been charged by Affinion Group every month for several years, resulting in hundreds of dollars being paid for services they never realized they had signed up for, the bureau said.

"Consumers who get signed up for Affinion's programs never actually provide their credit-card information and therefore don't suspect that the company will immediately begin charging their credit card every month," said Jane Driggs, the bureau's Utah president.

Typically, the consumers had purchased items online — such as movie or airline tickets — from a reputable Web site, the bureau said. At some point in the transaction process, pop-up ads or chat boxes appeared offering incentives, such as rebate cards.

Complainants allege they were signed up for unwanted services by clicking on pop-up ads or replying to chat windows, even though they ultimately declined the offers. The bureau said that the complainants never provided their credit-card information to ads or chats, but the company with which they had just made their online purchase had a pre-established agreement with Affinion Group to automatically transfer consumer information when they clicked on the ad or chat.

"Most complainants report to the BBB that they have no idea how or why they were being charged," Driggs said.

In 2006, 16 state attorneys general reached a $14.5 million settlement with Trilegiant and Chase Bank to resolve allegations that the two companies partnered to deceive consumers into paying for membership programs, the bureau said. But according to Better Business Bureau records, Trilegiant is now doing business as Affinion Group.

"It's the same business and same people continuing their pattern of misleading consumers by not making it clear when a consumer has purchased something," the bureau said.

Driggs said consumers should review their credit-card statements every month and follow up on items that they cannot remember charging.

For more information on Affinion Group and to see the more than 50 names under which the company is doing business, go to the bureau's Web site, at ct.bbb.org, and enter the name "Trilegiant."


E-mail: jlee@desnews.com