The Monday Blog

Watch those automatic subscriptions

 May 2, 2021

By  Lorhainne Eckhart

It seems automatic subscriptions and recurring payments have become the norm. When you’re buying something, whether for business or personal use, an online subscription seems to be the default now, sometimes without you even being aware of what you’re signing up for.

Quite often, the warning is in that small box of text you don’t see in the six hundred plus pages of the agreement people are supposed to read, though no one does. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind has time to read and agree to that many pages? Most are created by some legal department and worded in a way that can’t be understood, anyway. Quite often if you start reading it, you’ll find it’s double talk that goes in circles and doesn’t make any sense, and it’s been designed that way.

Nevertheless, as an author, I subscribe to many different programs for my business, and I have to watch every one of them because it’s become the norm to have to uncheck the hidden box that states your credit card will automatically charge on renewal unless you cancel. Some even add all kinds of fine print that you have to cancel within a certain period, within so many days in advance, and other things most people have no idea they’re agreeing to. Yet how many of these subscription services provide no contact information and hide the option to unsubscribe? There are too many. With a few, after I signed up and found the service didn’t provide what was promised, I went to cancel and it took days to figure out how. I would try to get my information removed and unsubscribe only to be charged again.

As frustrating as it is, your only choice is not to use the service. Otherwise, you’re left pulling your hair out because once they have your credit card, they promise you’ll be charged only if you go past the trial period, which most are counting on you to forget. I mean, how many times have you looked at your credit card statement and wondered who is charging you for something? With the number of computer programs and subscription services I subscribe to as an author, from Adobe to Mailchimp and all kinds of software, from my newsletter services to my website, I’m not kidding when I say you have to watch these guys.

Many of these sites have been hacked too, especially as of late, and the personal information they store is being stolen. Ever heard of identity theft? Maybe it’s happened to you or someone you know. It’s a scary thought, but in the technological online world we live in, cybercrime has exploded. Just this morning, I received an email from a big antivirus subscription service to tell me they had been hacked and my account was compromised, and my password and information may have been leaked. This was immediately followed by them telling me not to worry, as my account was secure. Now, why didn’t I believe that? Maybe because so many companies have been hacked and had personal information stolen without notifying anyone. Remember Adobe? Yes, they were hacked, and personal account information was leaked.

I remember a number of years back, before online data breaches became a problem, I received a phone call from one of the giant telecom companies, Telus, trying to get my business back. But Telus had subcontracted from a call center in India, so while the person calling me wasn’t a Telus employee, he had all my personal information, including my driver’s license number. The company had just handed over all my personal information!

I still remember that. Once I got past my horror, I phoned and filed a complaint, which was handled by some customer service rep and went nowhere. When you first sign up for utilities, they collect vital personal information, the kinds of details no one should have access to, such as your driver’s license number, your social insurance number, and other government-issued ID numbers. All that personal information is a hacker’s dream. You would think some privacy act would specify that your personal information isn’t supposed to be shared, but I think we’re long past that. Instead, it’s leaked, shared, stolen, and given out to subcontractors from other countries.

Should you be worried? I am. I really try to keep my personal information private, but that means having to change passwords on a regular basis—and then remember them. There was a point a few years back when I finally gave in and wrote them down because I couldn’t remember any more, considering the sheer number of sites I log in to and services I use. Of course, my kids remember everything, so if they’re here, I find myself calling out across the house, “What’s my password for this site?” They, of course, respond that I changed it the month before and it’s now whatever it is.

Some of the recommendations out there are not to overshare on social media, to create strong passwords, and to use free wi-fi with caution. Watch out for links and attachments. Always look to see if a site is secure—you know, with that lock you see in the menu bar? Most importantly, check your credit report, because when your information is stolen, they can use it to get a credit card in your name, buy things with it, open utility accounts in your name, steal your tax refund, and even pretend to be you if they are arrested. The list goes on.

As if we all need one more thing added to our plates, considering everything going on in the world! But right now, protecting your online presence and personal information is more important than ever.

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