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Attorney General’s Consumer Survey Reveals Millions of Washingtonians may Have Been Unintentionally Enrolled in a Subscription Service

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson released the results of a consumer survey revealing that 59% of Washingtonians may have been unintentionally enrolled in a subscription plan or service when they thought they made a one-time purchase, highlighting a problem that may be impacting millions of Washingtonians.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that just over 6 million adults live in Washington state. Consequently, 59% represents 3.5 million Washingtonians. Respondents reported that pre-check boxes constitute a significant source of the problem.

The survey also reveals that approximately 100,000 Washingtonians may have been unable to cancel the unwanted subscription because it was too difficult.

The Attorney General’s Office recently commissioned the online survey of 1,207 adult Washington consumers. The survey is part of the Attorney General’s Honest Fees Initiative.

Here are some of the highlights from the survey:

  • 59% of the 1,207 respondents noted that in the last four years they unintentionally enrolled in a subscription plan that automatically billed them when they thought they were making a one-time purchase. Of those:
    • A majority (51%) cited a pre-checked box as the reason they unintentionally enrolled. 37% did not remember if a pre-checked box was present. 12% reported that a pre-checked box was not present.
    • 63% reported that they unintentionally enrolled in a subscription more than once.  
    • 2.75% reported that they did not cancel the subscription because it was “too difficult to cancel.” Extrapolated over the  population, this represents 1.6% of adult residents, or approximately 100,000 Washingtonians who could not cancel an unwanted subscription
  • A significant majority of the respondents (70%) noted pre-checked boxes should be prohibited.
  • Washingtonians cited online retailers (29%) as the most common source of the problem, and Amazon was the company that received the most mentions by consumers.

Attorney General Ferguson urges consumers to file a complaint with his office if they inadvertently signed up for a subscription while attempting to make a one-time purchase. The Attorney 

General’s Office responds to every consumer complaint. It fields approximately 24,000 complaints annually, and returns approximately $18 million per year to consumers through its informal complaint resolution process, which involves working with businesses to resolve consumer complaints pre-investigation or litigation.

“The average consumer has to keep an eye out all the time. Merchandisers are constantly changing their tactics,” one respondent from southwest Washington noted after taking the survey.

“This survey reveals that corporations are deceiving Washingtonians into paying for unwanted subscriptions – and consumers want this practice to end,” Ferguson said. “If you unintentionally signed up for a subscription service, contact my office so we can help.”

“Before signing up for any new subscription, membership or trial offer, it’s important that consumers take the time to understand exactly what they are agreeing to,” said AARP State Director Marguerite Ro. “Reputable retailers will give you straightforward procedures for setting up, cancelling or changing your account settings. If those terms are difficult to find or understand, beware.”

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