The FTC urging companies to make it easier to cancel subscriptions — but will it make a difference?

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Posted at 1:36 PM, Jan 07, 2022

Some companies are considering making it easier to cancel their subscription services after the FTC announced new rules that require companies make canceling clear, consensual and easy.

"The real big problem is that companies let you sign up online, and then make it quite easy to do that. They let you change your payment method online if your credit card is expired or you've cancelled a credit card," said Kevin Brasler, an executive editor at Consumers' Checkbook. "They let you do all these different things with your account online, but many companies don't actually let you cancel online."

Instead, some companies require customers to call a service line to cancel a subscription.

The FTC is now warning companies against using "illegal dark patterns" that trap consumers into subscription services.

The agency says it has seen an increasing number of complaints about the financial harms that deceptive sign-up tactics are causing. That includes unauthorized charges or continuous billing that's impossible to cancel.

"The FTC is basically warning companies that you shouldn't make it hard on your customers, we're going to look at this if it doesn't improve," Brasler said. "But I think barring an actual law or new regulation that says, 'If you can take in money online, you should be able to let people quit online,' I'm not sure how much of an effect it will have."

DirecTV is one company promising those changes. A representative with the company said they plan to introduce a "click to cancel" option for its streaming service later this year.

Planet Fitness is another company that is re-evaluating its membership management policies. The gym's senior vice president of communications said in a statement that the company is "exploring ways to evolve their membership management policies to provide additional options and convenience. In states with related laws, cancellations are accepted digitally via the mobile app and website."

Brasler believes a California law that will take effect this summer will force more businesses nationwide to let people cancel online. That law says if consumers can sign up for something online, companies must also make it so people can quit online.

Brasler says that for now, customers should go through account statements to make sure they're not paying for unwanted subscriptions.

"Do your own little audit to see what you're paying for, that you might not need anymore," he said. "I've done it myself and found three or four things that I was like, 'Oh yeah, I have this thing I've never used that in years.'"