One of the most evil tricks in the history of online money-making is this…
It’s called “Forced Continuity,” and you’ve no doubt run into it. The purpose of this blog post is to (1) explain this concept so you know what to look for, (2) call a couple businesses onto the carpet for doing this and, (3) remind you that this can be a horrible business practice that you should avoid at all costs.
We think Forced Continuity is the Devil. And we’re here to tell you that you can do better.
Let’s start with the basics: What is Forced Continuity?
If you’ve ever signed up for something that has an automated monthly subscription that yanks cash from your credit or debit card, this is quite possibly a forced continuity program.
To give you an example – “ripped from the headlines,” so to speak – let’s go back to a year or so ago, when Dave experimented with a Ning group.
If you’re not familiar with Ning, several years ago, they pioneered a business model that allowed you to build your own social network. What WAS brilliant (past tense) about Ning was a combination of “freemium” and a single-sign-in. The single-sign-in was great: you could join one Ning network, then another, then another, and only have to remember one password and login information. Brilliant.
But it was the freemium thing that really made things hum for Ning. Get started, build a social network of 2 to 2 million people, and you could stay with the free program as long as you wanted. (Ning made their money off of ads, and you even had the chance to share in that revenue.)
Where this went off the rails was when Ning said that you HAD to pay. No ifs, ands, or buts.
If you haven’t guessed by now, in order for me to try out a network under their new program, I needed to start with a trial program. And that required a credit card number. AND…
They now had me.
Long story short, my card was tied to an account that was dormant and I forgot about the Ning network and didn’t use it. Shame on me, I forgot to read the fine print and…
Imagine my surprise to get charged a couple months later – and, despite my attempts to get a refund from Ning, they had me by the credit card.
They would have kept charging me until I told them to stop – even if I wasn’t using the product.
Lots of companies do this – big and small. Get you on board, get you trying something, and keep charging you til you tell them to stop. AND…if you’re the kind of person who’s too lazy or busy to check all of your credit card and debit card and bank account statements, you might miss these charges.
Guess what? Lots of companies will NOT reimburse you for a month of unused services.
Ning could easily have checked their records and realized that I didn’t even touch their service at all for two entire months. No biggie, I got charged. (And sent a terse note when I tried to argue.)
LinkedIn’s job seeker premium service tells you that up front. LegalZoom sells you on their premium service – and then, if you forget to cancel on time, boom, you get another month of charges. (Yes, it just happened to me.)
NOTE: This site has an affiliate relationship with Rocket Lawyer, a competitor of LegalZoom. Here’s a link to an offer from Rocket Lawyer.
What makes this evil? Isn’t this like buying a gym membership and not using it? Whose fault IS that?
Well, you play a role in your own financial future – so you should be diligent. BUT…
When is the last time someone from customer service – at your gym, at the online membership site, wherever – got in touch and said “hey, you’re not using the product, how can we help?”
When is the last time someone from the MLM that suggested you start selling their stuff by buying a monthly subscription…actually checked in with you to see how things are going?
And so on, and so forth.
If you buy something that gets sent to you every month, that can be okay. But if a business is in business JUST to grab your credit card information and keep charging you whether it’s something of value or not…isn’t that inherently EVIL?
Let me issue a challenge: find a way to add value as you launch a new business, or get involved in a side project, or whatever you’re doing to bring that 10K into your bank account. But do it in such a way that you’re not taking advantage of people.
Make it easy to get out – easy to unsubscribe – easy to cancel.
Don’t take advantage of people. Do the right thing.