Man unaware of monthly charge to his account gets refund

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Edward Williams, a senior citizen in Buffalo, could not understand why his checking account was overdrawn. He has a monthly budget, and tries to stick to it.

So Williams summoned a friend of over 50 years, Ed Wiley, to help him review his banking accounts and Wiley recognized the problem right away; a recurring automatic debit of $12.99 was being taken from Williams’ account each month.

The debit has been coming out of Williams’ M&T Bank account each month for the last 10 years but Williams claims he knew nothing about it. The charges were debited by “PrivacyGuard,” a company based in Connecticut.

Williams had nothing to show for the monthly $12.99 debits and when Wiley called PrivacyGuard the company said they showed no record of ever activating his account.

Sneaking charges onto a consumer’s personal account, including credit cards, bank accounts, or utility bills, without their permission is a practice known as “cramming,” and PrivacyGuard’s parent company, Affinion, has settled with authorities in New York and 47 other states over allegations of unauthorized charges on consumer accounts.

“I can get the feeling that something ain’t right, and I just started complaining about it,” Williams said after realizing that his suspicions were valid.

Wiley called PrivacyGuard and tried to get Williams’ money back without success, so he contacted Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled, or Disadvantaged of Western New York, and they got a commitment from PrivacyGuard to return six months of charges.

Wiley was astonished to find out that’s all they offered.  He said, “After 10 years, you mean he can’t get but six months?”  Wiley contacted News 4’s Call 4 Action and representatives thought Williams’ case was reminiscent of another case they were aware of with PrivacyGuard nearly 14 years ago.

Kathy Lundquist found a stealth charge of $59.95 on her credit card bill in July 2000, and when she called PrivacyGuard to reverse the debit they told her they would send her some vouchers but not a full refund.

Instead of a refund, Lundquist said the company made her an offer.  “During the summer we will send you $40 worth of vouchers, and in September, we will send $10. In the meantime, you will be covered by our plan,” she explained they told her.

Lundquist didn’t accept that answer and fought to get her money back. “Get it off my credit card,” she said she told them. Lundquist did eventually get her money back, and Williams wanted his back too, saying, “I never signed any papers.”

Late Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for PrivacyGuard told News 4 that without admitting any fault in Williams’ case, but in the interest of good customer relations, the company would return all of Williams’ money, totaling $12.99 a month, each month, for 10 years. The refund should show up as a credit in Williams’ bank account within the next seven to 10 days, according to the company.

Consumer advocates advise checking all of your accounts closely to avoid getting “crammed.”

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