Forced Continuity and Free Trials Are Almost Over! READ THIS NOW! 1

by Tim Kerber

We just started receiving word of a crack down by Mastercard which is resulting in merchant accounts being frozen.

Mastercard is reviewing individual accounts and requesting freezes on some accounts which have forced continuity and “Free – just pay shipping” offers.

I received confirmation from one marketer I know that his account indeed had been frozen as of last night.

Upon hearing the news, I made contact with Jud Smith of PowerPay. He is my provider and also provides accounts to hundreds of MemberGate clients.

He confirmed that Mastercard has requested some accounts be frozen.

Jud is currently recommending the following:

  • Remove any free trial offersTrial offers in general ($1 with CLEARLY SPELLED OUT TERMS don’t appear to be the issue). It appears that MC is getting a lot of consumer complaints when they signed up for something they thought was totally free only to be billed afterwards.
  • Make the “fine print” not so fine. Jud is recommending at least 12 point font for your terms explaining that they will be billed again. Don’t make it appear to Mastercard that you are trying to hide that fact.IMPORTANT NOTE: This does not mean all recurring income (ie the membership site model in general) is disallowed.It is a crack down on practices which Mastercard has deemed to be misleading. In particular free offers which were unclear that they would be billed in the future as well as “Free (just pay shipping)” type offers.Another merchant provider is also expressing concern over these issues.
  • Avoid having an upsell offer which is tied to ANOTHER vendor. Upsells on your own site are okay but don’t send them to a third party to be billed on their end.
  • Avoid multiple merchant accounts. Mastercard can interpret this as an attempt to manipulate chargeback rates and can close you down completely.
  • “Free, just pay shipping” or offers that hide the nature of recurring payments are to be avoided as well.This is a still developing issue.If you have comments or more to add, please do it below here. I will update this article as more details come in.

Here’s the email I received by Ryan Lee from one merchant account providers. This is serious business..

-(name withheld) wants to inform everyone of changes expected from the Payment Brands regarding practices that are considered “Brand Damaging”. As you may be aware, both Visa and MasterCard are taking action in response to increases in consumer disputes related to card-not-present and direct response products and services. (name withheld) is endorsing the adoption of Best Practices to support our merchant base in conducting business in a manner that protects both businesses and consumers from fraud. To date no formal announcement has been received, however (name withheld) is issuing this communication now in an effort to educate and assist our agents/merchants in complying with anticipated Payment Brand mandates and actions.

MasterCard has recently warned the Acquiring community that “Negative Option” enrollment will be considered a “Brand Damaging” business practice. “Brand Damaging” is a very broad term and is still being defined, but in light of recent fines to our counterparts, we must be proactive. Indications are that MasterCard will require immediate termination of merchants identified as using this business practice, along with any other practices considered “Brand Damaging”. This follows recent policy changes from Visa regarding descriptor formats and disclosure of corporate entities related to Direct Response offers, with the intent to enforce all chargeback and transaction monitoring programs as defined by the associations.

(name withheld) cannot accept merchant applications for products and/or services employing “Negative Option” enrollment, in addition to the following practices:

Marketing models that employ “Free-Trial”, “Deferred Billing” and/or “Shipping Only”. Customers must be receiving a tangible good or contracted service in exchange for charging of payment cards. Incentivized discount offers are acceptable when the cardholder is receiving something in exchange for payment, however we will be unable to support accounts engaging in hidden or delayed charges and ‘free’ offers that are not truly free.

“Cross-Selling” and “Up-selling” business practices. All sales should be directly between the business entities (merchant) processing the transaction and the cardholder, with cardholder authorization for all purchases.

Per Payment Brand guidelines, the use of multiple merchant accounts, billing descriptors and merchant processors may be viewed as an attempt to avoid chargeback monitoring programs and is prohibited. Perceived non-compliance has led to termination of processing relationships. (name withheld) will review the business consideration for opening multiple merchant accounts to ensure compliance with Payment Brand guidelines.

Transactions generated from internet traffic and all other lead sources must be managed and monitored for potential fraud using an approved system. Third Party service engagement may be a requirement for account approval.

The FTC has recently published guidelines regarding “Negative Option” enrollment programs and is taking a very aggressive position against merchants utilizing/employing this business practice. Recommendations take in part from the FTC’s website may include but are not limited to the following:

Material terms should be disclosed in a clear, concise manner. Unnecessarily long or inconsistent terms are viewed as an attempt to mislead the consumer.

Terms should be disclosed in a conspicuous manner, clearly placed and labeled on websites in a location that indicates the importance and relevance to the transaction. Fonts and colors must be easy to view.

Material terms must be disclosed prior to completion of the transaction and before a financial obligation is incurred by the consumer.

Customers must provide affirmative consent to any offer, examples include a mandatory “I Agree…” statement checkbox, where the customer is acknowledging the Terms and Conditions of the offer and consents to be entered into continuity program as a result of completing the transaction. Pre-checked boxes do not qualify as affirmative consent.

Merchants must not discourage or make difficult in any way the disclosed cancellation procedures and all cancellation requests must be honored in accordance with the stated terms of the transaction.


Please let me know your thoughts here…

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