Learn­ing the old­est les­son in the book

Michael Pren­tice says his ex­pe­ri­ence with dis­count coupon pro­ducer The En­ter­tain­ment Book over an un­ex­plained credit-card charge re­minded him of an old adage: Buyer, be­ware

Ottawa Business Journal - - COMMENTARY - Michael Pren­tice is OBJ’s colum­nist on re­tail and con­sumer is­sues. He can be con­tacted at news@obj.ca.

Hun­dreds of Ot­tawa-area re­tail­ers ad­ver­tise in The En­ter­tain­ment Book and thou­sands of con­sumers in this re­gion buy the book each year for its dis­count coupons and two-for-one deals.

There is no question the an­nual U.S.based pub­li­ca­tion can save con­sumers money – es­pe­cially those who dine out a lot, since the book is packed with twofor-one meal deals.

But my wife and I re­cently had an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence with The En­ter­tain­ment Book that has left a bad taste in our mouths. It was prob­a­bly at least partly our fault. And the les­son we learned is the old­est one in the book: Buyer, be­ware!

It be­gan with a shock: We no­ticed a charge of US$35 on our Amer­i­can-dol­lar credit card when we re­ceived a re­cent state­ment. The charge was by En­ter­tain­ment.com – which turned out to be the e-mail ad­dress of The En­ter­tain­ment Book.

As far as we knew, we had or­dered noth­ing from The En­ter­tain­ment Book since we pur­chased the Ot­tawa edi­tion of the 2016 book on­line al­most a year ago for US$14.99.

At that time, we used a Cana­dian­dol­lar credit card that we have since can­celled. We used the Cana­dian-dol­lar card be­cause we had as­sumed, wrongly, that the pur­chase price of $14.99 was in Cana­dian dol­lars. It was only when we got the bill in De­cem­ber 2015 that we no­ticed the $14.99 pur­chase price had been con­verted to Cana­dian dol­lars, $21.27 at that time. We promptly paid that sum, al­most one year ago now.

I wanted to tele­phone The En­ter­tain­ment Book for an ex­pla­na­tion of the re­cent US$35 charge, but could find no listed phone num­ber.

I phoned the Cana­dian bank that is­sued my U.S.-dol­lar credit card. A cus­tomer ser­vice per­son at the bank sug­gested the charge might be an an­nual mem­ber­ship fee.

I then spoke with a bank su­per­vi­sor, stress­ing that, as far as I knew, I had not au­tho­rized any pay­ment of US$35 to The En­ter­tain­ment Book. The su­per­vi­sor said the mat­ter would be re­ferred to the bank’s se­cu­rity de­part­ment.

I then checked The En­ter­tain­ment Book web­site and found what is al­most cer­tainly the ex­pla­na­tion for the charge. A sec­tion is headed “An­nual Re­newal Terms and Con­di­tions.”

This an­nual mem­ber­ship in­cludes on­line dis­counts that are in ad­di­tion to those in the Ot­tawa edi­tion of The En­ter­tain­ment Book. Un­know­ingly, I might have ac­cepted these terms when I bought the 2016 book.

Since I learned this, there have been these de­vel­op­ments:

1. The is­suer of our U.S.-dol­lar credit card tele­phoned me with the good news that, af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it has re­moved the $35 charge and we owe noth­ing on the credit card.

2. I re­ceived by mail a copy of the 2017 En­ter­tain­ment Book, with the op­tion to re­turn it if I did not want it. How­ever, The En­ter­tain­ment Book said I must pay $7.95 re­turn postage, which I have de­clined to do, since I did not know­ingly or­der the book. The book came with a pre-paid re­turn en­ve­lope, and I have re­turned it. It re­mains to be seen whether The En­ter­tain­ment Book will now bill me for that $7.95.

There re­mains the mys­tery of how The En­ter­tain­ment Book was able to bill me on my U.S.-dol­lar credit card. I do not be­lieve I ever gave the num­ber of this card to The En­ter­tain­ment Book.

I asked the bank that is­sued the card if it could shed some light on this, but it was un­able to do so.

The bot­tom line here is: You can­not be too care­ful when buy­ing any­thing, es­pe­cially when buy­ing on­line. In­deed, it can be VERY dif­fi­cult to even find the fine print when buy­ing some­thing on­line.

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