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Watch out for ‘dark patterns’ that trick you into paying recurring charges for products and services you don’t want

Magazines-Stack of Red Magazines gde1344344_640One thing that financial writers recommend when you’re having money problems is to review your subscriptions. Sometimes subscriptions that you aren’t using anymore keep renewing or you didn’t realize you had signed up for one.

“Negative option” programs include subscription services that automatically renew unless the consumer cancels, and trial marketing programs that charge a reduced fee for an initial period and then automatically begin charging a higher fee.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to cancel subscriptions they don’t want, and they shouldn’t have to worry about a trial marketing offer turning into an unwanted monthly charge,” said Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB.

The CFPB has made it clear that misleading consumers about products or subscription services they don’t want isn’t only dishonest, but also a violation of law, Chopra said.

The CFPB has taken the following action against:

  • Transunion for repeatedly breaking the lawby violating a CFPB consent order and for deceptive marketing when selling credit scores, reports, and credit monitoring products.
  • ACTIVE Network for tricking consumers into enrolling into a costly membership clubthrough the use of “digital dark patterns.”
  • Numerous credit card issuers for deceptively marketing optional “add-on” productsthat charged recurring fees until consumers cancelled. 

The CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission are continuing to receive complaints from consumers about being charged for products or services they didn’t intend to buy or want to cancel. The agencies are warning consumers about these dark patterns.

Don’t let it happen to you. Even if you’re not having money problems, it’s a good idea to review your subscriptions to make sure you want to continue to pay for them and you aren’t paying for some you don’t want or didn’t know about.


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Carol Cassara

These misleading arrangements are so common. Thanks for the reminder.


It is too easy to glance over subscription information online and miss the important parts, ending up with subscriptions and add-ons you don't want. I am guilty of not being a careful reader sometimes. Good article!


Yes, I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating. It's one of the things that personal finance people recommend when you're having budget problems. Check your subscriptions.

Laurie Stone

I now comb through my credit card bills to watch for subscriptions I'd forgotten about. Think I got all of them, but once in a while, another one pops up.

Corinne Rodrigues

This is so helpful! It's so easy to forget and have your card charged for something you didn't mean to renew!


I see this all the time with bank customers, especially poor clients who can't afford to pay a monthly fee for something they didn't realize was going to happen. It's always some risk-free 30-day offer, and even though they've returned the product, they get charged. The bank will always help them to dispute it and get their funds back, but for many, that extra 30 or more is a hardship when they're only living on social security.


Very useful! It will be very easy to forget and charge your card for something you didn't intend to renew!


Laurie, it's such a good idea to comb through your credit card bills to find these subscriptions and services that you don't want or need anymore. Jenifer, it's good to know that banks will help people with this.

ghasedak content

It is really a helpful reminder. Thanks.

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