Raise your hand if you’ve never had a problem returning something you bought online.
That’s what I figured. Countless people get, or feel, ripped off. And most aren’t shy about sharing their experiences. A recent look at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) web page for a well-known weight loss and dietary supplement company found hundreds of consumer complaints about trying to get refunds for products that didn’t live up to expectations, failed miserably, or—in more cases than you’d expect—were never ordered in the first place.
Navigating returns and trying to get refunds can be maddening. There’s nothing worse than when a company is at best resistant or unreachable, and at worst an outright scam.
Money-back guarantees and return/ refund policies can be confusing, tricky, and with the right wording—say using “may” rather than “shall”—you can be duped. Unauthorized charges crop up in reviews about online multi-level marketing (MLM), direct sales, and other online product or service businesses that hope you’ll sign up to receive their product regularly—the good old auto-ship. Sometimes, though, folks miss that during the checkout and wind up with product—and charges—they didn’t expect or want.
Then there are the rules and fees associated with some returns; you’ll have to jump seemingly endless hoops, if you even get that far. Some online businesses are hard to reach and difficult to communicate with. And then there’s the straight-up scammers who’ll never refund you a dime, or even more vulture-like thieves who charge you money to get your money back.
But you have recourse. You can, and should, fight for your money back.
Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back?
Whoa. Not so fast. There are a few strings. Actually, a tightly-wound ball of string and more string attached. It’s astonishing, really. And I apologize in advance for anyone reading this who purchased Xyngular products and got burned.
The company says you’ll be refunded, but they’ll subtract:
- Membership and/or distributorship fees
- Handling fees
- Representative commissions, the case of MLM or direct sales.
And if you want a refund on an auto-shipped product, the policy is even more stringent. Plus, you need a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) prior to returning the products, which can only be obtained by calling—and good luck with that, some reviewers have said—or writing, which must be included on the actual return shipment with the original sales order number from the invoice (which you also have to ask for when you ask for the RMA). Then, you pay all shipping costs, and all original packaging/containers must be returned to receive credit for the item(s). And if you have returned items multiple times, Xyngular sees that as an “abuse” of its policy—in other words, no refund.
Finally, to add insult to injury—since this is an MLM business and you likely made a purchase through a distributor—that distributor loses their commission. So as you might imagine, salespeople don’t want you to send anything back.
On the BBB page, which graded Xyngular with a big fat F, the most common complaint about Xyngular “Issues with Product” concerned returns and refunds. If folks were lucky, refunds came after multiple calls, lots of invested time, and out-of-pocket expenses. I guess the idea is to make it “just not worth the hassle.” 
Xyngular is not singular in this regard; many companies have equally laborious procedures that seem designed to make folks just give up. That said, generally, most companies have policies that require returns within 7 to 30 days. Sometimes they’ll take the packaging back with little or no product left. Sometimes not.
Money-back guarantees are only as good as the fine print. Don’t assume anything. Read the policy. And if you’re not 100 percent certain you get it, call or chat the company and ask for the policy or an explanation in writing. Yes, have them email it to you in writing; it’s smart backup. Word to the wise: really read the return policy before buying anything.
Unauthorized Charges to Your Credit Card
Worse than getting the runaround when asking for a refund is trying to deal with auto-shipped products and what people claim are unauthorized charges to their credit or debit cards. It happens. A lot. I say unless you are a huge fan, have used the product before and are completely satisfied, then do not consider auto-shipping. But you have to read carefully; some sites automatically sign you up for it—with wording in their Terms and Conditions amounting to “by ordering this free bottle for just shipping and handling, you’re automatically enrolling in our auto-ship (some call it a subscription) program.”
Some companies are sneaky about this. Let’s face it, they want you to sign up for a monthly package. Many of the complaints I’ve seen on the BBB site, for example, are from people who claim they were charged monthly when they’d not signed up for automatic shipments, or a long-term commitment.
A very recent complaint against Isagenix —another MLM that sells weight management and other so-called health and wellness products and has a poor reputation when it comes to refunds—described just such a scenario where a customer placed an order and, suffice to say, the whole transaction was a debacle; the consumer was billed almost $300 and Isagenix held that payment while a shipping snafu was fixed—a snafu the customer says was the company’s fault.
So there is absolutely no reason why they need to hold my $279 for 30 days, especially when this was their screw up to begin with. They are scam artist playing games with people’s money. They are playing some kind of game and I think it is a crappy way of doing business and they need to be reported. 
Isagenix responded the consumer checked the wrong box. Uh-huh. OK. Anyway, it said in a “gesture of goodwill” it would refund him.
Another recent Isagenix consumer complained about nearly $200 in unauthorized charges and was having a hard time getting answers and no refund in sight. There were three dozen similar complaints.
Then there’s the case of being billed for stuff you never even received. Either way, you’re getting a product or circumstance you didn’t want and your credit card has been billed for it. 
The U. S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has your back when it comes to unauthorized credit card charges, but you have to prove it. And that’s where things get tricky. Online retailers’ terms and conditions often come in very fine print, or in ambiguous language consumers may have trouble grasping. 
Protect Your Online Purchase
One way to avoid all this is to not only read the fine print and know exactly what the return policy is, but to play it safe from the beginning.
For example, if you use PayPal for purchases you’ve got backup. Briefly, you create an account in PayPal, connect your bank to your account and, using your email address, you can spend, send, or receive money. Many online merchants use PayPal much as they use a credit or debit card. It’s free and safe. As a rule, if an online merchant doesn’t accept PayPal, I generally won’t buy from them because I have found that extra layer of protection against rip-off artists a comfort.
PayPal—like eBay—has its own resolution department. If you use PayPal (which basically just moves money from your bank to the seller without giving the seller direct access), then return an item and are refused a refund, you have the option of opening a “dispute.”
(On the three occasions I have had to resort to this process, twice I received my full refund. The one that got away—the one I should never have trusted to begin with—was a sketchy seller on a popular online shopping market. It was only $22, so not a huge loss, but it still irks me.)
So it works this way: if you believe you are entitled to a refund, and the seller has said “no” or is giving you the runaround, you visit the PayPal resolution center and open a transaction dispute. If it’s not resolved in 20 days, you can “escalate your dispute to a claim.” PayPal investigates, and if they determine you are owed money, you’ll get your refund. 
Now, let’s assume you didn’t know what the refund rules were, you don’t use PayPal, and your bank can’t be of much help. What next?
How to Get Your Money Back
Rule one: document everything—keep all your paperwork and log your communication efforts; it may come in handy later.
The obvious first step is to reach out to the company or website though its toll-free number. Some companies have a customer service chat pop-up located somewhere on the website. (I have found these to be effective.) Often, a little persistence pays off. Work the phone, chat them, email them. The U. S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a smart sample letter you can use. 
Do not pay anyone to get your money back. That sort of goes without saying, but con artists and scammers are out there preying on folks, so watch out. Don’t provide any of your personal information to anyone who suggests they can help you get a refund. This is just crap.
A basic rule of pre-Internet marketing was “A satisfied customer tells ten people; a dissatisfied customer tells fifty.” Today, with social media, a dissatisfied customer can tell five hundred or more friends or followers, who can tell their friends, who can tell their friends, and so on. So if you’re getting the runaround from a company, call their bluff: tell the company you’ll be providing a negative review on social media calling them out for bad service and then follow through, using the company name and a negative hashtag like “#BadBusiness” or similar.
Also tell them you’ll be visiting the BBB to file a complaint and provide a review (a company may not be a BBB accredited member, but chances are the company will show up in the BBB database.)
Still no refund? Follow up with an actual hard-copy letter to the company, letting them know you’re also sending a copy of it to an advocate or an attorney.
Still no luck? Consider filing a complaint with your state attorney general or consumer protection agency. 
You might also consider filing a complaint with the FTC, who sues companies that try to rip off customers with deceptive claims about products and then refuse to refund money. And when the FTC wins (companies will often settle), you win by getting your money back. Keep in mind the FTC doesn’t go to bat for a single person, but if you let them know by filing a complaint, and others do the same, a pattern may emerge of a shady company ripping folks off and they can expect a lawsuit. 
Another near-final option is a dispute resolutions program for consumers and businesses to work the problem out through mediation and/or arbitration. 
And when all else fails? Your last resort? Small claims court. 
Shady businesses are banking on the fact that you don’t want that hassle and would rather just let it go. But don’t give up. It’s your money.