Ancestry.com has enrolled consumers into automatically renewing memberships without first providing clear and conspicuous disclosures mandated by California law, a proposed class action claims.
According to the 77-page false advertising lawsuit, defendant Ancestry.com Operations Inc. has run afoul of California’s Automatic Renewal Law by charging consumers’ credit or debit cards without first obtaining affirmative consent to do so.
Per the complaint, the defendant offers consumers a “free trial” of Ancestry.com, through which they can access genealogical records. After hitting a “start my free trial button” on the website, a consumer is prompted to select a membership tier, including “U.S. Discovery,” “World Explorer,” and “All Access,” before being asked to create an account by submitting their name and email address and choosing a password, the suit explains.
Once an account is created, the consumer is presented with a screen on which they’re to enter payment information before clicking the “proceed to checkout” button, the case says. Upon successfully creating an account, the consumer is then shown an “order summary” and invited to click an orange “order now” button, after which they’re thanked by Anceestry.com for their order, per the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, however, Ancestry.com does not inform consumers that completion of the above-described process will enroll them into an automatically renewing subscription.
The plaintiff, a San Diego resident, claims she visited Ancestry.com in February 2020 and entered her credit card information to begin a free trial of the “World Explorer” tier of the service. Per the case, the plaintiff believed that after the expiration of the 14-day free trial period, her credit card would be charged only $39.99 for a single month’s use of the service. When the plaintiff entered her credit card details on Ancestry.com, she was not made aware that the defendant would enroll her in an automatically renewing subscription, the lawsuit says.
“If Plaintiff had known that Defendants were going to enroll her in an automatically renewing program that would result in additional charges being posted to her credit card, Plaintiff either would not have submitted her credit card information to Defendants or would have cancelled so as to avoid any charges to her credit card during or after March ,” the case reads.
Under California’s Automatic Renewal Law, which went into effect on December 1, 2010 as an addition to the state’s False Advertising Law, a company must present the terms of an automatic renewal offer or continuous service in a “clear and conspicuous” manner before the transaction has been completed, the complaint says. Moreover, the terms of an automatically renewing service must be displayed in visual proximity to the request for consent to the offer, the suit says:
“For this purpose, ‘clear and conspicuous’ means ‘in larger type than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same size, or set off from the surrounding text of the same size by symbols or other marks, in a manner that clearly calls attention to the language.’”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff is far from the only consumer to fall prey to an automatically renewing Ancetsry.com subscription, with hundreds of complaints reportedly posted on the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs, Yelp and Ripoff Report websites.
The case looks to represent all individuals in California who were enrolled in an Ancestry.com membership program on or after December 1, 2010 and were charged for the membership within the applicable statute of limitations period.
Initially filed in San Diego County Superior Court on June 24, the case has been removed to California federal court. In addition to the California Automatic Renewal Law, the suit alleges violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
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