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Consumer alert: NYS DCP alerts consumers about loyalty programs

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Thu, Feb 18th 2021 02:00 pm

Loyalty programs can offer benefits, but are not always what you bargain for

Consumers can always opt out of loyalty programs

Submitted by the Division of Consumer Protection

The Division of Consumer Protection reminds consumers of their rights when engaging in the many loyalty programs available in the marketplace. When consumers sign up for loyalty programs, their information is captured and used by the company to contact the consumer – how and when the company wants. Consumers should know they have options to limit or stop any unwanted emails, texts and phone calls.

“Consumers complain about phone calls from companies and sometimes these calls are legal – because the consumer ‘signed up’ when they started a loyalty program,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection’s “do not call” program. “Consumers need to know the law empowers them to stop these unwanted communications.”

Loyalty programs come in a variety of packages, including points (credit cards), rewards for purchases (clothing and other retail stores), tiered based on use (airlines), paid program (Amazon Prime and other subscription memberships), value-based (marketing), and partner programs (fly with us and get deals with other companies).

Businesses across the marketplace use loyalty programs to market their products. Benefits include “free” products, services and sometimes cash, but the programs are not without cost. Companies gain your permission to reach out with email, social media, texts and phone calls, whenever and however they want. This is true, for example, even if your phone number is registered on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Below are key tips consumers should keep in mind when signing up for loyalty programs:

√ Phone calls. Before starting a loyalty program, ask about automatic phone opt-out. If you are already a member, search the company website or your loyalty card for the loyalty program phone number. Call them and say you no longer want to receive calls and/or text messages. Under state law, once you opt-out of receiving calls from that provider, the calls need to stop immediately, regardless if you registered your phone number with the National Do Not Call registry.

Any company marketing emails require opt-out options, under the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Find the link and click through the opt-out and unsubscribe options. If you are a business, please check out FTC’s recommendations here: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business.

√ Text messages. Company text messages also have opt-out requirements under the federal Telecommunication Consumer Protection Act. Scammers also send text messages that mimic legitimate companies. When opting out of text messages, make sure the text is a legitimate text from the company’s loyalty program, as claimed. If you are unsure, delete the message, rather than responding to text opt-out option and go to the company’s website directly to opt-out of text messages.

√ Privacy warning. Did you join a loyalty program years ago that you no longer use? Loyalty programs are often managed by third-party companies and the information stored in their systems is not protected the same way the company might protect other information. Consumers and businesses lose billions of dollars a year due to loyalty program security breaches. Consumers should close out old loyalty programs they are no longer using and request the company remove their personal information. 

If a consumer has opted out of communications and continues to receive unwanted communication from a company, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection enforces “do not call” violations and provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business. The consumer assistance helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The DCP can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.

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