Crave giveaway: $250 gift certificate from Shopping

Congrats to Ramzi E. of Davis, Calif., for scoring a free 42-inch LG PA4500 plasma TV in last week's giveaway. This week's prize is of the pick-your-own variety.

We're giving away a $250 gift certificate from online retailer Shopping. The site, formerly, sells millions upon millions of products -- from clothes, shoes, jewelry, and toys to televisions, laptops, printers, hard drives, routers, and video games. The winner's free to buy anything, but let's not kid ourselves: we know any CNET reader will probably head straight to the Electronics tab. … Read more

Could criminals shop for free online?

A group of security researchers say they have found ways to trick online cashier systems into ordering items for free or at a discount.

Researchers from Indiana University and Microsoft Research found security holes in a software development kit from payment hosting provider Amazon Payments, Rui Wang, a Ph.D. student at Indiana University, told CNET in a recent interview. Amazon fixed the problems after being notified by the researchers, and integration bugs found in merchant shopping-cart applications and implementations on several retail sites have also been fixed.

The software they examined contained "logic flaws that can be exploited … Read more

Mr. President, please protect Web shoppers

commentary During one of the busiest online shopping periods of the year, legislation that protects online shoppers from being preyed upon by unscrupulous marketers and Internet retailers could become law soon.

A bill called the "Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act" was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week and should soon hit the desk of President Barack Obama.

The legislation is designed to stop a practice made infamous by three marketing firms: Webloyalty, Vertrue, and Affinion. These companies presented ads for membership programs to consumers just as they were completing transactions at Web stores. The … Read more

Congress moves to outlaw 'mystery charges' for Web shoppers

Legislation that makes it illegal for Web merchants and so-called post-transaction marketers to charge credit cards without the card owners' say-so came closer to becoming law this week.

A bill known as the "Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act" passed on Tuesday in the U.S. Senate. The law will make it illegal to use "misleading post-transaction advertisements" and require marketers to clearly disclose the terms of their offers. Merchants and marketers must now "obtain billing information, including full credit or debit card numbers," directly from card holders. The legislation was the government's answer … Read more

If you care about Web, ignore this IPO

commentary File this one under "shameless."

After federal lawmakers concluded that Affinion Group preyed on the public, the post-transaction marketer is now asking the public to become an investor. Last month, Stamford, Conn.,-based Affinion filed for an initial public offering.

Affinion said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is seeking to raise $400 million. According to The Wall Street Journal, Affinion has yet to set a price range or date for its IPO.

Last year, U.S. lawmakers launched an extensive investigation and found that the practices employed by Affinion--as well as … Read more

Senate committee: Look out, 'scam marketers'

The U.S. Senate is moving to put an end to one of the biggest scandals ever to shake online retail.

Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced a bill on Wednesday designed to prevent post-transaction marketers from duping consumers into enrolling into monthly memberships.

Rockefeller's committee has said marketers Webloyalty, Affinion, and Vertrue were responsible for mysterious credit card charges that millions of Americans, including elderly citizens and wounded Iraqi veterans, have complained about for years. Rockefeller's bill, called "Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act," is the result of a yearlong investigation … Read more

E-tail Scrooges and how one woman defeated them

The nightmare of the mysterious debit card charges began this way for Caroline Butler:

She noticed that Privacy Matters 123, a membership program she had never heard of, was charging her $20 every month. She had no idea how to get her money back or even how to get the company to stop. All she knew was that they were draining the bank account used to help pay the medical bills for her 18-year-old daughter, a cancer patient.

Somehow, Butler, a freelance photographer from Paducah, Ky., unintentionally enrolled in the membership program during a visit to social-networking site,, … Read more

Priceline shrinks from marketing scandal

Update: Dec. 15, 2009 7:50 a.m.: To include US Airways in list of companies that have stopped using post-transaction companies.

Priceline, an online travel site accused by the government of selling customer credit card information to "scam" marketers, says it no longer has any relationship with those marketing firms.

Company spokesman Brian Ek said Priceline, perhaps best known as the "name your price" company, stopped using post-transaction firm Affinion sometime last month. The news was first reported by The Connecticut Post.

In May, the U.S. Senate launched a probe of the company, as … Read more

Congress probes Visa, AmEx role in Web scam

For years, baffled consumers looked to Visa, MasterCard, and American Express for answers when mysterious charges from "shadowy companies" began appearing on their credit card statements.

Even though all three card companies have rules designed to protect users from unauthorized charges as well as to weed out problem-plagued merchants, thousands of people appear to have complained to their card companies for years about three post-transaction marketing companies: Webloyalty, Vertrue, and Affinion. Perhaps as many as 30 million people were affected, according to a government report.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation launched an investigationRead more

Another e-tailer named in probe changes course

Another e-tailer criticized by federal lawmakers two weeks ago for profiting from "misleading" and "deceptive" marketing practices appears to be rethinking its position.

VistaPrint, an online printing company, announced Monday it has "terminated its contract" with Vertrue, a so-called post-transaction marketing company that has come under scrutiny along with competitors Affinion and Webloyalty. This summer, the U.S. Senate Commerce committee began looking into scores of consumer complaints about the marketers--some going back years.

VistaPrint said in a statement that the company's contract with Vertrue ends December 20.

The three Connecticut-based marketing firms … Read more