Peterson: Taken for a ride in cyberspace

I’m waiting for the third shoe to drop, if I may adjust a cliché.

I’ve been suckered twice into buying things online that I had no intention of buying, but I couldn’t help myself. It seemed like I had – as in must – to make the buys. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. They got me at a weak moment.

Several months ago, I bought a product online, and it doesn’t make any difference what it was, but it was something I wanted from a website that I trusted and used before. A day later, I found out that I had qualified for more than $100 in free prizes because I made the purchase.

And there was a medium-sized list of magazines, and I could chose any four of them for free. I chose Time, Entertainment Weekly and The Atlantic. I know I chose at least three, because they have been coming by mail since April. I can’t remember what the fourth magazine was, but I haven’t been getting it, and I don’t have a receipt because this all was done online.

Except they weren’t really free. There was a $1 charge per magazine; the reason for the charge escapes me. Just because, I think. No free lunch, I think. So I had to pay $4 for the magazines – even though I only got three of them, and I can’t for the life of me remember what the fourth one was to file a complaint. And to pay the $4, I needed to make a credit card transaction.

And in the fine print, it said I had to cancel the magazines in a year otherwise my credit card would automatically be charged the full price for the magazines. I am assuming I will get some kind of notice from the subscription departments of each of the magazines – especially from the one I haven’t gotten – that it is time to renew.

But I am not certain of that. It feels like I have been scammed, although I won’t know until next year before my credit card is automatically billed.

I should have never provided them my number, but it was only $4 for a year’s subscription to four – make that three – magazines. How could you pass up an offer like that? And I would be watching like a hawk for the renewal notices to come next spring so I could cancel the subscriptions. I’ve committed April to my memory. Only nine months to go.

And I haven’t forgotten yet.

We’ll see what the holidays do to scatter my memory.

I don’t really have time to read four – make that three – magazines for full price. But I did have time to read $4 worth of them, and I am getting my $4 worth, even if it is one less magazine.

The other shoe dropped about a month ago when I was filling out an online form from another trusted website. It was an important form, and haste was of the essence. What popped up on my computer screen was an offer from a site that scans your computer for bad things like viruses and malware, a word I love. They could have called it bad-for-your-computer ware, but that really doesn’t roll off the tongue.

So someone found a suitable prefix, mal – Spanish for bad – and attached it to ware. A perfectly fine sounding word that gets the idea across in two syllables that this ware could be bad for your computer.

I really wasn’t looking for a new computer scrubbing program, but it seemed to me that this was something that I needed. And it sounded like a free trial. And if I wanted to complete the form I was looking for, I had better do it.

What it ended up being was a six-month subscription to the scanning software for $39.95. I really wanted to fill out this form, so I pulled out my credit card and paid for the scan for six months. Thinking back to the $4 fee, I didn’t see any fine print that said I would be automatically billed for the service when the six months was up.

I have a free scanning system for my computer, so I really didn’t need another one, but I kind of like the new one because, when the scan is completed, a woman’s voice tells me the system scan is complete and x-number of items were found, and click on fix all to resolve the problems. Her voice is reassuring. I feel protected.

But for a surprise $39.95?

I’m waiting for the third shoe to fall since these things come in threes. And I am committed to not being suckered a third time. My good wife has a good rule: When a site asks for your credit card, refuse to provide it, and you’ll be safe every time. But no free subscriptions, no reassuring voices that your computer is clean.

No free lunches, either, which are a complete myth.

• Dick Peterson, who live in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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