Beware online shopping clubs that trap you in hard-to-quit subscriptions

Online services that trick you into signing up for an automatically billed subscription and force you to call customer service to cancel are evil. Whenever I sign up for a service, I try to do it through PayPal, which makes it easy to cancel payment.

Here's a Bloomberg story about a sneaky lingerie company called Adore Me that "is among a group of buzzy Internet retailers accused of sometimes placing customers into unwanted and hard-to-cancel retail subscriptions."

AdoreMe's checkout screen defaults to VIP Membership.

Adore Me's checkout screen defaults to VIP Membership.

Here's how a seemingly straightforward purchase on Adore Me's website pushes people into ongoing membership in an underwear club.

You can't look at lingerie without first entering an e-mail address, a feat that requires passing through two different pages dedicated to advertising a deal: "First Set for $24.95," the website declares across a backdrop of models in brassieres. The fine print at the bottom explains that the offer is only valid with a VIP Membership, offering no explanation of what that entails.

Once at the actual shopping part of the website, Adore Me opts every first-timer into a VIP Membership. The price of your purchase shows up with the members-only discount, and the checkout screen automatically rings up your initial purchase as if you're a VIP. That's also where you can learn the details of Adore Me's membership model—but only by clicking to reveal an informational page.

To buy underwear a la carte, you must click a dull, gray strip of text at the bottom corner of the purchasing screen. For those who knowingly or unwittingly complete a purchase as a member, it's all opt-out from this point on.

Now you have agreed to buy $39.95 worth of underwear each month, unless you tell Adore Me you want to skip the month between the first and fifth day of a billing period. Those who do nothing will be charged $39.95 and receive no undergarments. That happens every month until forever, unless you cancel or go on a three-month "payment vacation." Please note: You can't cancel your membership until after the vacation ends, when the cycle starts over again.

Members who don't make a purchase each month will accumulate $39.95 in credit, which the company recently revamped to remove expiration. The way Adore Me CEO Hermand-Waiche describes it makes the system sound appealing. "You can use a store credit to buy anything you like anytime — it never expires," he says.

Canceling what one customer described in an FTC complaint as the "seemingly inescapable VIP package" can be an aggravating process. "I never opted in for monthly billing," another Adore Me customer wrote to the FTC, "and yet now it is MY responsibility to chase them down to tell them I wish no longer to be enrolled?"

Adore Me for the first time earlier this year added an online cancellation process. Previously, opting out required a telephone call during business hours. "At every turn, I was told via e-mail and web chat that I had to call the company directly," a customer told the FTC. "I have since called them multiple times and each time am told that the wait to speak to a representative is 10+ minutes, and have been placed on hold indefinitely."

$39.95 automatically billed subscription fee buried in the fine print of AdoreMe's terms and conditions.

$39.95 automatically billed subscription fee buried in the fine print of Adore Me's terms and conditions.