News 4 investigates consumers' confusing credit charges

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by Chris Nagus / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 10:34 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 1 at 9:49 AM

(KMOV.com) -- A News 4 Investigation will have you double checking your credit card statements.

News 4 spoke with nine St. Louis area consumers who say they are confused about unwanted charges by various programs known as Budget Savers, Value Plus, Cooking in Style, and Pulse. The programs are administered by a company based in Minnesota called Sempris.

Mary Hynes of Chesterfield says she was enrolled in Value Plus from 2009 until August of last year before discovering the charge on her statement. Hynes said, “It’s not something I want, I haven’t received anything for the 850 dollars.” Hynes tells News 4 she thinks she was enrolled when she bought clothes from a catalog, and that following the sale there was a “barrage of questions, are you interested in that? Would you like a free trip?”

Jack Berman of Chesterfield says he was enrolled in Budget Savers for one year, and paid a reoccurring monthly charge of 29.95 a month. When asked what Berman received for the money Berman stated, “what I got was zero.” Berman tells News 4 he requested a refund, and on December 28th he received a letter from Membership Services saying, “you are not eligible for a refund.”

Virginia Hoock of O’Fallon, Missouri says she was enrolled in Budget Savers, but doesn’t remember signing up. The 86 year old grandmother says she doesn’t own a computer, and it’s not a service she would have requested. Hoock paid 29.95 a month for a membership to Budget Savers, for a total of 720 dollars. Hoock says she received nothing, and never used the service.

In Ballwin 75 year old Joseph Pickett says he purchased cookware off television, and was enrolled in two Sempris programs Pulse and Value Plus. Pickett says he doesn’t recall consenting to any membership programs, and he’s never received anything for the money. The memberships cost Pickett 50 dollars a month combined. Pickett says the fees have left him with a negative balance in his checking account forcing him to pay overdraft fees at his bank.

Carole Kelley of Shrewsbury says she received a call from a telemarketer offering a Budget Savers membership, and that she told the caller she did not want the membership. Kelley says she received the call after purchasing slippers from an ad in the newspaper. Kelley says, “somebody gave them my phone number and my charge number and that’s wrong.”

According to the Sempris website, the company bills itself as the upsell leader. The C.E.O is George S. Richards, he lives in Naples, Florida. According to property records Richards purchased his Naples estate for 18.5 million dollars in 2010.

After a call to Richards went unreturned, and emails to the company went unanswered, News 4 confronted Richards at his home for answers about his company’s membership programs. Richards would not directly answer questions about the charges or membership programs run by his company.

Sempris is currently facing three class action lawsuits in Michigan, Illinois and California. The lawsuits have been filed by Edelson McGuire in Chicago. According to Attorney Jay Edelson, “Sempris is a company that’s clearly making a ton of money and is making a lot of people feel like they’re getting ripped off.” Edelson’s lawsuits alledge fraud, and claim Sempris uses a practice known as “data pass.” Edleson said, “these companies get your information through legitimate business partners then try to upsell you in different ways.” A previous lawsuit filed by Edelson McGuire was dismissed, after the court refused to let it proceed as a class action. In that case, the judge reviewed an audio recording involving a Sempris transaction and determined the consent process was “potentially deceptive.”

Attorneys representing Sempris say all of the above consumer claims are false. Sempris attorneys say each consumer “clearly consented” to the charges, and say the calls are on tape. Sempris attorneys say each call was reviewed, and that consumers can receive a refund for any or no reason at all. Sempris makes it clear they offer a generous refund policy.

Mary Hynes, Carole Kelley, and Virginia Hoock have received refunds. Jack Berman says he thought Sempris denied his refund after receiving the letter reading “you are not eligible for a refund.” Sempris apparently claims Berman is still eligible for a refund. Joseph Pickett’s son says he received a call from a Sempris vice president offering an immediate refund. Pickett’s son says they plan to report the charges to the Missouri Attorney General.

News 4 continues to follow up on claims made by Sempris customers. If you are confused about charges on your statement from Budget Savers, Value Plus, Cooking in Style, or Pulse you can email reporter Chris Nagus at cnagus@kmov.com

 

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