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26 Oct 2017

Beware costly online cashback schemes

Have you accidentally signed up to a £15-a-month cashback club?

Which? is warning online shoppers to pay close attention or risk being signed up for expensive cashback schemes, following a string of complaints from its members.

Online cashback site Complete Savings has partnered with retailers such asArgos, Debenhams, Look Fantastic, See Tickets and Trainline, recruiting subscribers by offering money off future purchases - for a monthly fee of £15.

The small print does state the ongoing fee,but we're concerned that many shoppers are signing up inadvertently, or assuming the discount offer is for one purchase only, not a paid membership to a separate service.

Although Complete Savings says it's impossible to sign up without manually filling in the sign-up page and adding payment details, the process continues to catch people out.

In fact, Which? has received complaints about both Complete Savings and its sister site Shopper Discount & Rewards, dating back to 2009. Both sites are part of the Webloyalty Group, based in Switzerland.

One Which? member assumed she was simply signing up for £20 off her next train ticket:

'I was in a bit of a rush, and although I thought they asked for a lot more information that I'd expected I just did it anyway because thetrainline.com is a reputable site. I haven't travelled by train since so I forgot all about the discount.

'Five months later I discovered that Complete Savings had been taking £15 from my credit card every month. I'm out of pocket by £90.'

What does Complete Savings say?

'Customers cannot join Complete Savings by simply clicking on our banner advertisement, they would always have to manually complete our sign-up page and submit it in order to become a member.'

After completing an online purchase with one of its partner companies, you have to click through to a separate Complete Savings sign-up page, where you must manually complete all the fields.

'We send all members regular email communications, including five in the first 30 days of their membership to confirm their member details, remind them about billing and encourage them to make the most of their membership benefits.'

What do retailers partnering with Complete Savings say?

We contacted Argos and the Trainline to share the issues Which? members have experienced. These retailers have both partnered with Complete Savings and were most commonly cited by Which? members as the introducers to the Complete Savings cashback scheme.

Argos told us that 'the Complete Savings programme gives Argos customers the chance to benefit from a range of savings' and that the sign up process makes it clear this involves a monthly fee once customers have enjoyed their first month free, which involves customers providing their name, address and bank details.

It said that if 'any Argos customers have any queries about their membership we would encourage them to contact us so we can investigate'.

The Trainline said that 'membership is completely optional and at no stage do we share any customer details with Complete Savings, nor do we register customers to the programme'. It made the point that Complete Savings is an entirely separate company to Trainline, and the relevant T&Cs and Privacy Policy, including monthly fee, are made available on the Complete Savings registration pages.'

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How do I cancel membership?

If you're a member, you should've received a welcome email confirming your membership so check your inbox and junk mail folder.

Complete Savings is free for the first 30 days and £15 per month thereafter. The fee will show on your card statement as billed by wly*completesave.co.uk.

You can cancel your membership by:

  • Email - customerservice@completesavings.co.uk
  • Phone - 0800 389 6960 (Monday to Friday 8:00am - 8:00pm and Saturday 9:00am - 4:00pm). Free from UK landlines and mobiles.
  • Post - Complete Savings, Sentinel House, Airspeed Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO3 5RF. Your letter will be redirected to customer services operating from outside the UK.

Webloyalty may offer a refund if you didn't mean to join the programme and can demonstrate that you haven't used it, although this isn't guaranteed.

If you don't have any luck, you can try claiming a refund via chargeback or section 75 (if you spent more than £100 on a credit card).

Is Complete Savings worth it?

The risk is that you pay more than you can save, so this is unlikely to make sense if you don't shop online regularly.

If you do monthly online shopping at big-name retailers such as Argos, B&Q, Curry's, Debenhams and Superdrug, you should be able to cover the £15 monthly fee by claiming cashback bonuses and up to 20% off gift cards.

But, if you do decide to become a member, you'll need to follow these specific steps:

  • Always log in to the Complete Savings website first and start your shopping by clicking on the retailer's link. This is an 'affiliate link' which generates a payment to the site from the retailer, and tracks your purchases.
  • Make sure your internet browser and firewall or antivirus software is enabled for cookie tracking.
  • Watch out for retailer's specific terms and conditions, for example, some will exclude sale items or specific brands from any cashback offers.
  • Cashback should be paid within 10 working days, but this could be delayed. You also have to wait until your balance reaches £5 before they send it to your bank account.

Use free cashback sites instead

We think most shoppers are better off usingfree cashback sites such asQuidco and TopCashback. These sitespay you a cash reward when you click through from them to buy goods or financial products, but without the monthly fee.

You can also get high street discounts through your current account. For example, if you bank with First Direct - a Which? Recommended Provider - you can sign up for 'Visa Offers' and bag deals such as £10 cashback when you spend £40 at Lidl and £5 off £40 Marks & Spencer shopping.