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By | OUT-LAW.COM 16th June 2009 13:29

Antivirus giants fined over automatic renewals

Payments so secure that users could not stop them

Two major antivirus companies have been fined by New York's attorney general for charging customers without their authorisation or consent. The companies have promised to change the way they renew customer subscriptions.

Symantec and McAfee have said that they will provide customers with more information about product renewals and will pay $375,000 in penalties and costs to the New York attorney general's office.

That office had investigated the two companies over their renewal practices. Antivirus and computer security software is often paid for in advance for a year at a time. During a subscription vital updates will automatically be sent to subscribers' computers.

New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo found, though, that customers were being automatically charged for subsequent subscriptions without their knowledge or consent. Information about the practice only appeared in fine print or "hidden at the bottom of long web pages", Cuomo's office said.

“Companies cannot play hide the ball when it comes to the fees consumers are being charged,” said Cuomo. “Consumers have a right to know what they are paying, especially when they are unwittingly agreeing to renewal fees that will not appear on their credit card bill for months."

The two companies have agreed to clearly disclose to customers when they are going to be charged.

"Symantec and McAfee - two of the nation’s largest vendors of computer security software - will now have to be clear and up-front with their customers when it comes to renewal fees," said Cuomo.

The investigation found that those customers who did notice the renewals found it hard to cancel them.

"The investigation also revealed that both Symantec and McAfee made it difficult for consumers to contact the companies to opt out of automatic renewal or to request refunds for unauthorized credit card charges," said the attorney general's office.

The companies have now agreed to provide refunds to customers who apply for one within 60 days of the renewal. They said the process would be easy, transparent and automated.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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