In a new dispute that raises concern about how companies use consumers' credit card numbers for marketing purposes, concertgoers who purchased tickets from Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch received unordered merchandise and magazine subscriptions charged to their cards, according to a lawsuit filed in the Hillsborough County, Fla., circuit court.
A lawyer who filed the suit - and is seeking class-action status for it - compared it to suits that were filed against Providian Financial Corp. of San Francisco. In those cases, consumers claimed that they were charged for fee services they had not specifically requested, such as credit insurance. Providian has thus far agreed to pay $405 million to settle complaints about its sales and marketing practices.
The Florida suit alleges that Victoria McLean of Valrico bought tickets by telephone in September from Ticketmaster for a concert that month by the Who, and that she refused offers of a magazine subscription and Who-related merchandise.
Soon after, she said, she received boxes of Who T-shirts and pins, as well as a $372.17 charge on her credit card that was separate from the charge for the concert tickets.
She also claims she got a letter with the dual letterhead of Ticketmaster and Entertainment Weekly that told her that she would receive a free trial subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The letter said that after she got eight free issues, her credit card would be charged $24.95 for the next 16 issues unless she canceled the subscription.
Ms. McLean said she had not ordered Entertainment Weekly, which is published by Time Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.
The suit alleges that Time Inc. and Ticketmaster, of Pasadena, Calif., violated two Florida laws. One law prohibits companies from disclosing credit card account information to another company without the cardholder's consent. The other law states that periodical subscriptions are not enforceable unless the order is in writing.
The Tampa law firm of James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanish, which filed the suit, says it hopes to invoke similar laws in other states and receive class-action status for the suit.
"The crux of the case is they gave credit card numbers to another company without proper authorization, and Time then went and charged the card without the permission of the cardholder," said Christopher Casper, a partner at the law firm.
Mr. Casper called the suit against Ticketmaster "like the Providian case-plus," though the new suit involves two companies and the unauthorized disclosure of credit card numbers, rather than an issuer placing charges on cards it issued to customers.
He said the firm's investigators uncovered large numbers of complaints from consumers that they had been subjected to "slamming," the practice of charging for unordered magazines.
Mr. Casper presented a copy of a letter Michele L. Fretwell of Mission Viejo, Calif., wrote to Ticketmaster to cancel a magazine subscription.
"I gave them my credit card number for tickets to the circus, not for a magazine," the letter reads. "I don't want the magazine, I never asked for it, but now I have to be the one to contact them if I don't want them to bill my credit card. I have spent an hour on getting this taken care of, an hour that I could have spent with my kids!"