A new class action lawsuit accuses Ancestry.com of automatically renewing memberships without subscribers’ permission, in violation of California law.
The Ancestry.com class action lawsuit, which was removed to federal court this week, seeks more than $250 million in restitution for consumers.
Plaintiff Marta Carrera Chapple says she went to the Ancestry website in February to try to find information about her relatives.
According to Chapple’s complaint, she requested the site’s free trial offer, choosing the middle membership tier and entering her credit card details as required.
Chapple says she believed her credit card would be charged the monthly subscription amount of $39.99 when her 14-day free trial expired; such a transaction did indeed post Feb. 14.
However, Chapple claims that she was not aware when accepting the free trial that the defendants would enroll her in a subscription plan that automatically renewed from month to month.
The Ancestry website class action lawsuit states that additional charges of $39.99 were posted in both March and April. Chapple says if she had known the auto-renewal was going to be charged every month, she would not have submitted her credit card to begin with or, alternatively, would have canceled her Ancestry website membership in order to avoid the additional charges to her credit card.
Consumers wishing to take advantage of Ancestry.com’s free trial offer first click a “start my free trial” button and select a membership tier, the class action lawsuit says. The site then invites the customer to click a button that says “Start FREE trial.”
The consumer is then prompted to create an account, the Ancestry.com class action lawsuit says. That step is followed by a prompt to enter payment information, after which the consumer clicks a “Proceed to checkout” button.
Once the payment information is submitted, the Ancestry website shows the customer an order summary and is asked to click an “Order now” button, after which the site displays a confirmation page, the class action lawsuit states.
Chapple’s Ancestry.com class action lawsuit points out that other consumers have reported similar issues with Ancestry.com; “hundreds of customer complaints” have been posted on websites such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau and ConsumerAffairs.
Many of the customer complaints cited in the lawsuit allege a similar experience to Chapple’s and say Ancestry.com has refused to issue refunds when the affected consumers have requested them. At least one customer claims to have canceled their membership during the trial period and is still been charged for months after the cancellation.
Another Ancestry website user said they had been charged an “annual service” fee without ever enrolling in a monthly membership plan; they had only used Ancestry.com’s DNA kit, the complaint says.
The Ancestry.com class action lawsuit claims the plaintiff suffered injury and lost money as a result of the defendant’s violations of California’s Automatic Renewal Law.
Therefore, the complaint says, “Plaintiff and Class members are entitled to restitution of all amounts that Defendants charged to Plaintiff’s and Class members’ credit cards, debit cards, or third-party payment accounts in connection with an automatic renewal membership program during the four years preceding the filing of this Complaint and continuing until Defendants’ statutory violations cease.”
Chapple’s class action lawsuit maintains that unless stopped by the Court, Ancestry.com will continue to represent that its “goods or services have characteristics that they do not have;” to advertise a product or service with the intent not to sell it as advertised; and to represent that a transaction involves rights or obligations it either does not have or that are legally prohibited.
The defendant’s alleged failure to disclose the automatic renewal in a clear manner is injurious to consumers and is immoral, unethical and unscrupulous, the complaint says.
Chapple’s class action lawsuit proposes a Class including anyone in California who enrolled in an Ancestry.com membership program on or after Dec. 1, 2010, and was charged for the membership “within the applicable statute of limitations.”
The plaintiff accuses Ancestry.com of violating the California Automatic Renewal Law, which is part of California’s False Advertising Law; the Consumers Legal Remedies Act; and the Unfair Competition Law.
The class action lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and court costs, restitution, pre-judgment interest and any other relief the Court deems appropriate.
Are you an Ancestry.com member? Did your membership automatically renew unexpectedly? Let us know in the comments.
The plaintiff is represented by James T. Hannink and Zach P. Dostart of Dostart Hannink & Coveney LLP.
The Ancestry.com Auto-Renewal Class Action Lawsuit is Marta Carrera Chapple, et al. v. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., Case No. 3:20-cv-01456-LAB-DEB, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
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