Is MyLife.com a scam? Site makes you pay to find friends, then makes your life hell
We lead so much of our lives on the Internet today that it’s easy to get sucked in by online scams: MyLife.com is potentially one of them, according to a new lawsuit filed this year against the social networking site. According to the suit, filed in February in California, where the Web company’s headquarters are based, MyLife.com is a bait-and-switch marketing ripoff that hacks into your e-mail address book, grabs contacts of your friends and family, overbills your credit card and can make your life hell.
I was watching the last Superbowl on television when I saw MyLife.com advertise that “people” out there were looking for me, that MyLife would somehow help me connect with old friends. I was curious, nostalgic, and in the era of Facebook and instant communication, too trusting. I logged on to the website (www.mylife.com) and MyLife.com prompted me to look for “friends” who were looking for me—but I had to hand over payment first.
I was about to type in my credit card information and did a gut check—realizing that I could find these people for free on plenty of other social networking websites. I thought better of it and logged off. Too bad so many others didn’t—and now some of them are suing MyLife.com for invasion of privacy and hundreds of dollars a year they were allegedly overbilled.
MyLife.com bills itself as “America’s #1 People Search,” but is now facing a class-action suit in which users are accusing the site of spamming them and their friends, scamming them for money and hacking the address books of millions of subscribers.
The site, which claims more than 50 million registered members and a database of more than 205 million United States persons’ profiles, says more than 2 million people are added to its service every month. Yet it has also has been a source of increasing complaints from consumers.
According to the MyLife class action suit, filed in District Court in California, MyLife.com lures unsuspecting consumers into responding to spam emails from “friends” who are looking for them, then fools them into signing up for a low-cost membership for one month, then overcharges their credit cards by charging them for an entire year. Then MyLife allegedly plunders your e-mail address books to spam all of your contacts.
The suit makes for incredible reading.
“MyLife.com is a scam that begins with a false solicitation telling potential victims that ‘someone’ is searching for them, and they can find out who by paying a small fee,” the suit reads (again, a full copy of the suit can be read at this link http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/08/MyLife.pdf ). “If this ruse succeeds in convincing the victim to provide credit card or other payment information for a ‘free trial period’ or a low-price membership (eg. $7.95 per month), MyLife then overbills the victim’s credit card for a much larger amount, often more than $100.”
The suit also says MyLife provides access to a list of “fake names of people supposedly ‘searching for you’ together with access to a worthless website.”
Online complaint forums such as Complaints Board, Ripoff Report and Consumer Ally are filled with frustrating stories by consumers who describe the site as “a total scam” and “a rip-off.” YouTube even has videos reviewing how the site works, luring potential member into parting with their financial information for a questionable database (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAosamXDINQ).
One of the two plaintiffs in the California lawsuit, John Clerkin, signed up for one month of service for $21.95. Once he learned he didn’t know any of the people looking for him, he tried to cancel and discovered he’d been billed $155.40 instead. He claims in the suit that MyLife refunded him $104.55 but refused to return the remaining $50.85.
The other plaintiff, Veronica Mendez, signed up for a $5 trial subscription, and also realized no one she knew was searching for her. When she tried to cancel, the suit says, she learned she’d been billed $60, none of which MyLife.com refunded.
“Victims of the ruse then find that MyLife.com hacks into their address books to target their friends, family and other contacts with spam solicitations stating that ‘someone’ is looking for them,” the suit also charges. “This starts the cycle anew by priming the pump with a fresh crop of victims that MyLife.com tricks with false solicitations, overbills, and hacks.”
Financial lesson learned? Beware handing over your precious credit card information to websites out of nostalgia, loneliness or curiousity–because even if what MyLife or other do is unethical, it’s not clear until suits like these go to trial that it’s illegal.
In the user agreement, MyLife.com explicitly states: “you are licensing to MyLife.com and our third-party service providers any content you provide through or to MyLife.com and the service they offer. By submitting content, you automatically agree, or promise…MyLife.com and anyone they permit may reproduce, display, distribute, and create new works of authorship based on and including the content.”
Translated into English from legalese, this is the worst part: MyLife.com sells your information to third parties, which then start billing you as well. According to one user: “The next thing that happens is that your credit card starts getting hit by a company called MVQ*SAVEACE. When you call to find out who these people are they tell you that you have a membership with them too! They have absolutely no product except billing your credit card without authorization.”
So guess where they got your name, address, email address, and credit card info from? You guessed it: MyLife gave it to them. Cancel your card, have fraudulent charges reversed and beware of this company. According to the lawsuit: “They survive on your bad decision to become a premium member. They are silver tongued devils.” MyLife.com founder Jeff Tinsley did not return phone calls or email for comment.
Tinsley is also founder of Reunion.com and Classmates.com, which in 2010 settled a similar class action suit for $9.5 million that accused the social networking site of using false emails to get people to pay for premium memberships.
What about the Better Business Bureau? This is what the BBB in Los Angeles complaint board has to say about MyLife.com, which it gives an “A+” rating: “Complainants generally allege that the company automatically renews memberships and debits accounts. Some customers report signing up for the service based on a low monthly rate but are charged for a non-refundable yearly or a lesser term subscription up-front. In some cases, complainants are dissatisfied that their information is posted on the company’s website and request its removal. The company generally responds by providing refunds and states that accounts are set to auto-renew at the end of the subscription term, unless the customer disables the auto-renew feature before the renewal is processed. In response to the amount of the charges, they state that customers signed up for a term account with a monthly subscription rate billed up-front for the entire term and is listed in several places on the order page. The company promptly removes profiles when requested and also states that the information was gathered from public sources.”
Sounds like a circle of hell to me. Avoid signing up for MyLife.com or social networks that make you—the consumer—pay them to build their own database.