More than one million online shoppers have signed up to a cashback scheme that could be costing them hundreds of pounds more than they save.
Complete Savings is advertised by more than 150 retailers, including Argos, Trainline and Iceland, but many customers say they had no idea the service costs £180 a year.
Experts accuse the firm of cashing in on the boom in online shopping during the pandemic.
B&Q has now suspended its involvement after Money Mail raised concerns.
Total shock: Ann Bains, 63, discovered Complete Savings had taken £90 from her in 6 months
Customers are lured in by advertisements promising an initial £16.87 reward after completing their purchases online.
Other perks also include monthly bonuses and at least 10 per cent cashback at thousands of retailers.
On Argos’ website, for example, an underlined message in bold pops up stating: ‘Click here to claim your £16.87 CASH BACK on this Argos order’.
A flashing button then invites customers to click to get their reward. But many risk missing the small print in a pale grey font stating there is a £15 a month fee that kicks in after a 30-day free trial.
And review sites such as Trustpilot are littered with complaints from shoppers who say they had no idea they had signed up for a subscription service.
One customer claims to have lost more than £615 after using buying train tickets online.
Another says they didn’t know they even had a Complete Savings account until they noticed the firm helping itself to their money.
Customers who click on the advertisement are taken to Complete Savings’ own website, which typically includes the logo of whichever retailer they used.
Customers are lured in by advertisements promising at least 10% cashback after buying online
Here the £16.87 promise is mentioned 14 times in total — with the largest reference placed inside a mocked-up bank card.
There is then a form where customers fill in their details, including their name, postcode, email address and card details.
The £16.87 offer is fixed for all new joiners. After this, the amount of cashback you earn depends on how much you spend.
Complete Savings claims customers can pocket up to £250 a month — or £3,000 a year. Shoppers are also promised an annual bonus of up to £180 when spending with the retailer they joined through.
Yet research by money-saving app Snoop shows that more than three quarters of subscribers gained nothing or made losses of £97, on average.
Fewer than one in three members had got any cashback in the previous 36 days, according to a survey of 5,637 customers that have paid the £180 yearly subscription to Complete Savings.
Complete Savings’ parent firm Webloyalty raked in £33.8million last year – a 32 per cent rise compared to the previous year – and reported a million new customers.
On page two of its accounts, the company acknowledges there will always be a ‘number of complaints’ due to the ‘nature’ of the products and services provided.
B&Q has suspended its partnership with Complete Savings after Money Mail raised concerns
Scott Mowbray, of Snoop, says: ‘It’s clear from our analysis that most people sign up to this cashback service without realising they’re on the hook for charges totalling £180 each year. Although legal and not a scam, it’s far from transparent and you can see why most people say they feel duped.’
Ann Bains, 63, a retired PA, was caught out after spending £95 on an online grocery delivery from Iceland in April. After completing her purchase, she was taken to a site page claiming she could save £15 the next time she shopped.
Ann was in a rush so just clicked the box and shut down her computer. She doesn’t remember entering her card details.
Yet, recently, she received a message from Snoop asking if she knew she had been paying £15 a month to Complete Savings.
The money-saving app, which helps customers manage spending, was alerted by users querying transactions referenced ‘wly*completesave.co.uk’.
After investigating, it had started flagging the payments to customers to ensure they were happy to pay for the service. In a panic, Ann, of Herne Bay, Kent, checked her bank statements and discovered the firm had taken £90 over the previous six months.
She says: ‘It was in shock. I had no idea what this company was and how it got my card details. I am a widow on a pension and cannot afford to lose this money.’
Following Money Mail’s intervention, Webloyalty agreed to refund Ann but says its monthly fee is clearly referenced on the sign-up page.
A spokesman says: ‘Our sign-up page contains full details about the programme and all the benefits available.’
A B&Q spokesman says it did not work directly with Complete Savings, adding: ‘An affiliate publisher, whom we work with, promoted our site on Complete Savings. We have suspended our relationship with that affiliate publisher whilst we investigate.’
And an Argos spokesman says: ‘We regularly review our partnerships based on a range factors, including customer feedback.’ Iceland declined to comment.