Divination website which makes users pay to contact a diviner many times
The following case is about a divination website which charges for each communication with a diviner. A user of the website began to receive emails many times from the diviner and was charged hefty fees after repeated contacts with the diviner.
Details of the inquiry
Later, I began to receive a series of emails in a day from a diviner and an appraiser. These emails included messages like "I had a revelation for you, and you need some treatment". Sometimes they demanded me to send mystic words in several batches. I ignored them for a while, but I was urged by email to respond.
At the time of receiving emails from the diviner, etc., I was ill and hospitalized. I thought my health conditions would get worse if I didn't do as I was told, and continued exchanging emails with them more than one year. It also costed about 1,500 yen to send a reply email, as with ordering appraisal. In the end, I paid more than 1,000,000 yen in total to the website.
After a while, I found some postings on the Internet which describe a similar experience about exchanging emails with a diviner. Some of them quoted appraisal results and responses which were exactly same with those I received. Then I noticed that the website lied about providing individual appraisal, although I had paid for each response. I think I was cheated, so I want the business to return the money excluding the charges for services I myself ordered at the beginning.
(woman in her 30s, salary earner)
After receiving this inquiry, the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (hereinafter called "NCAC") advised the inquirer as follows: "No public qualification is required for becoming a diviner, so any person can claim to be a diviner. It is very difficult to verify a result of divination. Even if a user claims that he/she was cheated, it is highly likely that the operator of the divination website (hereinafter called "website operator") would not easily admit problems and would not give a refund. Nevertheless, there is a way to write a letter which describes points with which you are dissatisfied to appeal the matter to the website operator". In addition, NCAC recommended the inquirer to collect evidence and information to show communications exchanged between the inquirer and the diviner, etc. by printing emails from the diviner, etc. and postings found on the Internet or taking photos of them.
The inquirer's health conditions were unstable for a while, but when she got better she wrote a letter describing the background of the trouble and what she thought, and sent it to the website operator. After that, NCAC also contacted the website operator and requested them to conduct a survey and to consider proper actions for the inquirer. However, the website operator replied as follows: "Our diviner did not send any problematic message. Considering that the user had been ill, however, we will consider partial reimbursement". The website operator did not conduct a survey.
NCAC communicated the following problems to the website operator and strongly urged them to conduct a detailed survey and to consider redress. Still the website operator did not change their attitude.
[Problems communicated to the website operator]
- Although the user didn't ask anything, the user received a number of emails in a day from the diviner, etc. which demand the user to reply. The user did not reply for a while, but the diviner, etc. repeatedly sent emails further urging to reply. These emails put the user to an awkward situation.
- The diviner knew that the user was hospitalized and felt uneasy. The diviner tried to make her continue to use the pay-per-use email service by disconcerting her, giving her hope and so on.
- Several assertive expressions and unreasonable messages were found among emails from the diviner which had been kept by the inquirer. Nevertheless, the website operator did not conduct a sufficient survey and just replied "There is no problem".
Negotiation with the website operator faced difficulty. Then, NCAC communicated the circumstances to the credit card company (issuer) involved in the transactions and asked the company to conduct a survey for the transactions. The credit card company temporarily put the claims on hold and conducted a survey. As a result, the company identified the settlement agent company in Japan and the credit card acquirer (company that processes credit card transactions by member shops) involved in the transactions. NCAC communicated the circumstances to the settlement agent company and asked the company to conduct a survey for the website operator which was one of their member shops. The settlement agent company said "We undertake contract processing for our member shops and provide system for it. We cannot cancel any particular transaction", but promised to conduct a survey for the transactions.
Later, the settlement agent company replied as follows: "We found out that not many but several complaints about the divination website had been received. Although it is not possible to determine the transactions are unjust or illegal due to the nature of divination service, we will inform the acquirer of the situation as it is".
Based on these circumstances, NCAC negotiated with the website operator again. As a result, the website operator promised to give the inquirer a refund as requested. The website operator further promised to take measures to prevent users from being charged unexpected hefty fees (e.g. by sending emails to alert users) and to check expressions on emails sent from the diviner to users. After confirming that the money was refunded to the inquirer, NCAC concluded the consultation.
According to inquiries and complaints about divination websites received by local consumer centers across Japan, some characteristics of these cases are very similar to those of fraudulent websites. A user of a fraudulent website has to buy some points (charged per use in case of divination website) on the website to contact a correspondent (diviner, etc. in case of divination website). The correspondent (diviner) will contact the user this way and that to make the user continue exchanging emails as long as possible. As a result, the user will be charged hefty fees and get into trouble.
No public qualification is required for becoming a diviner, so anyone can claim to be a diviner. It is not possible to verify a result of divination. Even if a consumer center receives such a complaint, the center hardly can determine if the transaction is unjust or illegal right away. Moreover, divination services are widely used.
In case of trouble with a pay-per-use divination website, a consumer consultant needs to carefully hear from the inquirer what happened and to try to determine the nature case by case based on surveys conducted among the website operator and companies involved in payment. It is also necessary to sort out factors for trouble.