Being tricked into doing something you had no intention of doing never feels good, especially when money disappears from your bank account as a result.
One notable example that came to our attention this year is Kogan's 'First' program, also available through the Kogan-owned Dick Smith online stores.
For $99 a year, Kogan says you'll get free shipping for products on the Kogan or Dick Smith websites bearing the First logo. You'll also earn 'rewards' credit. As is typical of offers like these, Kogan can change which products get the logo at any time.
Kogan ties its First offer to shipping options at checkout. The default 'free' shipping option is pre-ticked, so if you continue from there and don't deliberately tick the box to pay for shipping, it's easy to miss that you've just signed up for a free two-week trial of First – and committed to paying $99 in 14 days' time.
It's apparently what happened to CHOICE reader Warren.
"The first I knew about First was when $99 was withdrawn from my PayPal account," Warren says.
"I found it impossible to contact Dick Smith without first setting up a Kogan account, something I was naturally reluctant to do."
Miss this pre-checked box and the fine print on the Kogan website and you'll be on the hook for $99.
Consumer fights back
To us it looks like a dark pattern at work. The term refers to website functions that are designed to deceive, which appears to be the case with the way the Kogan First sign-up is set up.
But Kogan was messing with the wrong consumer in this case.
Warren lodged a complaint with Consumer Affairs Victoria and sent a letter to Kogan demanding a refund, saying the $99 withdrawal "came as a complete surprise to me and is entirely contrary to my intentions". He eventually got his money back.
To us it looks like a dark pattern at work – a website function that's designed to deceive
After hearing from a number of other unhappy Kogan and Dick Smith customers who had become First members without meaning to, we lined up 19 Kogan mystery shoppers and asked them to shop as they would on any website.
Six out of the 19 shoppers ended up accidentally signing up to Kogan First, and none of these inadvertent members knew how much they'd agreed to pay after the two-week trial was up. It was a rather Shonky outcome, really.
A Kogan spokesperson told us customers "are able to cancel their membership at any time within the 14-day trial period and are emailed reminders at the start and the end of their free 14-day trial membership".
The reminder emails are easy to miss or ignore, especially if you're unaware that you signed up to something.
Kogan also told us it had been refunding the $99 to customers who wanted to cancel after the trial was over.
But with more than 400,000 subscribers as of August, Kogan's First program is likely a big earner for the retailer. How many of those subscriptions were accidental is anybody's guess.
A gap in Australia's consumer laws makes it easier for businesses to get away with dodgy tricks like theseCHOICE campaigns and policy adviser Alex Söderlund
"A gap in Australia's consumer laws makes it easier for businesses to get away with dodgy tricks like these," says CHOICE campaigns and policy adviser Alex Söderlund.
"Other jurisdictions like the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom and Singapore all have laws that protect consumers against unfair business practices. Australia needs to catch up."
The good news is that consultations were recently initiated by the federal government to do just that.