In a recent investigation by the New York Times, a company that collects donations for Donald Trump used deceptive practices, also known as “deceptive designs,” to trick donors out of their money. The company, Winred, engaged in these deceptive practices, including repeated monthly and even weekly charges to the credit cards and bank accounts of donors intending to give one-time contributions.
The Times recounts one Stacy Blatt, a gentleman in hospice care who, in September of 2020, answered Rush Limbaugh’s call to donate to the Trump campaign. Limbaugh claimed Trump was desperately strapped for cash and needed help. Mr. Blatt was 63, battling cancer and living on less than $1000 a month. But so moved was he by Limbaugh’s call to action that he chipped in the largest amount he could see clear to give: a one-time donation of $500.
That contribution, the only political contribution Mr. Blatt has ever made, quickly multiplied. An additional $500 was deducted from his account the very next day. Then $500 was deducted every week until his bank account was empty and his utility and rent bounced.
It was then that Mr. Blatt called his brother, Russell, for help. “It felt like it was a scam,” Russell said. And so it was. By the time Winred had finished with Stacy Blatt they had taken three thousand dollars.
The deception begins with Winred itself. Winred is the Republican equivalent of the Democrats’ Actblue. Both collect donation money for their respective parties. But that’s where the similarities end. Actblue is a strictly nonprofit organization. WinRed, on the other hand, keeps 30 cents of every donation, plus 3.8% of the total amount.
They also use an old practice known as “inertia sales,” where they set up automatic payments as a default. The donor must voluntarily uncheck a box if they want to opt out of automatically repeating donations of the same amount. Those boxes used to be labelled with bold text. Later the bold text was removed, and bold text was used elsewhere to distract readers from noticing the boxes.
Banks and credit card companies have been swamped with fraud reports about the charges from WinRed. WinRed keeps its fees even when donations are refunded. One 78-year-old man in California gave $990 and then was charged that amount seven more times. “Bandits!” he said, adding, “I can’t afford to pay all that damn money.”
Representatives for Trump and Winred refuse to acknowledge they have done anything wrong or fraudulent. Of course they do. Does that really need to be said? Of course not. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.