China-based family travel site Lvmama (驴妈妈旅游网) has seen its customer reputation take a major hit recently, with accusations of exploitative business practices discovered by the big data research institute of Chinese media outlet Southern Metropolis Daily and reported by Sina Finance.

Between September 30 and October 10, the research institute discovered reports from consumers that the online travel agency was selling bundled packages and making it difficult to cancel the extras that consumers didn’t want as part of their trips. Some customers claimed that it was difficult to find the option to cancel the additional services. Some of the bundled services, including insurance, added hundreds of yuan to the final price.

Lvmama, whose controlling shareholder is the Shanghai-based Joyu Group (景域集团), reportedly removed the bundled services from its booking system on October 9. The company’s customer satisfaction score had rebounded slightly after a sharp decline. However, the research institute noted that of those surveyed on October 11, 55 percent still held a negative view of the company, with 10 percent being very negative.

Lvmama said that it removed the automatic bundling of insurance on its products following customer complaints

Following complaints, Lvmama said it was in the process of rectifying the problem and cancelling parts of orders, but that the process would take time due to the large volume of requests. The company included insurance in its travel packages as government authorities had required it to offer tourist protections for group tours, a Lvmama representative told Jing Travel via email.

lvmama website

Custom international tours offered on Lvmama’s website

Prior to this incident, users of Lvmama had accused the site of revealing their credit card and Alipay information. Some users of the platform have reportedly discovered that they have unpaid orders on Lvmama that they hadn’t personally placed. Charges that were reported in the media ranged from $338 to $743 (RMB 2,350 to RMB 5,160), but there is no indication that the unauthorized charges are related to Lvmama’s bundling of products to upsell customers.

The affected credit cards were issued by various banks, including China Merchants Bank, Ping An Bank, and Bank of China.

After reporting the suspected credit fraud to authorities and banks, the victims have not been able to have the charges reversed on Lvmama as the online travel agency requires detailed information about the transaction and credit card account that the banks are not able to produce.

Customers claim that they were charged for products on Lvmama’s website that they hadn’t placed. The customers said neither Lvmama nor the banks have taken action to rectify the issue

Lvmama provided Jing Travel with a response to the alleged payment fraud, stating that the company does not retain customers’ government IDs or payment information. It noted, however, that it is the responsibility of the third-party payment operator, such as Alipay or WeChat Pay, to ensure the security of the information. The company added that it cooperates with local police in fraud investigations.

Frustrated customers told the Sina Finance reporter that their respective banks and the online travel platform exchanged blame for the alleged fraud, but nothing has been resolved yet.

Both incidents have left customers with an impression of poor after-sales service on Lvmama’s part, which may affect business in the future. Customers noted that responses from customer service representatives have been slow, with one person claiming that customer service said it would respond within an hour and the person had not heard anything a day later.

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