Anti-virus vendors Symantec and McAfee have been slapped over the wrists by the New York Attorney General's office, and have agreed to $375,000 (£228,787) in fines to settle charges that they automatically charged customers software subscription renewal fees without their permission.

Investigators found that the two companies had "failed to adequately disclose to consumers that subscriptions would automatically be renewed and that consumers would be charged," the office of Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, announcing the settlement. "Companies cannot play hide the ball when it comes to fees consumers are being charged."

In addition to paying the settlement fine, Symantec and McAfee will now make better disclosures about subscription renewal fees when customers sign up, the attorney general's office said.

Security companies have been offering automatic renewals to their customers for nearly a decade now, but in the past few years it's become much more common in the anti-virus industry. McAfee and Symantec say that they prevent customers from having out-of-date anti-virus software on their computers. That may make customers safer, but it also makes company investors happy because renewal fees keep rolling in.

Symantec began enrolling North American customers in automatic renewal by default in November 2005, and has since expanded the practice worldwide. McAfee began the practice in 2001. Under these programs, customers pay upfront for a one-year subscription and then, a year later, are automatically billed for the next year's service.

The companies say they have been working with the Cuomo's office for the past two years to improve practices and they have now made it easier to understand and opt out of their respective auto-renewal features

For example, Symantec has now modified its online shopping cart to include better disclosures and an explanation of how to opt out of the program.

Norton users who want to unsubscribe from Symantec's program, can do so on their Norton Account webpage, Symantec said.

Both companies will now refund auto-renewal fees within 60 days of the charge, Cuomo's office said.