Free product! Risk-free trial!
The “free” offers for anything from cooking gadgets to skincare products appear on pop-up internet ads, unsolicited emails, and TV.
In some cases, they may be legitimate opportunities to try something new. But, more often, those offers can be costly mistakes when consumers unwittingly agree to monthly subscriptions or additional products when they sign up for that free stuff.
Federal authorities regularly crack down on the free trial scams.
In September, for instance, the Federal Trade Commission announced that a group of online marketers will pay more than $2.5 million to settle charges that they deceived customers with “free” and “risk-free” trials for cooking and golfing products, according to a press release.
The defendants, according to the commission, didn’t clearly disclose that the free products came with a monthly subscription fee if consumers didn’t cancel. What’s more, they allegedly misrepresented their return, refund and cancellation policies.
And in August, the Federal Trade Commission charged another online marketing operation with deceptively luring people into an expensive scam using an initial low-cost “trial” offer for tooth whiteners and other products. Consumers who signed up and expected to pay only $1.03 plus shipping costs actually ended up with a $200 monthly bill until they canceled, the commission alleges.
Free trial scams always end. In a legitimate free offer, if you don’t want the product or service, you can simply cancel so you’re never charged a fee. The company makes the cancellation policy easy to find.
Not so with free trial scams. The Federal Trade Commission said many use pre-checked sign-up boxes or make it difficult to uncover the terms and conditions of their offers. Others make it so difficult to return products or cancel subscriptions that it’s nearly impossible.
So, how can you protect yourself from these “free” trial scams? The trade commission shares five tips.
1.Do your research: Look for more information about the company online, especially any complaints or issues with billing or service.
2. Read all of the terms and conditions: Before signing up for any offer, make sure you’ve read all of the fine print. If you can’t find it, says the trade commission, don’t sign up.
3. Check -- and uncheck -- all of the boxes: If you sign up, be sure to look for boxes that may be pre-checked to indicate that you do, indeed, want to pay hundreds of dollars for that “free” offer you thought you were signing up for.
4. Pay attention to the time limit: Be sure to mark the end of the free trial on your calendar to ensure that you have canceled the “order” and you don’t owe any money now or in the future.
5. Examine your credit and debit card statements: If something doesn’t look right, you can address it right away with the company and your credit card company or bank.
The team at CESI is committed to helping you make wise financial decisions and to helping you understand how to get out, and stay out of debt. For a free debt analysis, contact us and find out how we can help.
Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.
CESI is NOT A LOAN COMPANY