With the economy still stuck in limbo, many people have been looking for a way to save money and cut back where they can. Couponing has had a boost in popularity lately, and deal websites like Groupon and Living Social have been thriving. Along with these trends, people have been increasingly signing up for free trial offers. “Try before you buy” has allowed many consumers to give a product or service a test drive before purchasing. As sweet as that sounds, the FTC has some concerns and want you to be aware of potential scammers, taking advantage of you.
- Long Term Customer vs. Trial Subscriber: When you sign up for a free trial, you expect to be a subscriber for a limited time, whether it’s a week, two weeks, or a month. Some companies, however, take the liberty of continuing to provide you a service for longer than the time you anticipated. This automatic conversion to a long term customer can cost you, as the free trial is only free for an allotted period of time.
- More than you bargained for: When you go to register for your free trial, sometimes you’re unknowingly signed up for other products you knew nothing about. Sure, these could be free trials, but if you don’t know about them, you won’t remember to cancel when the time comes. You only need to put in your information once for multiple offers in many cases.
- Beware of fine print: There’s lots of small print that comes with trial offers, so if you see 8 point font, be sure to zoom in on your screen. Many offers inform you that after your trial is up, you will automatically be enrolled into a monthly paid subscription, and you will continue to be billed every month until you cancel.
So how do you protect yourself from being the victim of these companies taking advantage of you? What are the precautions to take to avoid this?
- Research the company: Do your homework and check the company out online. Look for reviews, complaints, and especially look out for the word “scam.” You can check their rating with the Better Business Bureau and see if there’s a profile on Rip Off Report. Be sure to do this before you sign up.
- Uncheck pre-checked boxes: Some companies are sneaky and want to enroll you in not just the program you sign up for, but multiple other offers. Be sure to look for check marks that were already selected for you, and uncheck them if you’re not interested.
- Mark your calendar: As mentioned earlier, every free trial has an ending date. If you don’t want to automatically convert into a regular paying customer, be sure to cancel your subscription on or before the ending date. Usually, you’re charged the very next day after your trial is up. (See how you can easily set up a reminder in Google Calendar to send you an email and text before the ending date).
- Check your bank statements: Be sure to diligently check your bank statements during and after your trial for suspicious activity. You may have a charge on there that you did not authorize, and need to work on reversing the damage.
- Be aware of your credit card info: Some free trials ask you to enter your credit card information, even though it’s a free trial! Any time you have to enter payment information, be aware of being charged for a service eventually.
What if the damage is already done? What are the next steps after you’ve already been taken advantage of?
- Contact the merchant directly: First, contact the merchant. Inform them that you are not interested in becoming a customer and would like to cancel your subscription immediately. If there were any charges made, ask if they would be so kind to reverse them.
- Call your credit card company: If you hit a dead end reaching out to the company, whether the contact information was unreliable or if they refused to refund your money, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge. Inform your bank that you did not authorize the purchase of a good or service, and you would like to reverse the charge. Some banks allow you to start the dispute process online, but you may still have to pick up the phone and make the call.
Not all free trials are created equal, and they’re not all out to get you. Exercise your knowledge of things that may seem too good to be true, because chances are, it might be. Most important – read the fine print!
To learn more about free trials, the risks they run, and how to stay safe, visit http://ftc.gov/freetrials. If you’ve been a victim of fraud, don’t hesitate to report it at http://ftc.gov/complaint.
Below is a short video from the FTC on Free Trial Offers that outlines what you need to be aware of regarding free trials: