How to Avoid Free Trial Scams and What to Do if You Suspect You are a Victim


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.

Advertisement



Below is a short video from the FTC on Free Trial Offers that outlines what you need to be aware of regarding free trials:

Free Newsletter to Keep you Free From Broke!Name: Email: We respect your email privacyPowered by AWeber email marketing
Published or updated December 6, 2012.

Comments

  1. No Debt MBA says:

    I’ve never been the victim of a free trial scam but I never sign up for free trials that require my credit card information because I am so wary of the scams.

  2. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Great video! Thanks for sharing. I try not to sign up for any “free” trials that need my credit card. That really doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

  3. I normally do not sign up for free trials because there is always a catch! I definitely not give them my credit card under any circumstances.

  4. phuongle says:

    I do not or trial, except when it was recognized with the public and is under the management of state.
    I do consultancy study, and I do not think anything will cheat when their advice!

  5. Free trials should be declared illegal.

  6. There has been an elaborate plan devised in order to profit from the use of dishonest advertisement. This market is aimed at people who own credit cards, have an internet connection and wish to better themselves by using a weight-loss product. These products can be garcinia cambogia extract, green coffee extract, raspberry ketones or a colon cleanse. A typical dishonest advertisement that uses this type of marketing would likely say something like “Claim your free trial bottle today! Only pay shipping and handling!”. It is the hopes of the merchant that the customer would get excited by this offer, hastily enter in their shipping and billing information and click “Rush my order”.

    I have worked as a customer support representative for a third party call center which handled customer service for people who had created accounts by ordering trial bottles. Almost all of the callers did not know that they were going to be charged for their “free” trial bottles nor did they know that they had been enrolled in a subscription plan to receive a new supply every 30 days. When working as a third party customer service provider for such a despicable company, the agents were taught to treat their jobs as being chargeback preventers. The worst case for a dishonest company is for the customer to successfully pursue a chargeback through their credit card company or bank. A chargeback occurs when a bank sides with the mutual client of the dishonest company and forcibly retrieves the funds and puts them back in the customer’s credit account. This is the last thing that the dishonest company wants, as it harms their reputation AND it often results in hundreds of dollars of fines. The bank will often encourage their customers to fist attempt to resolve the issue directly with the company before they decide to pursue a chargeback.

    Upon closer examination of the trial offer (opening and reading the terms and conditions of sale) it would become apparent that the customer would first pay the shipping and handling, and often a sort of ‘priority package’ (which was often a surprise to the customer and made no difference in the shipping) and would only get charged for their product after their trial period which is usually 14 days, and billed and shipped a new supply every 30 days. The charge for the product is very high, usually these companies will charge twice as much as the product is actually worth. A bottle of high quality garcinia cambogia extract, or an all-natural colon cleanser will go for around 40$ in stores such as GNC, however the company offering trials of these products will usually charge between 80$ – 90$ per bottle.

    If you are attempting to get a refund from a ‘scam’ company follow these tips and you will definitely get a full refund. The best way to get fully refunded (and usually keep the bottle for free) is to mention that you had already discussed pursuing a chargeback through your bank. Stating that your bank is planning to pursue a chargeback if the company does not refund you fully will be seen as an imminent threat to the ‘scam’ company and they will likely either issue a full refund or they will tell you to return the bottle for a full refund. The latter seems reasonable at first though once the return process is explained you will likely find it ridiculous and become infuriated.

    The RMA process, or ‘Returned Merchandise Authorization Process’, is an elaborate process which is “used as a tool to discourage the customer from returning the bottle”, as explained by my former boss. The RMA process does not exist. There is no RMA number to be requested, the number does not take two days to generate and there is no ‘restocking fee’ of 15%. Customers were told that this process will cost between 27$ – 34$, since they would be required to pay for a ‘tracked signature shipping method’ to return the bottle as well as a 15% restocking fee. No one ever goes through with this process and if they really tried to they would get fully refunded and told to keep the bottle. This tedious return method will be presented to the customer and will often be followed with a seemingly easier option, which is a 25% or 50% refund off the charge. The customer will often accept this offer and the ‘scam’ company will profit. However, if the customer accepts to return the bottle above all else the customer support representative will refund the charge fully and will let the customer keep the bottle free of charge. If this does not work then warn the ‘scam’ representative that you will pursue a dispute/chargeback with your bank. If all else fails, pursue the chargeback and inform your banker that you were a victim of misleading or false advertising.

What Do You Think?

*