“Free Trials” Might Not Be As Free As You Think

In just the first six months of 2011 BBB has already been contacted by nearly 50 Central Texas consumers with complaints regarding free trial offers. Consumers interested in everything skin care products, vitamins, and coffee try these products advertised online as “risk free” or “no-cost, no-obligation” trials, and in many instances end up being charged by the company, even though they believe to still be in the trial period.

Free trial offers often come with lengthy terms and conditions, and consumers should be sure to read these prior to providing any type of financial information. The terms and conditions will usually state, although not always clearly, what financial obligation is placed on consumers for accepting the free trial, and the steps to cancel the offer. The company may also have strict return procedures that, if consumers fail to follow, could result in a consumer being charged even if they have told the company they do not want to continue the trial.

Consumers typically contact BBB in order to get help contacting the company so they can return the product and obtain a refund. In some cases, complaints are never answered by the company.

BBB offers the following tips to keep in mind when looking into free trial offers:

  • Reconsider trials that require a credit card number. An online advertisement may offer something free, but in most cases you’ll have to enter a credit card number. This can give the merchant the ability to charge for products you do not want.
  • Read everything. If there’s more fine print than you care to sift through, that’s usually a bad sign. Any time you’re giving out personal information, make sure you know exactly why you’re having to give your personal information and what your personal information will be used for.
  • Note the checks. Some offers trick customers by pre-checking boxes that seem insignificant but actually include continued-payment agreements. Uncheck any boxes that offer something you don’t want.
  • Review your statement. When your credit card bills arrive each month, check for strange or questionable charges.  If you do find any charges that you don’t agree with, call the merchant and ask to have the charge clarified, and, if necessary, removed. If you cannot work anything out with the merchant, contact your card issuer and contest the charge.

If you come across a potential scam you would like BBB to investigate, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.