“Free” Trial Offers

Beware of “free” trial products that end up not being so “free.”

This scam can take on various forms, but typically the company will offer you a “free” trial run of a product (such as a diet pill, anti-wrinkle cream, teeth whitener, etc.) for a nominal shipping free or for your credit card information. And they often offer this guarantee: If you don’t like it, all you need to do is cancel or take some other action before the trial period is over. “Great,” you think, “I’ve got nothing to lose!”

But then, the company makes it so difficult (if not, impossible) to cancel, you end up paying for several months of the “free” product. For example, the company will give you 15 days from their “initial ship date” to cancel or be charged, but you won’t receive the product until after that time period has expired.

Even worse, the company might enroll you in additional offers or products for more monthly fees that you did not know about.

Other “free” offers can include signing up for product subscriptions, like book, CD, or magazine clubs, or perhaps an online dating service. Companies will offer a promotional time period or introductory package of products, but require that you enroll in a program that bills you monthly or automatically renews your subscription at the end of that time period.

Tips to Avoid Unwanted Costs

Here are a few tips to help you spot deceptive free trial offers and avoid unwanted costs.

  • Understand the Terms and Conditions
    Find and read the terms and conditions for the offer. California law requires companies who automatically renew subscriptions or purchasing agreements to present the terms of the agreement clearly and conspicuously before the consumer subscribes to the offer, and also to obtain affirmative consent from the consumer. If you can’t find the terms of the agreement, don’t sign up. Legitimate companies will not hide these terms from you.
  • Look Out for any Pre-Checked Boxes
    If you sign up for a free trial online, un-check any pre-checked boxes that may sign you up for more products or continue the offer past the initial trial period.
  • Research the Company
    A quick internet search of the company and product may tip you off to any hidden terms or other deceptive practices associated with the offer.
  • Mark your Calendar
    Keep track of any promotional time period so that you can make sure to cancel your subscription before it ends.
  • Monitor your Credit/Debit Card Statements
    Regularly review your credit and debit card statements to make sure that you are not charged for anything you did not order.

What to Do If You’re a Victim

If you have been wrongly charged for a free trial offer, try working it out with the company first. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge and ask that they reverse the charge.

You can also report the company to the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.

For more information on protecting yourself against “free” trial offer scams, see the FTC’s page titled, “Free Trial Offers?”.