“Free” Trial Offers

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

This scam can take on various forms, but usually the company will let you try a product (such as a diet pill, anti-wrinkle cream, teeth whitener, etc.) for a small shipping fee or for your credit card information. They say, if you don’t like it, just cancel or return it before a certain time period. “Great,” you think, “I’ve got nothing to lose!”

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

Even worse, the company might enroll you in additional offers or products for more monthly fees that you did not even 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 an 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 to clearly explain and get your approval before signing you up for something that automatically renews. If you can’t find the terms of the agreement, don’t sign up. Honest 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 unfair practices associated with the offer.
  • Mark your Calendar
    Keep track of any trial time periods 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, first try working it out with the company. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge and ask that they reverse it.

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?”.