Approach "Free Trials" with Caution Advises State

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The option to “try before your buy” when looking for a product or service can be enticing, but the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Consumer Affairs Division is advising consumers to approach free trial offers with caution.
 
While there are many reputable companies offering free trials, some use these offers as a way to sign you up for more products—even if you don’t want them. These subscriptions can end up costing hundreds of dollars before the consumer realizes their accounts have been debited.
 
Unscrupulous individuals can take advantage of consumers by making it hard to cancel, by hiding the terms and conditions, pre-checking sign-up boxes during the initial order, or by making their cancellation terms so strict that it is next to impossible to stop the deliveries and billing. Other scammers take advantage of consumers by charging a seemingly low “shipping and handling fee”. While you think you’re getting a product by paying only a few dollars in shipping and handling costs, the scammers now have your bank information and continue to charge you after the trial ends.
 
“Trial offers can be a great way for consumers to test a product or service before they buy, but they are also an easy way for scammers to take advantage of consumers,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We encourage Tennesseans to do their research before signing up for free trials to avoid falling victim to scammers.”
 
To help consumers avoid hidden costs associated with free trial subscriptions, TDCI’s Division of Consumer Affairs shares the following tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
 

  • RESEARCH THE COMPANY: Read reviews to see what other people are saying about the company. Complaints from other consumers can tip you off to “catches” that might come with the trial.
  • FIND THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS: Carefully read the terms and conditions for all types of offers—online, TV, newspaper, or radio. If you can’t find them or can’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.
  • LOOK FOR WHO’S BEHIND THE OFFER: Just because you were on a webpage of a well-known business doesn’t mean the offer or pop-up is from them. Double-check the URL and ensure the offer is from who you think it is. If a product claims to be endorsed by a celebrity, verify the endorsement from the celebrity’s official website or social media account.
  • BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR PRE-CHECKED BOXES: If you sign-up for a free trial online, look for boxes that have been automatically checked. These checkmarks could give the company authority to continue the offer past the free trial or could sign you up for more products—only this time you will have to pay.
  • MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Many free trials have a time limit. Once it passes without you telling the company to cancel your “order”, you may be on the hook for more products.
  • LOOK FOR INFORMATION ON HOW TO CANCEL FUTURE SHIPMENTS: It’s important to know how to cancel the subscription if you decide you no longer want the product or service.
  • REVIEW YOUR CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD STATEMENTS: Keeping track of your credit and debit card statements can provide you with an early warning if you are being charged for something you didn’t want or didn’t order. If you see charges you didn't agree to, contact the company directly to sort out the situation. If that doesn't work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge.
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For more information on being a savvy consumer, visit tn.gov/consumer. More information on subscription scams can be found here.