Be leery of free trial offers, you may lose money

Free trial offers can be a great way to try out new products or services without making a long-term commitment. But, too often people are signing up for a memberships without realizing it. Better Business Bureau has received hundreds of reports about free trials on BBB Scam Tracker, and many of those consumers lost money.

One woman wrote she signed up for a free trial of a beauty product on a website. She provided her credit card number to pay for shipping and handling, but after the product arrived, she continued to be charged.

“When I called [the company], they insisted I had signed up for a monthly product. I did no such thing. They cannot or will not provide documentation of my having supposedly signed up for a monthly product. In addition, this product is stupidly expensive. Over $300 for a small bottle of nothing,” she writes. She said after multiple calls and weeks of waiting, she has yet to receive confirmation of her cancellation.

Many companies use free trials to sell a variety of items, but many reported to BBB have to do with beauty products. You should be aware that by accepting a free trial offer, you might be agreeing to buy additional products and services unless you cancel within a specified period of time. It’s called negative option marketing, and it’s left many people feeling misled.

To protect yourself, read the entire offer carefully before you decide whether it is a good deal for you. When offers are made orally – whether by radio, TV, on the phone or in person – listen carefully to the message. If you are uncertain, request to receive the terms and conditions in writing. Never give into pressure to agree to a deal.

When ordering online, don’t click too fast. Review the order form. Look for pre-checked boxes. You may be giving permission to send more products that you’ll have to pay for or you may be agreeing to a strict cancellation policy and not know it.

If you do decide you want to try out a free trial, keep in mind a few tips from BBB:

n Do your research. Look the company up online to see what other customers are saying about their service and products.

n Read the fine print. Take a close look at the terms and conditions. Look for hidden fees that could add up to more than you are willing to pay.

n Circle the date. Make a calendar reminder for when the free trial ends so you can be sure to cancel on time. Many times the advertisement says 30-day free trial, but you might only have 14 days to cancel.

n Watch your accounts. Be sure to keep track of your bank and credit card statements. Look for any charges you don’t recognize so you can contact your financial institution immediately.

Emily Valla is the marketplace director for Better Business Bureau Northwest: Idaho and Western Wyoming. Contact her at 208-523-9754 or by emailing emily.valla@thebbb.org.


Emily Valla is the marketplace director for Better Business Bureau Northwest: Idaho and Western Wyoming. Contact her at 208-523-9754 or by emailing emily.valla@thebbb.org.


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