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Consumer Reports: Why a free trial could cost you

Posted: 4:00 AM, Mar 13, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-13 09:06:08-04
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TUCSON, Ariz. - "Click here to get your first box free!" "Act now to claim your trial bottle!" "Claim your risk-free trial!"

"Spoiler: None of these products were actually free! Luckily tens of thousands of people who got charged for the 'free' products in these three ads got their money back, but only after the Federal Trade Commission took action!

“The FTC Has sued companies that have engaged in this practice of offering a free trial and then later on enrolling people into a program that they didn’t approve related to products from skin creams, dietary supplements, electronic cigarettes," says Rosario Mendez, Federal Trade Commission.

Complaints about ‘not-so-free’ trials doubled between 2015 and 2017. And it’s not surprising that so many consumers fall for them. After all, plenty of legitimate companies offer free samples all the time. So how can you tell if you’re getting a deal or just getting duped?

“If you’re interested in a free trial offer, it’s always a good practice to Google the company first and check for reviews or complaints because that may give you warning signs that the offer is not legitimate," says Penny Wang, Consumer Reports.

CR also says to read the fine print and check to see what the process is for getting a refund or canceling.

If you do sign up for a free trial, CR recommends keeping any receipts, emails, or screenshots from the transaction. And be sure to note the date if you have to cancel. Set a reminder in your phone’s calendar, otherwise your credit card could be charged. And finally, have all the documentation handy in case you have to dispute any charges with your bank credit card.

Credit card companies are also responding to this problem. Last year, Mastercard announced a new policy that requires a merchant offering free trials to get your permission before they can hit you with recurring charges. And in April, Visa will require merchants offering these kinds of promotions to remind cardholders when they’re near the end of a trial period.