If a company offers you a free trial, what have you got to lose? Maybe plenty. Hidden strings attached to a deal can tangle you up in hard-to-escape buying plans that charge you for products or services you don’t want.
The FTC says that’s what happened to many people who signed up for “free” online trial offers of golf and cooking products and services. According to an FTC lawsuit against the sellers, which went by names like Golf Online Academy and Kitchen Advance, the so-called free trials really were “negative option” offers. That means you’d have to cancel before the trial period ended — or be automatically enrolled to get regular shipments of the stuff and pay regular charges.
The problem? The FTC says finding the terms of the websites’ offers — like how long the trial period lasted and how to cancel — was as tricky as finding a golf ball in waist-high weeds. In many cases, the websites even described the offers as a “Free Gift!” rather than a trial offer. And, the FTC says, people also got a runaround when they tried to return the products, cancel the shipments or services, and get refunds.
How can you avoid “free” trial traps?
- Research the company online. See what other people are saying. Search the name of the company and “complaint” or “review.”
- Find the terms and conditions for the offer, including how to cancel. If you can’t find the terms, or can’t understand them, don’t sign up.
- Read your credit and debit card statements. Make sure you’re not being charged for something you didn’t order. If you are, dispute the charges with your credit card company.