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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > February 2018 > Trial Offers: When Free May Not Always Be Free

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Trial Offers: When Free May Not Always Be Free

Some advertisements promote free, no-risk trials for the latest and greatest product. But watch out! Asking for these free items may subject you to additional purchases and payments.
Do your homework before accepting a free trial offer. Businesses must clearly disclose that you will be charged for additional goods or services, but buying plans vary, and some may be difficult to cancel, make it hard to find terms and conditions, or have boxes pre-checked during your trial offer signup that will enroll you in a plan unless you uncheck the box.
Some buying plans will send you a notice before shipping more products to your home. Known as “opt out” shopping, you need to reject the shipment within a certain timeframe or you can expect to receive additional items along with an invoice or automatic charge to your credit card.
The Prenotification Negative Option Rule gives you the right to receive clear, prominent details of how the buying club works as part of the promotional materials used to enroll you. A company must disclose: 
  • How many notifications you may get per year, and how often you will see them in the mail;
  • That you will have at least 10 days to reject the product before it is automatically shipped to your home;
  • If you are required to buy a certain number of products; and
  • That you may cancel the plan any time once you have met the minimum purchase requirement.
Other plans do not notify you of the additional products before they ship. This is called a continuity plan, where you keep getting the product until you cancel your membership. With continuity plans, there may be a “free trial” or “approval” period. If you don’t cancel by the end of this period, you become a member. If you use your credit card when you sign up, you can expect the card to be automatically billed with each shipment.
To help better understand what you are signing up for, consider the following:
  • Research companies by going online to read consumer reviews and find out how they sell their products.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the offer, even if you are responding to a TV or radio advertisement. Look online for more information and if you can’t find the details, don’t sign up.
  • Look out for pre-checked boxes that may tell the company that you agree to receive more products or sign up for a membership-based plan.
  • Keep copies of all documents and records of your communication with the company.
  • Record the dates you mailed any forms or letters rejecting shipments.
  • Find out how to cancel during the trial period to avoid any future shipments and charges.
  • Review your credit or debit card statements carefully, looking for any charges you don’t expect. 
If you are charged for products you didn’t order, first try to work out the problem with the company. If the company is not responsive, contact your credit or debit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the card company to reverse the charge because you didn’t authorize the additional products.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at  or 800-282-0515.