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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > October 2021 > Warning: “Free Trial” Offers May Be Costly

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Warning: “Free Trial” Offers May Be Costly

Some advertisements promote free, no-risk trials for the latest and greatest products. But buyer beware: Signing up for some of 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. Some offers may be difficult to cancel, make it hard to find terms and conditions, or have boxes pre-checked during your trial offer signup to automatically enroll you in a plan unless you uncheck the box.
Know that you typically have to provide a credit card number when requesting a free trial. That is often so the business can charge you if you don’t cancel before the trial period expires. Some unscrupulous businesses may make it hard to cancel, potentially charging you when you really want to unsubscribe. A smart consumer tip is to always mark your calendar when you need to cancel or when a promotional rate expires. Also, you may need to pay shipping and handling, making the “free trial” offer come with a cost to you. 
To help better understand what you are signing up for:
  • 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. What are you agreeing to? If you can’t find details, don’t sign up.
  • 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 – called a “chargeback” – because you didn’t authorize the additional products.
Once a free trial period expires, oftentimes an ongoing subscription begins using “auto-renewal.” With auto-renewals, your credit or debit card gets charged for the next subscription term. Before a subscription can auto-renew, it should send you a renewal notice as a reminder about when your subscription expires and that you’ll be charged automatically for the next term.
Pay attention to the subscription rate indicated on the renewal notice. For example, the rate may have increased, especially if you were offered a temporary promotional rate that has expired. If you notice a higher than expected rate or if no rate is listed at all, contact the company and inquire. This may also provide you the opportunity to negotiate a new rate or begin the cancellation process if you so choose.
Before you give out your credit card information for a free trial or subscription, the Federal Trade Commission advises that you:
  • “Read all of the details. Check whether the business will keep charging you unless you tell it to stop. If that’s not clear, assume it will. Why else would the business want your credit card number?
  • Look for pre-checked boxes. Some businesses use these hoping that you won’t notice you’re agreeing to be billed later. Uncheck the box if you don’t agree with what it says.
  • Make sure you know how to cancel. Check the business’s website for an explanation on how to cancel. Businesses should make this easy for you. It’s the law. If it’s not clear how to cancel, walk away.”
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.