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When ‘Free’ Isn't Really Free: Beware of Free Trial Offers

We’ve all been there. While browsing online, we see an ad for a product or subscription service with a free trial and think, “Why not?”

Here’s why not: What appears to be a free or low-cost trial can add up to be much more. Most free trials require consumers to enter their card information to pay for shipping. This information can then be used to cover future costs if the individual forgets to end the trial or subscription.

While you may make a note to cancel the service before any fees hit your card., it’s not always so simple. Some deceitful businesses hide the terms and conditions of their offers in fine print or use pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting.

Most often, there’s a limit on the chargeback rights for these purchases. WKFCU is not able to claim fraud. You will need to pursue chargebacks through non-fraud reasons, such as “merchandise not as described,” which usually means a low chance of success.

To avoid these unwanted fees, here are a few tips from the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Research the company online. Read what other people are saying about the company’s free trials — and its service. Complaints from other consumers can tip you off to “catches” that might come with the trial.
  • Find the offer’s terms and conditions. That includes offers on TV and the radio, in the newspaper or online. If you can’t find them or don’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.
  • Look for who’s behind the offer. Just because you’re online buying something from one company doesn’t mean the offer or pop-up isn’t from another company.
  • Watch out for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, look for already-checked boxes. That checkmark may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products — only this time you have to pay.
  • Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit. If it passes without you telling the company to cancel your “order,” you may be on the hook for more products and charges.
  • Look for information on how to cancel future shipments or services. If you don’t want them, do you have to pay? Do you have a limited time to respond?
  • Review your bank statements and be vigilant in online banking. This is just good practice, but in this case, you’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t order.

Adhering to these tips when considering a free trial can reduce the potential for unwanted merchandise and charges. Be smart shoppers by doing your research and reading the fine print before making a purchase.

While WKFCU doe sympathize with you over these situations, we are limited in how we can assist you. We can’t make a claim of fraud because you signed up for the trial. You will need to work with the company to get your money back and stop future charges. Beware when signing up for these types of promotions and do your research.

(Partially reprinted from a Shazam Blog article)

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