Free trial scams have become increasingly prevalent as more people are using the internet to purchase products and access services. These scams involve the promise of a free trial period for a product or service, only to find that the consumer has been charged hidden fees or automatically enrolled in a subscription without their knowledge or consent. This article will discuss the different types of free trial scams, tips for prevention, and the steps to take when reporting such scams.
Types of Free Trial Scams
- Hidden subscription fees: In this type of scam, the consumer is offered a free trial of a product or service, but is required to provide their credit card information to cover shipping and handling fees. Unbeknownst to the consumer, they are also automatically enrolled in a subscription plan and charged a monthly fee after the trial period ends.
- Bait and switch: This scam involves a company advertising a free trial for a popular or high-quality product, only to send the consumer a lower-quality or different product altogether. The consumer is then charged for the inferior product and may struggle to cancel the subscription.
- Fake celebrity endorsements: Scammers may use fake celebrity endorsements to promote their free trial offers, preying on the consumer’s trust in the celebrity. These scams often involve skincare, weight loss, or other health-related products.
- Phishing scams: In this type of scam, the consumer is sent an email or text message containing a link to a fake website offering a free trial. The goal is to trick the consumer into providing their personal information, such as their credit card details, which can then be used for fraudulent purposes.
- Automatic billing: Some companies offer a free trial but require you to enter your credit card information. They then automatically bill you after the trial period is over, hoping you forget to cancel.
- Limited time offers: Some free trials are only available for a limited time, such as 24 or 48 hours. This can make it difficult to evaluate the product or service before committing.
- Difficult cancellation process: Some companies make it intentionally difficult to cancel the free trial, such as by requiring you to call a customer service number during limited hours.
- Fine print: Some free trials have terms and conditions buried in the fine print that make it difficult to cancel or that automatically enroll you in a paid subscription.
- Fake reviews: Some companies use fake reviews to make their product or service appear more legitimate than it really is.
- Incomplete product or service: Some free trials only provide a limited version of the product or service, and require you to pay for additional features.
Tips for Prevention
- Research the company: Before signing up for a free trial, research the company and its reputation. Look for reviews from reputable sources and check for any complaints or negative feedback. This can help you avoid scams and ensure you are dealing with a legitimate business.
- Read the terms and conditions: Always read the terms and conditions before agreeing to a free trial. Look for any hidden fees, automatic subscription enrollments, or other red flags that might indicate a scam.
- Be cautious with your personal information: Never provide your credit card information or other personal details without first verifying the legitimacy of the company and the offer. Be especially cautious when clicking on links in emails or text messages, as they could lead to phishing scams.
- Use a virtual credit card: Some banks and financial institutions offer virtual credit card numbers that can be used for online transactions. These temporary numbers can be set with a specific spending limit and expiration date, helping to protect your actual credit card information and minimize the risk associated with free trial scams.
- Monitor your bank statements: Regularly check your bank statements for any unauthorized charges or suspicious activity. If you notice anything unusual, contact your bank immediately to dispute the charges and protect your account.
Examples Of Free Trial Scams
Here are some examples of free trial scams that have been reported over the past 10 years:
- In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled with a company called LeanSpa for $7.3 million over allegations that it deceptively marketed acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements through free trial offers.
- In 2016, the FTC filed a complaint against skincare company, L’Occitane, alleging that it used deceptive marketing practices involving free samples and free gifts to enroll consumers in its subscription program without their knowledge.
- In 2017, the FTC settled with a company called Gigats, which used deceptive marketing tactics to lure consumers into signing up for free trials of work-from-home opportunities that turned out to be scams.
- In 2018, the FTC settled with a company called Devumi, which sold fake followers, likes, and views on social media platforms, and used deceptive marketing tactics such as offering free trials that were difficult to cancel.
- In 2019, the FTC settled with a company called Apex Capital Group, which used deceptive marketing tactics to sell weight-loss products through free trial offers that enrolled consumers in costly monthly subscription plans.
- In 2020, the FTC settled with a company called RevGuard, which provided billing and customer service support to companies that used deceptive marketing practices to sell products through free trial offers.
- In 2021, the FTC settled with a company called HCG Diet Direct, which used deceptive marketing tactics to sell weight-loss products through free trial offers that enrolled consumers in costly monthly subscription plans.
- In 2022, the FTC settled with a company called Pure Nootropics, which used deceptive marketing tactics to sell dietary supplements through free trial offers that enrolled consumers in costly monthly subscription plans.
- In 2022, the Better Business Bureau warned consumers about a free trial scam involving a company called OneShot Keto, which offered a free trial of a weight-loss supplement but charged consumers a monthly fee of $139.99 after the trial period ended.
- Also in 2022, the FTC filed a complaint against a company called ReShapeMD, alleging that it used deceptive marketing practices to sell weight-loss products through free trial offers that enrolled consumers in costly monthly subscription plans.
Reporting Free Trial Scams
- Contact the company: If you believe you have been scammed, try to contact the company to resolve the issue. Request a refund and cancellation of any unwanted subscriptions. Keep a record of all communication, including emails and phone calls, in case you need to provide evidence later.
- Dispute the charges with your bank: If you are unable to resolve the issue with the company, contact your bank or credit card provider to dispute the charges. Provide any documentation or evidence you have collected and explain the situation.
- Report the scam to your local consumer protection agency: In the United States, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via their website or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. In other countries, contact your local consumer protection agency to report the scam and receive guidance on further steps.
- Report the scam to online review platforms: Share your experience on online review platforms, such as Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau, to help warn others about the scam and prevent them from falling victim to it.
- Report phishing scams: If you received a phishing email or text message, report it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com or forward the text message to 7726 (SPAM), a free service provided by most mobile carriers.
In conclusion, free trial scams are a growing concern as more people rely on the internet for shopping and accessing services. By understanding the different types of scams, following prevention tips, and knowing how to report them, consumers can protect themselves from these deceptive practices and avoid falling victim to fraud.