Have you ever heard the expression: “the best things in life are free”? Sadly, when it comes to free trial offers online, they can be everything but. In the article below, I’m going to cover some of the ways that you can watch out for scammy free trial offers, and ways that you can make certain to not fall victim to a lot more than you bargained for when it comes to taking advantage of a free trial.
Free Trial Nightmares
Have you ever personally found yourself on the receiving end of a free trial scam? Many customers find themselves losing significant amounts of money every year thanks to the fine print of scam laden free trials. Normally, these shady free trials go a little something like this:
First, you sign up for a free trial offer of a product or service. You receive your first shipment for free, and can try it out “with no obligation”, for typically between 14 – 30 days. If you cancel the offer during this time, you’re good to go. However, if you fail to cancel, then you may find your credit card being charged for hundreds of dollars month after month until you do cancel.
Companies that often practice this method are doing something that is classically known as the “bait and switch”. They lure you in the free product or service, and once you’ve taken their bait, they hook you with charges on your credit card and claim that everything is legit because you agreed to pay the money as part of an ongoing membership. Sadly, companies who practice these kinds of sales tactics give bad names to legitimate companies who do allow you to take advantage of free trials before deciding to purchase their goods.
Is Every Free Trial a Scam?
Absolutely not! Some companies give free trials to you so that you can try out a product before you ever pay them money. This allows for a win-win between businesses and customers when the offers are legitimate. For you, you can try out the companies’ services before investing any money. For businesses, this allows them a great way to potentially recruit a long-term customer who already knows that they will enjoy what the company has to offer them.
One great example of this is Netflix. They allow you to sign up for a free-trial, but clearly state when your card will be charged. Often, customers enjoy the Netflix service, and remain loyal monthly customers for months or years into the future. This free trial lets you try out the service to see if you enjoy it. If not, one quick click will cancel the membership and your card is never charged.
Even better, some companies even offer the ability to take their products or services on a free trial test drive without ever giving them your credit card or any other form of payment information.
Normally, these offers are amazing because you have little to no risk whatsoever since the company has no way of collecting payments from you when the free trial period ends. Regardless of if it is physical products or digitally delivered subscriptions, free trial offers have been around for a long time and many businesses pride themselves in legitimacy of those offers. With that said, it’s important to pay attention to the fine print of contracts that come along with free trials a lot of times.
How to Avoid Free Trial Scams
One thing to always be on the lookout for when it comes to signing up for a free trial is if a company requires you to provide them with your credit card number before the first shipment goes out. If you must give a company your credit card number or bank account information, it can be a red flag that shows they intend to charge you in the future.
On the flipside, sometimes legitimate companies will require you to enter in payment information so that they can cover the cost of shipping. Another red flag is when any company mentions terms such as membership, ongoing, or monthly. This normally means that they intend to charge you month after month well into the future for the services that you have tried out for free. Basically, if you see terminology such as monthly or membership, and you must provide your credit card to sign up for the free trial, then you really need to be paying attention to how long you have before they charge your card the first time. If a deal seems way too good to be true, make sure that you do your due diligence by researching the company before agreeing to any kind of free trial offer.
Normally, a simple Google search of the company plus the word scam will pull up how many times others have been ripped off in the past. If you find the search results in page after page of customers complaining that they were charged ridiculous amounts of money for their free trial, stay away. When you find trials that you are feeling a bit iffy about, one thing you can do is pick up a prepaid credit card to use for free trial signups. These cards are very popular among people who are making online purchases because if you do fall victim to a scam, the company can’t charge more than the money you’ve placed on the card. You can pick prepaid credit cards up at just about every retailer out there. Some of the most popular ones are Green Dot cards and the prepaid Visa cards available at Walmart.
Best of all, you can reload the cards for a very small fee, typically $1 – $3, and save yourself any headaches associated with companies who are practicing bait and switch sales tactics while also giving yourself an extra layer of protection when it comes to using your credit cards online.
What to Do If You Find Yourself on the Receiving End of a Free Trial Scam
Unfortunately, millions of consumers find themselves on the receiving end of these free trial scams every year.
They find a charge on their credit card for several hundred dollars and call to inquire about it only to then learn that a free trial offer they had accepted months prior was a recurring subscription that they had to pay for if they didn’t ship the original item is back in a set amount of time. Thankfully, if you found yourself falling victim to one of these free trial scams, there are a few steps that you can take to try to remedy the situation.
First, contact the merchant who charged your card. While this will normally not get you very far, it is a mandatory step before contacting your credit card company. After you’ve spoken with the merchant, if they don’t provide you any remedy, then you need to contact your credit card company. Inform your credit card company that you did not authorize the charges that are being charged your card. Often, the credit card company can then have the charges returned so you are not paying that money to the company trying to charge your card.
Finally, if the company who signed you up for the trial continues to try and ship you additional merchandise, refused to accept the packages.
These packages are normally tracked, and by you refusing to accept them, you are essentially telling the shipping company that you do not want to have any business transactions with the company who is trying to continue charging you money. While it sounds trivial, refusing to accept packages from the company can really help you out if you find yourself continuing to fight the battle of subscription charges in the future.
Unfortunately, if you find yourself falling victim to a very aggressive membership company, you may have to have credit cards reassigned, bank account numbers changed, and ultimately get rid of the payment method that they are trying to charge you with. While it is certainly not fair for consumers, there have been cases where people have had to change their accounts because an overaggressive company simply wouldn’t stop charging them for services that they never wanted to begin with.
While some companies do offer legitimate free trials, it’s important that you always pay attention to the fine print of any free trial offer. If you see terms like membership, subscription, future payments, or other similar jargon, be on the lookout for a potential scam. If you can find free trial offers that require no payment information, then your generally safe to go ahead and give the services and products being offered to try.
The bottom line, if an offer ever sounds too good to be true, make certain that you are doing your homework before signing up so that you can avoid any potential scams that may be lurking in the fine print of a free trial contract.