We all love a good deal, especially offers that include “SALE,” “PRICE DROP,” or “FREE.”
There are some offers, however, that we should be careful about—not necessarily because they’re bad or illegitimate—but because they may actually have you on the hook for buying when you were only interested in trying a product or service. We’re referring, of course, to those tricky (and tempting) “free” trials.
While free trials can be exciting, depending on how the promotion has been set up, you may need to take action before the trial period ends—or you might eventually be charged after the trial period end date.
Things to watch out for
- Tiny terms and conditions or pre-checked opt-in boxes to confirm you’ll pay once the trial period ends
- Restrictive conditions that make it very hard to cancel a subscription or make a return
- A shipping and handling fee which requires you to enter your debit or credit card information
- Automatic renewals and payments once the free trial period ends
Tips for success
- Do your research. What are other customers saying about their experience? Are there negative reviews or comments indicating that the “free” trial was sneaky or difficult to cancel?
- Review terms and conditions. Always review the fine print so you know exactly what you’re signing up for—and what will happen once the free trial period ends.
- Beware of pre-checked boxes. These can automatically sign you up to pay, subscribe or opt-in after the free trial period ends, so be sure you read these carefully.
- Mark your calendar. The free trial likely has an end-date, and the company you’re working with may not notify you at the end of that period. Be sure you set a reminder to “cancel” or “unsubscribe” by a certain date if you truly don’t want to sign up for the paid service.
- Know how to opt out. Make sure you understand how you can cancel future shipments or services that require payment.
- Review your credit and debit card statements. Keep tabs of your expenses, and be sure you aren’t being charged for something you didn’t order or sign up for. If you see a charge for something you didn’t agree to, be sure to contact the company directly for assistance. If that doesn’t work, call your bank or credit card company to dispute the charge.
What else you can do
Unfortunately, most “free trial” charges that have gone through can only be successfully disputed if you have proof of cancelling with the merchant ahead of the charge, and the merchant continues billing you.
If you’ve been wrongly charged for a free trial offer that you did in fact cancel, but you’re still having trouble disputing the charge with the merchant, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also contact your local consumer protection agency, and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.