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Better Business Bureau warns against free trial offers that are really ‘subscription traps’

Posted at 11:34 AM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 16:46:46-04

Some free trial offers are really ways to trap consumers into expensive subscriptions that the customer never signed up for, says the latest warning from the Better Business Bureau Serving West Michigan.

“Free trial offers continue to be a problem here in Western Michigan and across the country,” said Phil Catlett, president of the local BBB in a release. “Customers think they are only getting a sample, but often find they are stuck in a costly subscription they never knew they signed up for, and don’t want.”

The number of complaints made to the BBB about free trial offers has jumped 21 percent in the last three years.

One real life story provided by the BBB is an example of how the scam works. A woman in Charlevoix thought she was buying just samples of skin cream, but after getting two samples she had to pay $4.95 shipping each, she was charged almost $175 for a full month of the product. When she complained to the company, they said she was charged the full rate because she didn’t cancel the subscription within 14 days.

The BBB says canceling these subscriptions can be very hard to do. One Muskegon woman emailed a cancelation of a subscription for supplements but was charged anyway, getting no email replies and the company’s phone was always busy.

Some of the free trial offers appear to be promoted by trusted celebrities, but most of the time those endorsements are fake.

The BBB provided tips on dealing with free trial offers:

  • Look at online free trial offers very carefully
  • Resist being swayed by the a celebrity’s endorsement
  • Report losses to credit card companies using the customer service number on the back of the card. Both Mastercard and Visa have new policies to increase transparency for free trial offers.
  • Report free trial offer scams to BBB Scam Tracker