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Watch out for ‘free’ trial offers: You could end up paying for items you don’t want

If a company offers you a free trial, you may be getting yourself into a lot of trouble if you sign up.

Hidden strings attached to a deal can get you involved up in hard-to-escape buying plans that charge you for products or services you don’t want.

That happened to many consumers who signed up for “free” online trial offers of golf and cooking products and services, according to a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit.

Sellers that went by names such as Golf Online Academy and Kitchen Advance offered “free” trials really were “negative option” offers. That means you’d have to cancel before the trial period ended – or be automatically enrolled to get regular shipments of items and pay regular charges.

The FTC said finding the terms of the websites’ offers – such as how long the trial period lasted and how to cancel – was difficult to locate. In many cases, the websites even described the offers as a “Free Gift!” rather than a trial offer.

And, the FTC said, people also got a runaround when they tried to return the products, cancel the shipments or services, and get refunds.

How can you avoid “free” trial traps? Seena Gressin, attorney for the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, offers these tips:

  • Research the company online. See what other people are saying. Search the name of the company and “complaint” or “review.”
  • Find the terms and conditions for the offer, including how to cancel. If you can’t find the terms or can’t understand them, don’t sign up.
  • Read your credit and debit card statements. Make sure you’re not being charged for something you didn’t order. If you are, dispute the charges with your credit card company.

For more information, see the FTC’s “Free” Trial Offers. And, if you’ve been wrongly charged for a free trial, report it to the FTC.

Copyright 2017, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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