When ‘free' isn't really free: Beware of free trial offers

posted by Jace Day on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in SHAZAM Blog

We’ve all been there. While browsing online, we see an ad for a product or subscription service with a free trial and think, “Why not?”

Here’s why not: What appears to be a free or low-cost trial can add up to be much more. Most free trials require consumers to enter their card information to pay for shipping. This information can then be used to cover future costs if the individual forgets to end the trial or subscription.

While the cardholder may make a note to cancel the service before any fees hit their card, it’s not always so simple. Some deceitful businesses hide the terms and conditions of their offers in fine print or use pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting.

What does this mean for your financial institution? Most often, there’s a limit on the chargeback rights for these purchases. Your financial institution likely won’t be able to claim fraud and will need to pursue chargebacks through non-fraud reasons, such as “merchandise not as described,” which usually means a low chance of success.

Help cardholders avoid these unwanted fees by sharing these tips offered by the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Research the company online. Read what other people are saying about the company’s free trials — and its service. Complaints from other consumers can tip you off to “catches” that might come with the trial.
  • Find the offer’s terms and conditions. That includes offers on TV and the radio, in the newspaper or online. If you can’t find them or don’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.
  • Look for who’s behind the offer. Just because you’re online buying something from one company doesn’t mean the offer or pop-up isn’t from another company.
  • Watch out for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, look for already-checked boxes. That checkmark may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products — only this time you have to pay.
  • Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit. If it passes without you telling the company to cancel your “order,” you may be on the hook for more products.
  • Look for information on how to cancel future shipments or services. If you don’t want them, do you have to pay? Do you have a limited time to respond?
  • Review your bank statements and be vigilant in online banking. This is just good practice, but in this case, you’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t order.

Adhering to these tips when considering a free trial can reduce the potential for unwanted merchandise and charges. Remind cardholders to be smart shoppers by doing their research and reading the fine print before making a purchase.


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