One of my biggest pet peeves is those “free trial” and “no risk” offers. Whether it’s for credit monitoring, weight loss or nutritional supplements, all free trials must come to an end, and all too often, that happens before you remember to cancel and your credit card gets hit with a nasty charge.
And even if you do remember, there are shady operators out there who make cancellation impossible, either by leaving you on hold listening to elevator music when you call, “disclosing” terms and conditions of their offers in micro-font, using pre-checked opt-in boxes as the online default setting and putting impossible conditions on returns and cancellations.
Another trick is to add small shipping and handling fees to the “free trial” just to get your credit card information. At first you’re paying a couple of bucks, but once the trial is over, your credit card bill will be an unhappy surprise.
Then there are the “free” offers to enroll in clubs or subscriptions. A company might offer an introductory supply of wine, books, magazines or movies, but signing up might bring you an endless and expensive flow of products and bills — and automatic renewal to boot.
So how can you avoid the hidden costs in free trials?
• Google the company reviews: See what others are saying about the company’s free trials. Complaints on the Web can be a big red flag.
• Read the fine print: If you don’t know what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.
• Watch out for pre-checked boxes. Before you sign up for a free trial, look for already-checked boxes, which might may give the company permission to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products.
• Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit, and even if it’s a 30-day trial, your credit card might be charged after only seven days. Check the notification deadline. Once it passes without you calling to cancel, you may be on the hook for more products.
• Read your credit and debit card statements. That way you’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t order.
If you see charges you didn’t agree to, contact the company directly to sort out the situation. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn’t order the merchandise. More often than not, when it comes to these types of transactions, your credit card company will back you up.
Christine Young is the Times Leader’s Consumer Watchdog. She can be reached at ConsumerWatchdog@timesleader.com. Her column appears weekly.