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How to Avoid Getting Burned from “Free” Trial Offers

A chance to try something out for free? What have you got to lose? If you’re interested in a particular product or service, trying before you buy might seem like a no-brainer. But what starts as a free trial — or for a very low cost — might end up costing you real money. (FTC)

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Whiter teeth, a new non-stick pan or a vitamin, not matter what it is, every “free trial” period will eventually end.  If you have decided that you don’t want to purchase the new-fangled product, you need to take some kind of action before the trial period ends.  If you don’t there’s a chance that you are going to own a whole lot more of those widgets or owe more money.

The kicker in all of these free trial offers is the innocent appearing move they make on you.  You just have to pay for shipping and handling in most cases to get your “free” whatever-it-is, but is really happening is that they now have your credit card information, and usually when you accept the free whose-it you are signing up for a monthly delivery of more of those whose-its or monthly installments to pay for it.

Watch out for the Strings — There are other offers out there that trap you into memberships or clubs.  A good example is the “Pay 1¢ for 20 CDs” deal that we have all seen.  Well, they really do give you the 20 CDs for just a penny, but what most people don’t realize is now you are part of the “CD Club” and they will send you a new CD each month, and if you don’t send it back you get charged for it.  They are counting on the fact that most people are lazy, and won’t go through the effort required to return it.  Cha-Ching!  They have just charged your credit card for your new CD. …enjoy it!

So here are few things you can do to keep from becoming a victim to the free offer traps that area out there.

Do your homework — Use that internet thing to you advantage.  I guarantee you that with just a little bit of time you will be able to find a ton of information on the new gadget and whether it is legit and worth the time and expense, or is it just colored water in a pretty bottle and basically a scam.

Read, Read, Read — Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the offers you are considering.  That applies to TV offers, magazine or newspaper ads or even the radio.  If you can’t find the terms or don’t fully understand them, stay away!

Watch out for the boxes — If you filing out a free trial offer online especially, be on the lookout for those pre-checked boxes.  You could be agreeing to all kinds of things that you don’t want just because a little box has a check in it.

Use your calendar — If you do sign up for a free trial, make sure you know when the trisl period is over and mark it on your calendar.  Make sure you either set yourself a reminder that the end day is coming or mark your calendar a few days before the trial period actually ends so you have time to take any action that you might have to take.

Know how to cancel — Make sure you know how to cancel future shipments, services or charges.  You may either decide not to take advantage of the product or might decide at a later date that you now want to stop receiving it.  …Be sure you know what to do to make it and the charges associated with go away.

Keep an eye on your statements — Make sure you check your statements especially if you have cancelled the offers.  You want to be able to take action as soon as possible if a charge shows up that is not supposed to be there.

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 actively order the additional merchandise.

Where to Complain — If you’ve been wrongly charged for a free trial offer, report it to the FTC. You also can contact your local consumer protection agency, and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.


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