FTC warns 'free' trials are sometimes not all that free

The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to be wary of offers for whiter teeth, thicker hair, and flatter bellies, which promise free trials but often have strings attached that can cost buyers a lot of money.

Companies use these “free” trials to hook consumers into signing up for additional personal wellness products and then adding expensive shipping and handling fees. They also often have confusing cancellation policies that make it all but impossible to stop the deliveries, the FTC stated.

The FTC suggests taking these steps to avoid problems:

  • Research the companies online. Check any complaints other customers have had with the services.
  • Find the terms and conditions. If you can’t find them, don’t sign up.
  • Look for who is behind the offer. Check to see if a pop-up ad is from another company.
  • Watch for pre-check boxes. The already-checked boxes will give the company the green light to continue the offer past the agreed-upon dates or sign you up for more offers that will cost extra.
  • Mark your calendar. Check the time limit for the free offer and then cancel with the company. If the time limit passes and you have not cancelled, you may be on the hook for unwanted services.
  • Look for information on how to cancel future shipments or services. Find out if you have to pay a cancellation fee.
  • Check credit and debit card statements. Monitor the statements to see if you are being charged for something you didn’t order. If you find charges you didn’t agree to, contact the company to address the situation. If that doesn’t work, contact your credit card company to dispute the charges.

If you have been wrongly charged for a free trial, contact the FTC to file a report. You can also contact your local consumer protections agency and the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint.