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How to Avoid "Free Trial" Scams

Scammers are coming up with more and more ways to trick people out of their hard-earned money. That's why it's so important to stay up-to-date on the latest scams so you can spot the warning signs and avoid becoming a victim. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), one recent scam to watch out for is the deceptive or misleading “free trial scam."

In these schemes, consumers sign up for what they think is a risk-free trial of a product, often after seeing an enticing advertisement online or on social media. These offers seem like a good deal: the consumer simply provides their credit card information to cover a small shipping and handling fee for the free product. But in reality, the “free trial" is anything but free. By accepting the terms and conditions of the company's trial offer, the consumer has unknowingly signed up for a recurring monthly subscription service that leaves them with surprise charges on their credit card. Many times, consumers find it difficult to cancel the subscription and few receive a refund from the company. 

Free trial schemes are a growing global problem. The BBB found that over the last ten years, losses from this type of scam totaled more than $1.3 billion. On average, consumers reported losing $186 from misleading free trial​ scams. While there are many legitimate companies that offer trial periods for their products or services, the difference is these companies clearly state their terms and conditions, and make it easy to cancel the service.

If you're wondering what you can you do to avoid the high costs of a fake free trial scam, we have a few tips to help:

How to avoid free trial scams

  • Do your research
    It pays to do your homework before giving any company your credit card information. Sometimes, deceptive online retailers will post advertisements on social media using legitimate-sounding brand names to trick consumers. Research the brand carefully, looking for reviews and complaints from shoppers. Information from other consumers can help you determine if the company is genuine or not. As with any offer, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Read all the fine print
    Some companies use sneaky tactics to deter consumers from reading the terms and conditions of the free trial agreement. For example, it's not uncommon for companies to use extremely fine print or confusing wording in these agreements. If you can't access the terms of service or if you don't understand exactly what you're agreeing to, don't sign up!
  • Know when the trial period ends
    If you do sign up for a free trial offer, take note of when the trial period ends. Your credit card will likely be charged automatically for a recurring subscription the day after the trial is over, and not every company will give you a warning. Set an alarm or calendar appointment a few days before the trial period ends to avoid accidentally missing the deadline and dealing with unexpected charges on your credit card.
  • Check your credit card activity
    Finally, review your credit card activity regularly, especially after signing up for a free trial offer. If you have to enter your credit card information for a “free" trial, be suspicious: you might be charged at a future date. By checking your credit card activity frequently, you can catch any suspicious charges right away.

What to do if you think you're a victim of a free trial scam:

  • ​Contact the company directly
    Start by submitting a complaint to the company. You might be able to cancel the subscription and receive a refund.
  • ​Contact your credit card company
    If you are unable to receive a refund from the company, call the customer service line on the back of your credit card. If you've been wrongly charged for unauthorized purchases, you can dispute the charges.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
    File a complaint on the FTC's website or call 877-FTC-Help. Your report will help the FTC detect patterns of fraud and prevent other consumers from becoming victims.​

Not every free trial offer is a scam, but it's better to be safe than sorry. By doing your research and exercising caution before giving out your credit card information, you can stay safe and protect your money from fraud.

Wright-Patt Credit Union is here to help you protect yourself from fraud. Please contact us with any questions or concerns. For more helpful information on preventing fraud, visit our Fraud Education and Awareness page.