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Free trials are considered as a perfect marketing tool that results in increased sales revenues and a large number of customers. Both big and small businesses use them effectively in massive marketing campaigns.

Today, people are bombarded with online ads for free trial offers. And it can be really difficult to find out which ones are scams. Consumers often share their experience on review websites such as, BBB, TripAdvisor in order to warn other people. But, how to identify free trial traps, and what to do, if you have already been scammed?

To begin with, what is a free trial scam? In brief, it’s a kind of situation when people are enticed to pay a certain fee to get some products or services or to sign up for a free trial. Some free trial traps are so tricky that it is almost impossible to decipher them from a legitimate business. Let’s consider 3 popular categories of free trial scams:

Free Trial Offers

“Try Before You Buy” is a popular slogan that allows buyers to give a product and/or service a test drive before actual purchase. It sounds good, doesn’t it? With an attempt to cut back where it’s possible, people sign up for free trial offers and agree to pay only for shipping and handling. What is really going on?

Most people do not read the fine print with comprehensive information about terms and conditions. This part states that all buyers shall pay a substantial monthly fee until they cancel the agreement after the trial period. A lot of wrinkle cream scams are based on this scheme. Needless to say, you will be shocked after checking up your credit card statement.

Here is a short story of Stemologica customer (review #1020846 left on “…ordered said cream .like so many others,and was under the impression that the £3.95 was for samples .Then if you liked the product,you could send for the full sized creams…Got a shock when i checked my bank statement, to see it had just over £200 deducted. Wasn*t prepared to pay that for something my wife had not tried…”

Subscription Scams

Subscription scams take place when you sign up on the phone or online on a free of charge basis or for a small fee for a product and/or service trial for a month. However, your monthly trial period turns into a regular one paid-for service.

Subscription scams involve you in ongoing substantial payments, and you do not realize it. Later, you find yourself locked in costly repeated payouts. The detailed information about this “ongoing commitment” is buried in terms and conditions. As a rule, buyers miss all small prints, trying to skip this boring milestone. They are eager to try the “fantastic free trial offer” that is advertised.

Subscription traps are risky since you may come across the impossibility to cancel an agreement and stop payments being taken from your account. Typical subscription scams include food supplements, anti-aging serum, and wrinkle cream scams.

“Too Good To Be True” Scams

There are many possible options here. Look at the following alternatives:

  1. Prize scam. Somebody calls you and congratulates on winning a good prize. But, in order to take it, you will have to pay a small fee.
  2. Investment scam. Somebody calls you and offers to invest your money, for example, in land or shares, which will make you rich a bit later. Be sure, they will not!
  3. Job scam. You are looking for a job and post your CV on a particular job web resource. Then, you get an email (or somebody calls you on behalf of the employment agency) with a job offer. But, first, you should pay for a training course or something else.

Tips and Tricks on How to Avoid Free Trial Scams

Free trials, subscription traps, wrinkle cream scams, etс. are based on confidence and inattention. So, if you do not want to become a victim, follow several simple rules stated below:

Research the company over the Internet

Look for reviews and complaints. It will be useful to find out what other people think about particular free trials. You can check the company on or any other consumer review platform. If you come across varied customers’ opinions, and thus, can’t make your mind, move on.

Study terms and conditions of the offer carefully

Always read the fine print before making a purchase or entering into an agreement. Make sure to find all details of the offer. Check to see if there’s a subscription, learn the terms, and ensure that there are ways to cancel any time.

Clear pre-checked boxes you are not interested in

Some companies use check marks to enroll clients in additional offers. If you want to sign up for a free trial online, make sure the terms and conditions box has not been pre-ticked.

Make your own calendar

Often free trials have certain time limits. If you do not want to become a regular paying client automatically, do not forget to cancel your subscription before the due date.

Examine useful data

Find out how you will be able to cancel services or future product shipments. Look for all crucial details including payment terms, cancelation periods, and response time.

Check bank statements

Credit card information can be requested in some free trial offers. It is necessary to check bank statements during and after your trial. You should know right away, if you are charged for a product and/or service, you have not bought.

And last but not least

Never provide your credit card information before completing profound research.

What to Do if You Have Already Been Scammed?

If you have already been taken advantage of, you should know the next steps.

Contact the company

First of all, contact the seller directly. Write, call, or email them and explain that you are not interested in becoming a regular consumer. Declare your aim to cancel the subscription as soon as possible. You can also contact the corporate office. You’d better reverse charges if any. In case of refusal, you should inform your bank that the purchase of particular goods or services is not authorized by you. Explain in a calm and polite manner that you want to dispute the charge. Ascertain, whether the new card is required.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The Federal Trade Commission is a government agency that is aimed to protect consumers in the United States. You can file a complaint online using their Complaint Assistant. The agency collects complaints regarding the following issues: company business practices, violence in media, and identity theft. You can send a complaint via a postal mail with a mark “Confidential”. It is not secure to use e-mail. Use the following address:
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20580.
And you can complain by phone: (202) 326 – 2222.

FTC has 8 regional offices, you can find the contact information here.

Report a scam to your state or local consumer protection agency

You can find your state consumer protection agency here. In order to file a consumer complaint, you should prepare carefully. First of all, gather all supporting documents including receipts, warranties, order confirmations, and agreements, if any.

File a complaint with Pissed Consumer or any complaints platform is a web-based review and complaint resolution platform. Here you can write a review or a complaint regarding any company and share your experience with others. You can also make recorded calls to keep track of all communications with businesses.
Free trials are a very tricky issue. That’s why it’s good to do your homework and follow the  above mentioned tips before accepting that “too good to be true” offer.


Photo by Windows on Unsplash



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