BBB CONSUMER TIPS: Tips to avoid costly ‘free trial offers’ | Local News

BBB CONSUMER TIPS: Tips to avoid costly 'free trial offers' | Local News

Free trial offers are an extremely popular marketing approach, especially for subscription services. With so many purchases being made online, we have less opportunities to touch, see, or experience a product before buying it. That means free trials can be a win-win situation for sellers and buyers. Consumers get to “try before they buy,” and sellers get to cultivate interest in their product and hopefully make a sale.

That said, your BBB has received complaints about some free offer trials, so it’s beneficial to be aware of a few aspects of these offers. Especially to avoid unwanted charges or the inconvenience of having to return recurring orders you didn’t knowingly authorize.

Your BBB and the Federal Trade Commission have put together several tips that can be helpful in recognizing advantageous free trial offers, while identifying ways to avoid the pitfalls of those that come with complicated terms and conditions:

Review the signup form and look for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, look for boxes that have already been checked, advises the Federal Trade Commission. That checkmark “may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products.” Be sure to uncheck any terms or conditions you don’t want to agree to before finalizing your request.

• Mark your calendar. Your free trial likely has a time limit. Once that passes, if you haven’t canceled your “order,” you may be on the hook for more products. Know the cancellation date and put it on your calendar.

• Always review your credit and debit card statements. This will help you know immediately if you are being charged for something you didn’t order. If you see charges you disagree with, contact the company directly to sort out the situation. Call your credit card company to dispute the charge if that doesn’t work. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn’t actively order the additional merchandise.

 Be sure to do this in a timely manner. Most financial institutions have a limited time to dispute charges, and a common window of time is 60 days from the time the charge was submitted.

• Research the company online. Check the company with BBB at for the company’s rating, reviews, and complaint history. Look for other online feedback as well and see what other people might be saying about the company’s free trials — and its service. The FTC points out that “complaints from other customers can tip you off to ‘catches’ that might come with the trial.” Also, pay clear attention to the advertising, as some companies will only use the term “trial offer,” and hope that consumers will assume that means it’s free, when it may just be a smaller portion of the company’s product, but still comes with a price tag.

• Find the terms and conditions for the offer. Even if you heard about an offer through a radio, TV, or print ad, the company should still provide the details on its website. As many BBB Scam Tracker reports show, you shouldn’t sign up if you can’t find the terms and conditions or understand exactly what you’re agreeing to.

• Always protect your personal information online. When you sign up for a free trial online, you’ll typically need to provide some basic personal information and your credit card number. Before you hand over your information, review the site’s privacy policy and ensure the website is secure, that is, it starts with [https://]https:// and has a lock icon on the sign-up page.

• Want to subscribe past the free trial? Understand how to cancel future shipments or services first. Check the details for recurring orders and know the policies for canceling or pausing your subscription. For example, you’ll want to know if you need to respond or cancel by a certain time each month so you can track this.

Your BBB suggests you also stay familiar with our tips for safe delivery of your online purchases and other helpful tips by visiting

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