Washington, D.C. - Free trial
offers can be a great way to try new products or services without
making a long-term commitment to a membership, subscription or
extended service contract. But mark your calendar: If you don't
cancel before the trial period ends, your acceptance of a free trial
offer may be an agreement to buy other products and services.
According to the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC), the federal government's consumer protection
agency, a company may claim its free trial offer has no risk or
obligation for the consumer. But, the FTC cautions, that's true only
if the consumer takes timely action to avoid future obligations. For
example, agency officials say, you may have to contact the company
to cancel during the trial period to avoid receiving additional
goods or services, or to pay for what you've already received. Or by
not cancelling, you may be agreeing to let the company enroll you in
a membership, subscription or service contract, and to charge the
fees to your credit card.
Sometimes you may call a company
for one reason, and at the end of your transaction, hear about a
trial offer that another company is offering. That's called
upselling. Says the FTC: if you receive such an offer, pay close
attention to the terms and conditions. Understand who you're dealing
with and what you're agreeing to. By accepting the trial offer, you
may be agreeing to let the company you called give your credit card
account information to another seller.
If you don't cancel during the
trial period, your credit card may be charged by the second seller
for the product or service offered for the trial period. If you
don't recognize the seller, you may think the charge is an
unauthorized transaction. In fact, by accepting the trial offer, you
may have agreed to pay if you didn't cancel before the trial period
The FTC says that before you give
the okay to a free trial offer, ask the seller:
Is the free trial offer related
to a membership, subscription or extended service contract?
Do you have to contact the
company to avoid receiving more merchandise or services? What's
the deadline for contacting the company?
Who do you contact to cancel?
How can you cancel? By letter? Phone? Email?
Will you get other products
with the free item? If you will, will you have to pay for them or
send them back if you don't want them? How long do you have to
decide before incurring a charge?
How do you stop getting
additional merchandise or services?
Is there a membership fee? If
so, is it refundable?
Will the company automatically
bill your credit card for anything?
Who's offering the trial? The
company you're talking to or another company?
If You Have A Problem
If you have a problem with a trial offer, try
to resolve it with the seller first. If you're dissatisfied with the
response, contact your local Better Business Bureau or consumer
protection agency. Don't forget - you have a right to dispute any
charge you think is inappropriate with the seller and your credit
card company. Do it in writing.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER