BBB Study Looks at the Scams Behind Free Trial Offers

When people hear or see the word “free”, feelings of excitement usually follow. This is especially true when it comes to free trials — whether it’s a weight loss program, a subscription, or any other product or services, free trials are always enticing. Unfortunately, a recent Better Business Bureau (BBB) study found that many of these free trials aren’t free at all and are actually scams.

The study, titled “Subscription Traps and Deceptive Free Trials Scam Millions with Misleading Ads and Fake Celebrity Endorsements”, looked at how free trials scam people for money. The “subscription traps” charge customers for expensive shipments that they didn’t agree to buy.

Most free trials come with fine print located somewhere that is not easy to find on the page. Some scams may give customers a limited time to return a product to avoid being charged money or some may say that by signing up for the free trial, customers are also signing up for monthly shipments that they’ll be charged for.

There are measures in place to prevent these scams from occurring, like how the Secret Service was established in 1865 to go after money counterfeiters. And many of these scams do violate regulations regarding advertising and giving customers necessary information.

According to Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the BBB serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains, and Southwest Iowa, “Free trial offers relying on deception have infested the internet, especially with social media. Those running these scams are counting on consumers to be so dazzled by celebrities and big promises that they fail to read the fine print. It’s imperative that consumers read the terms and conditions of such offers very carefully before they take the plunge.”

The BBB study also found that many of the celebrity endorsements in advertisements for these products and subscriptions are fake. The names and faces of celebrities are used without permission to persuade customers to believe the deal is legitimate.

Between 2015 and 2017 alone, fraud complaints regarding free trials to the Federal Trade Commission have more than doubled. Over the last three years, the BBB has received 37,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports. Unfortunately, the increase in the use of credit cards has made scams easier to pull off. The 60 characters of information stored in the magnetic strip on a card make it convenient to use, but not always secure.

So while there certainly are legitimate free trials available to consumers, always be careful when signing up for one. Make sure you read the fine print and report any scams to the BBB as soon as possible.

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