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Are Free Trials a Means for Scamming People?

Updated on April 12, 2010
Free trial scams
Free trial scams

Should we be worried?

Free trials are tearing the Internet a new hole. People are becoming interested in signing up for programs that offer free trials. The length of the trial depends on the company offering them. Should we be concered about these free trials?

I know companies use free trials as a way to give users a taste of what they have to offer, but can free trials be used to steal information and take money without a person's consent? When signing up, some companies ask for financial information to complete your registration. Why do they need this information if they are offering their services to consumers for free?

How free trials work?

There are logical reasons for every action a company makes. Asking for financial information such as credit card information sometimes may be used to acquire payments if the customer exceeds the free trial limit. In case the person decides they want to stay with the company, they don't have to go through the process of re-signing up for the company and inputting their financial information.

A company could could wait to the free trial is over with and send emails to customers, asking them if they want to continue their services. If the person answers YES to this email, the company can begin extracting payments on the pay period(s) automatically. The payments could be taken out of your account everyday, every week, every month, etc. It all depends on the company and their payment plans. Many trusted companies use this as a method to protect themselves as well as their customers.

This is how FREE TRIAL SCAMS work!

Free trial scams ask for your credit card information, claiming that the input is solely for something such as shipping and handling or to start charging you if you decide not to cancel your membership before the free trial ends. These companies will then start charging you for the service(s) before the end of your free trial or take out an outstanding amount of money from your account; claiming it's for shipping and handling charges. (ex: S&H $.4.95, but charge your credit card $89.99)

Many online businesses may set up free trials and leave a cancellation plans out of the process. This causes problems for customers because they do not know how to cancel their membership. When they contact customer service, they take weeks to respond to the customer's complaints. By time they respond to the customer, the free trial has passed. They have already began charging their credit card for the services. Now the customer is getting charged a large amount of money every pay period and their account still hasn't been cancelled. By time they successfully cancel their account, they have been drained hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The common response from Free Trial Scammers

  1. Fine Print- Always read every piece of text on the webpage. This will let you know whether or not there is additional information you should know about. You may find at the bottom of the page a small text telling you something about the free trial (ex: Size 3 font "no refunds"). So while you're waiting for customer service to contact you, they will respond weeks later "Didn't you read the fine print"? Now you're in trouble because they used legal methods to scam you.
  2. Ask before you do- Before signing up for a free trial that you feel suspicious about, contact their customer service. Ask them about the free trial and if you can cancel anytime before the trial ends. If they respond with "yes", save that email for legal purposes. If for some reason you're not able to cancel your membership, contact them immediately and save that email as well. If they begin charging you before they respond to your email, you can take them to court and request a full refund of the money they conned you for.

How to avoid free trial scams

If you're signing up for a free trial, use a debit card instead of a credit card. This will allow you to remove any source of money from your account if they successfully trap you. You may also use a prepaid card such as Greendot. These type of cards may not work, but sometimes they will. Don't leave that much money on the card because if they plan on scamming you, they will only be able to take the little amount of money you left on the card. They may be pissed, but you're safe.

There is a Paypal plugin that you can use when signing up for free trials. I don't know how to obtain this plugin, but I know it prevents anyone from making unauthorized charges to your account.


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    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 7 years ago from ma

      It can be a pretty sleazy practice. But, people that are willing to keep up with the due date can usually get a great free trial. I have done the Netflix and BlockBuster trials and they are great. Free movies for a few weeks. Then when I moved I signed up again. It isn't right if they don't let you cancel out of them easily though.

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 7 years ago

      I am glad you wrote about this, Mr. Williams. People need to be aware. Thank you.