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Beware of that free trial

It could cost you hundreds of dollars!

Created date

July 20th, 2015
scam alert graphic
scam alert graphic

You’ve seen the ads that pop up on popular websites like Amazon.com—the ones touting “no-risk trials” for magical face potions. Apparently, so has the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

In June, the FTC took action against a number of bogus cosmetic companies for duping the public. While they claimed they were offering consumers a free trial, they actually charged people quite a lot of money on their credit cards. 

The FTC alleges that a group of companies that marketed products by AuraVie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit, deceptively told customers they could try the products for free. Customers were required to submit a credit card to cover a nominal $4.95 charge for shipping costs. Once they had consumers’ credit card information, however, the company charged those accounts an average of about $97—a far cry from $4.95. 

At the FTC’s request, a federal district court has issued a temporary restraining order against the defendants, which effectively shuts them down as the FTC investigates.

“The sellers of AuraVie tricked people into paying a lot of extra money for skin care products,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies need to give clear, honest information about charges. If a company advertises a ‘risk-free trial,’ then that’s what it must provide.”

Lost in the fine print

Unbeknownst to consumers who signed up for the free trials, they were actually enrolling in a subscription service—the terms of which were buried in fine print on the company’s website. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the company touted its A-rating with the Better Business Bureau when, in fact, they had earned an F from the consumer watchdog organization. 

As the investigation into AuraVie continues, the FTC urges consumers to be vigilant about making online purchases and accepting free trail offers from unknown companies. The agency offers these tips to help protect yourself from scammers: 

Research the company online. See what other people say about the company’s free trials. Complaints from other customers can tip you off to “catches” that might come with the trial. 

Find the terms and conditions for the offer. That includes offers online, on TV, in the newspaper, or on the radio. If you can’t find them or can’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.

Watch out for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, look for already-checked boxes. That checkmark may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products.

Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit. Once it passes without being cancelled, you may be on the hook for more products.

Find out how to cancel future shipments or services. If you don’t want them, do you have to pay? Do you have a limited time to respond?

Read your credit and debit card statements. That way you’ll know right away if you’re being charged for something you didn’t order.

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