Beware!!!! The trial period gremlins are out there waiting for us at every turn.
Have you ever seen a product of any description, either online, in a store, or on TV, which comes with the added incentive of a “free trial period”?
I am sure most of have been in this situation. The product or service is something we think looks good or may benefit us in some way, or may even be an added luxury, which we don’t really need but think “Ah what the hell, I will try it”
After “not reading” the agreement of the trial (“it’s a free trial. Free means free. Right?”) you supply your credit card information and you receive your service or product with a ‘TOS’ (terms of service).
You ignore this (TOS) because if you don’t want the product at the end of the period, you simply stop using it, or return it.
But wait! Some of the things hidden behind this ‘free trial’ are:
- The ‘you must contact us to cancel’ (buried in the small print of the TOS).
- The “we are not offering you this. It is actually from another company” (you have to contact them to cancel).
- The ‘prechecked boxes’ (which we all, including myself, whizz through without looking).
- The ‘You have to contact your credit card company to cancel’ (again buried in the small print).
- The fact that you have unknowingly signed up for a ‘subscription’ (which cannot be cancelled until it has ran its course. By signing up, you have signed a binding legal contract).
There are more, but for this blog we are just going to look at some of the more common ones.
“If it is a free trial, why do I have to provide my financial details?”
This is for 4 reasons.
- Most consumers forget to cancel their trials which the companies use as a ‘green light’ to commence charging.
- Some companies (unscrupulous) make it difficult for you to cancel or unsubscribe, thus by the time you figure it out, you have gone past the expiry date of your trial (another green light).
- They can send you details of other products and automatically add them to your card.
- They can also sell your details to 3rd party companies (even though this is illegal in many cases).
I had the unfortunate experience once of subscribing to a movie channel service many years ago on a ‘trial basis’ the reason I took up the trial offer was to watch some recently released movies at home, rather than go to the cinema. (In hindsight I wish i had just gone to the cinema) I provided my details for a ’30-day trial subscription’ (clearly indicated) and I made a note of the date so I could cancel, as it was not my intention of continuing with the service, because I was going to move to a new house in the near future.
The 1st step was to contact the number given and talk to someone and complete the process. The problem was that (another thing which has since been phased out) the numbers were premium lines, meaning a simple call could end up costing several pounds or more.
There was also the dreaded ‘queuing system’ which made you wait for an inordinate period of time before connecting you. So after talking to someone, who took my details and told me that everything was cancelled, when I looked at my credit card bill the following month, the charge was still there for the next period, which resulted in me having to contact them again.
This happened for 3 months and ended up costing me money, not a substantial amount, but more than the ‘zero amount ‘ I was expecting.
Here is an extract from Federal Trade Commission in the USA (rules very for different countries by are very similar).
‘But some dishonest businesses make it tough to cancel, hiding the terms and conditions of their offers in teensy type, using pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting online, and putting conditions on returns and cancellations that are so strict it could be next to impossible to stop the deliveries and the billing.’
So the next time you reach for the credit card for a ‘trial offer’ do some research first, and be careful about the things you may be signing up for.