Free Trials & Autoship Programs Scams

Jessica Lewis
July 29, 2016

Free Trial Offers & Autoship Programs Scams

Sometimes a Free Trial it turns out to be a very expensive way to try a product. Even if you want to stop receiving that product the company continues to charge you specific amounts every month.

An offer that you cannot turn it down

A person is usually convinced to sign up for a free trial long before it reaches the ordering page. Everything a person reads on the product’s website is made to open up the path for the next step in ordering the product. The trial is a trick done to dissolve the biggest barrier to buying that product, and that barrier is the price.

To make you give your personal card information, a company will convince you to sign up by telling you that the trial presents no risks for you. Of course, this is not true. The final phrase which makes you place the order is the one telling you that you have to spend only a few dollars to try the product. But what is left unsaid is more important than the whole story the company made to get you in the game.

How to spot the truth

After paying that minimum fee, the company will send you the product in 3-5 business days. Most of the trials can last between 10 and 14 days. It is interesting to understand why the company chooses this exact period. You will have only a few days to try the product before you need to call the company and cancel the rest of the shipments and future money withdrawals from your bank account.

Besides the fee you pay at the beginning, there are other stipulations associated with the trial. Usually, they are written in fine print, or they are stipulated in the product’s Terms and Conditions.

Maybe you are wondering about these stipulations. What are they saying? Some of them are being explicit about the fact that you’ll be billed a high price after your trial ends. The amount is around $100 or even more. In some cases, the company doesn’t mention that you will continue to receive the product on a regular basis.

You already entered the Autoship Program

These programs are meant to send you the product with regularity, and you will be billed every single time. An Autoship Program means a program that is designed to ship different products automatically.

After you start to understand the whole picture, the first thing you do is to call Customer Care to let them know you want them to stop sending you the product and ask them to stop the billing process.

Customer Care makes your cancellation process difficult

Many customers complained that the company’s customer care did not help them at all. So their website convinced you in participating in the “free trial”, the auto ship program is charging you a high amount of money every week or month and the customer care service makes your life even harder.

Many people said that the customer service agents were rude, they yelled at them; they refused to cancel the trial or to refund the money, or they simply hang up the phone.

First of all, it’s hard to get to talk to a person from customer care. When they finally answer the phone, they do not cancel the trial right away.

The agents are trained to sell you other products produced by the same company. Sometimes, customers were transferred to another agent, and they had to wait even 2 hours for that person to talk with them.

After the waiting period was over, the customers had to explain from the beginning their case and only then they would have the trial canceled if they were lucky.

This is the moment when you start to understand that the company is following specific steps to get your money.

Are these auto ship programs legal?

It seems like it is legal for a company to set a specific price for their products. As long as they stipulate somewhere the terms and conditions, the company it’s covered. These stipulations refer to shipping fees, refund policies and other important details you find out only after you sign up for a “free trial”.

These companies base their legality on a thing called negative option. It means that if a customer doesn’t reject an offer or it doesn’t cancel the agreement, the company has the right to charge that person for the products they send.

If you do not cancel the auto-ship program, you will have the company sending you every week or month their products. In their defense, these companies might say that this program helps the customer. The customer doesn’t have to reorder the product every single time. Once you placed an order for a product to be shipped every month, it is entirely reasonable for them to keep on sending that product until you cancel the trial.

Many companies selling anti-aging goods and / or nutritional supplements used this clause against the customer. That is why, this tactic it is legal, but it can be considered a scam. The fact that the company uses this clause, a legal one, the customer has a hard time in getting the money back.

Is it safe to sign up for a free trial?

Many auto ship programs keep their customers happy by sending on a regular basis the product that they want. This is the case of legitimate companies. Of course, there is the other situation as well. Some companies are after your money only. Some customers even complained that these companies never send them anything, and they kept on charging them every month.

How does a legitimate Free Trial & Autoship Program look like?

A company which wants to promote a new product will use this auto-ship program. The customers can buy the product paying just a few dollars, and they can try it for 30 days. On the website, the company is letting the customer know that he will be charged the full price of the product after the trial period is over. The company also lets the customer know that they will keep on sending this product every month, and the customer will be charged for it.

The customer care contact is displayed on the ordering page, and usually, people behind this service are trained to be polite and respectful and to cancel or refund the money very quickly if the customer asks for it.

How does a scam look like?

Some obscure companies will buy an inexpensive product from outside the United States. They create a whole story around it, and they attract people into signing up for free trials. When they check out, customers have only Terms and Conditions as an information page but nowhere is written how long the trial lasts, if the customers will continue to receive the products after the trial is over or how much they will be charged after the trial period. These companies usually avoid leaving their physical address or any phone number.

Because these companies are aware that the customers will be unhappy, they leave a phone number where agents from customer service make the refunding or the canceling process really difficult, or they refuse entirely to do so.

You might ask yourself at this point: how do I choose a legitimate company? The difference is made by the Terms & Conditions page.

Reading properly Terms & Conditions

First of all, when you decide to sign up for a free trial, make sure the company discloses enough details about the trial. If you need to look the information on the website, if it is not written wide and clear, it is better to look for reviews about this company.

Always check the Terms & Conditions page. There are a few things you have to know before you sign up for the free trial:

  • What is the amount you have to pay for the trial?
  • If you sign up for the free trial, it means you sign up for an auto-ship program?
  • Check all the refund information (make sure they receive the product back if you decide it is not for you).
  • How many days the trial lasts?
  • What is the amount you have to pay after the trial period ends?
  • In case you decide not to cancel the trial, how often you will receive new products and how much you will pay for each one of them?

If you want to avoid wasting your time reading the whole document, make sure you search for those keywords that you are interested in (“shipping”, “free trial period”, “shipping fees” etc.).

Once you read all these information, you can decide if that free trial is for you or not and if the company’s offer is legitimate or is rather a scam.

How do I cancel a Free Trial and the Autoship Program?

How to cancel before the trial ends

You might be surprised to find out that the free trials begin on the day you place the order, not on the day you receive the product. This means you have fewer days to try the product than you thought at the beginning. Sometimes, you have less time if the company requires sending the product back.

If you want to avoid getting tangled in a situation like this, it is better not to place the order at all. If you already did, set your phone alarm to let you know with 24 hours in advance before your trial ends, so you can call the company and cancel the trial.
The company usually specify somewhere on their website how far in advance you need to call to cancel the trial to avoid to send them the money.

Some companies require that the product not to be open or used if you decide to cancel the trial.

How to cancel after the trial ends

It is important to mark your calendar with the date when your trial expires. Otherwise, you will end up paying a high amount of money for something that you will not use.

If the trial expired and the company started to charge you the full price, make sure you call right away to customer service. Every time you call the company, it is important to be clear about your request and make sure to write down the name of the agent and all the essential details you talked about.

If you cannot solve the situation this way, you should call your bank.
After you place an order for a product, it means you sign up for a free trial, charged a specific amount after a specific number of days, and enrolled in an auto ship program at X amount per month.

These companies can act as they want to if they included a Terms and Conditions document on their website? No. It means that if you have to pay attention. When you call your credit card company to explain your situation, they probably will need proofs from you. These could be: screenshots showing that the firm did not disclose details about the trial or the auto ship program on their website, any documents you might have with information about the phone calls and conversations with customer service agents, your email correspondence with the company, especially those emails that the company didn’t bother to answer back.

If you have all these documents, there are big chances to get your money back.

If you are in the situation where you lost the money, and you are convinced that it was just a scam, you should share your experience with other potential customers. Make sure you leave a review explaining in details what happened to you (you could leave a review on an important website for customers such as Better Business Bureau).
If you had a bad experience with a company after signing up for a free trial or an auto-ship program, you should call first your bank. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Agency or Federal Trade Commission.[1]