Consumer news

Beware the free trial subscription traps

Claire McGovern

Reporter:

Claire McGovern

Beware the free trial subscription traps

This is the time of year when some consumers may be looking for dieting pills, beauty products, health and protein shakes or supplements online. From a health point of view you should always be careful what you buy online.

From a consumer perspective you should read the terms and conditions very carefully making sure to look out for what happens when the ‘free trial’ ends as many of these result in consumers being locked into costly subscription services. Remember, there’s no such thing as free so think ‘what’s the catch?’

The sell: The consumer is often offered the item(s) for free for a certain period of time and told that only postage and packaging will be charged.

The reality: Unfortunately, in many cases the consumer doesn’t realise that these are actually subscription services that will incur significant monthly charges unless the consumer opts out before the end of the ‘free trial’ period. In some cases the free sample is not even delivered until after the trial period has ended.

Consumers are frequently given a third party mail distribution or forwarding address in Europe but the companies themselves are often based outside the EU which makes it difficult to secure redress.

Many free trial complaints received by ECC Ireland have involved pop-up ads where the consumer was asked to pay a small amount for postage and packaging, only to later find out that they had unwittingly signed up to a subscription service. Some complaints have involved charges of up to €400 with consumers reporting that the products did not arrive until after the free trial period had already expired.

Consumers frequently encounter these offers via adverts on social media. As we tend to do a lot of our searching and online interaction on our mobiles, we are therefore not as careful as maybe we would be using our desktop or laptops. This presents new opportunities for traders to get consumers interested in free trials or subscriptions, not all of them good.