Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Don't fall victim to online subscription traps

Leitrim Observer Reporter


Leitrim Observer Reporter

Don't fall victim to online subscription traps

Don't fall victim to online subscription traps

Have you ever worked out how much you are spending on regular subscriptions? You may be paying a monthly subscription for a digital paper you never read, a music or video streaming service you rarely use or you might have signed up to a ‘free’ trial online and forgot to unsubscribe after the free period ends. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has some advice to help you avoid getting trapped by online subscriptions.

Online subscription traps – what are they?

Subscription traps are when you sign up online or over the phone for free or low-cost trials of products, only to find you have been unwittingly locked into costly repeat payments. Subscription traps come in many different forms – free trials, free for the first number of months or a special introductory price but there is more than one payment needed to get the product. Another ‘trap’ is where you might not be aware that you automatically roll over into a new subscription once it has expired. There are several common areas where subscription traps might happen which include dating services, food and health supplements, cosmetics and healthcare.

Avoiding online subscription traps

The devil is in the detail when it comes to online subscriptions so make sure to read the terms and conditions before signing up. In many instances when you sign up to a service you are entering into a contract and may be giving the company permission to take money from your debit or credit card on a regular basis. If you are signing up for a free trial be sure to know what happens after the free trial ends. In many cases you may need to proactively cancel the subscription, otherwise the free trial may automatically roll-over to a subscription where you pay a monthly fee.

Sometimes an ad you spot on a website may not be for the same company so when you click on the ad you are brought to the website of another company to sign up with. Without realising it you may have authorised this company to take the monthly subscription fee from your account. Always check the company’s website to make sure it has listed its contact details such as its physical address, telephone number and email address. Never provide bank details to a company you don’t know without doing your research. Search for the company online to see if there are any negative reviews and don’t sign up if you have any doubts.

You should be wary of companies who:

  • aren’t upfront about additional costs such as subscription fees
  • don’t clearly explain how the subscription service works
  • hide the terms and conditions away on the site in hard to read grey text or fine print
  • make it difficult to cancel unwanted services
  • use pre-checked boxes that require you to actively opt out

Regularly reviewing your subscriptions

Review your monthly bank or credit card statements and work out exactly how much you are paying for regular subscriptions. Ask yourself – am I benefiting from this service or do I even use it? If the answer is ‘No’ then check if you can unsubscribe from it. If you have signed up for a period of time without realising it you mightn’t be able to cancel until the term is up. Check your bank or credit card statement regularly for unexpected payments or charges.

Cancelling unwanted subscriptions

Very often subscriptions are set up as a recurring charge on your debit or credit card. These are different to direct debits as you can’t cancel a recurring charge through your bank so you must get in touch with the company directly. Contact the company to cancel the recurring charge.

This should be done in such a way that you have proof that you asked the company to cancel your subscription. Review your bank or credit card statements to make sure the recurring charge you have cancelled is no longer being taken from your account.

If the company continues to deduct the subscription after you have tried to cancel it you should get in touch with your bank about the possibility of getting a chargeback on your card.  You might need to give your bank proof that you have attempted to cancel through the company and been unsuccessful, for example send the bank a copy of the emails you have sent to the company. If all else fails your last resort may be to cancel your card and apply for a new one.