KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Some advertisements say you can try a product out for free before committing to it, but beware, some “free trials” aren’t always free and they may come with hidden fees.
Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained a court order barring 29 defendants who sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit branded skincare products. The Commission charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The agency’s original complaint, filed in June 2015, charged seven individuals and 15 companies with selling their skincare products through false advertisements for “risk-free trials.”
The scheme worked like this: Consumers clicked on the online ads and provided a credit or debit card for shipping and handling – typically $4.95 or less — but they usually didn’t understand that by doing so, they were also agreeing to continue getting more skin care products, every month, for $97.88, the FTC said.
In addition, the 10-day free trial period began the moment the order was placed – not when the product was received – meaning some consumers didn’t get their trial product until after the 10 days had passed or nearly passed. Consumers who tried to cancel and get their money back often were told it was too late to return the product, an FTC staff attorney told ABC News.
“These defendants tricked people into paying for skin care products and abused the credit card system to extend their scheme,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The Commission will continue to attack scams that rely on supposed ‘free trial’ offers and unauthorized credit card charges.”
The FTC also charged defendants with misrepresenting themselves as accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Before you sign up for a free trial online:
- Check the record of any online “free trial” offer by searching the name and the word “scam” to see what other consumers are saying. The FTC attorney says this can yield quick red flags about suspicious offers.
- Read the terms and conditions of any offer before signing up.
- Watch for pre-checked boxes on any online offer. You might be agreeing to something you didn’t want.
- If you have a problem, dispute it immediately with your credit card issuer (you may need to be persistent), and if you don’t get satisfaction, file a complaint at FTC.gov.
Don’t fall for these 5 infomercial money-grabbing tricks
Infomercials that sell shampoos, zit creams and the latest weight loss gadgets can be hard to turn away from. But before you pick up that phone, you should know that the low, low prices and easy monthly payments advertised are not always what you’ll pay.
“There are many problems with infomercials,” says Edgar Dworsky, the editor of consumer resource guide ConsumerWorld.org. “Not all of them are misleading, but many are.”
Leaving aside whether the miracle products really work as advertised (some do, but always check out online reviews at Amazon.com or elsewhere), you have to be careful and aware that the $19.95 price touted often will wind up being a lot more.
One popular tactic: adding high processing and handling fees. The company behind the Snuggie, Perfect Bacon Bowl and other “As Seen on TV” products agreed to pay $8 million in March to settle charges that it deceived customers. The Federal Trade Commission said costumers were led to believe they would be getting two $19.95 products for less than $10 each, but actually paid $35.85 when a processing and handling fee was added. Allstar Marketing Group said it always believed it followed the law and said that it has made changes to make costs easier to understand.
Still, bad players are out there. Here’s what to look out for:
1. STEALTH SUBSCRIPTIONS!
Get real close to the TV and read the fine print: Some marketers will automatically put customers on a subscription plan. That means customers will be charged periodically to ship products. This is especially common from those hawking face creams, hair conditioners and other beauty products. In the infomercial, a warning is often written in tiny print under the price, says Dworsky, who also edits MousePrint.org, which exposes the fine print in advertising.
2. EASY PAYMENTS — THAT ADD UP!
Break out the calculator: Expensive gadgets are sometimes broken up into “easy payments” that makes the product seem cheaper. They might say, for example, that you’ll pay $39.95 in four easy payments, adding up to $160.
3. BUY ONE GET ONE (NOT) FREE!
Freebies can be far from free. A “free second item” can sometimes come with high processing fees. Before making a purchase, customers should call and ask the company what the total charges will be, including shipping, handling and fees, says Dworsky.
4. UPSELL! UPSELL! UPSELL!
If you buy a product online or through the phone, you may be pushed to buy extra products you don’t need. If you fall for it, you’ll also likely pay extra processing, handling and shipping costs, pushing your bill even higher.
5. “TRIAL” PERIOD FOR A PRICE!
Be aware that free trials aren’t forever (and sometimes trials aren’t even free), and ask what the cost would be if you decide to keep the product. “The price shown is often just the price of trying the product,” says Dworsky. “If you want to keep it, a much higher price is charged.” You should also be very clear on what you have to do if you decide to return the product, who pays for that shipping and how difficult it will be.