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Consumer Advisory Bulletin- July 2010

Beware of “Free Trial Offers”

Study your billing statements for unauthorized charges.

Some consumers are being charged for products or services and they don't even know it. This happens especially when consumers receive “free trial offers” for buying club memberships, travel clubs, or “credit card protection plans” -- and then are charged automatically on their credit cards or bank accounts when the free trial period ends.

Consumers often are surprised when – and if – they discover the unexpected charges. The problem seems to stem from two things: First, consumers may not realize a seller already may have the key information to bill their credit card or checking account. Second, some sellers may use questionable tactics to put the burden on the consumer to cancel.

If you don’t cancel within the “free trial offer period” (usually 30 days), you will then be charged the monthly or annual membership fee, possibly as much as $100 or more. And you may be charged repeatedly every month or every year if you don’t cancel. And you may not even notice the charges!


Questionable “free trial offers” may come in several ways:

  • On the phone.You may order a product or a ticket, or make a hotel or car reservation – and then the telemarketer may ask you to consider a “free trial offer.”

  • In mailings. For example, a bank or credit card mailing may include a check made payable to you for a small amount (say, $10) -- but it may have fine print on the back of the check that states you will be signed up for some kind of buyers club or program, and a monthly or annual charge if you cash the check.

  • Over the Internet. You may order something over the Internet and then a “pop-up” or screen offers you “cash back” or the like, which may involve a “free trial offer” and later unexpected charges.

Remember, sellers may already have access to charge your credit card or checking account, or they may ask you to provide your number again -- and then they may bill you after the free trial period without further approval from you. They may count on you not expecting to be billed, not noticing the charges, or not noticing if they send you a mail notice and you discard it as “junk mail.” Some unscrupulous sellers may start billing you even if you decline the free trial offer!

Don’t be trapped by “free trial offers”:

  • Reject a free trial offer unless you are sure it is something you will use. Make it very clear to a phone solicitor that you are declining an offer. Don't cash checks mailed to you that might trick you into signing up for a program, and paying for it.

  • Examine your credit card bill every month, and also your checking account statement, mortgage statement, and phone bill. Watch for unauthorized charges, and dispute them at once, in writing.

  • Watch your mail carefully. (Some cancellation notices look like junk mail.)

To file a complaint, write to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (toll-free.) The web site is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org

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