You’ve seen them on the internet: ads or links leading to pictures of celebrities and products that sound intriguing. The ads claim these “miracle” products will help you lose weight easily, combat wrinkles or whiten teeth. Often, fraudulent operations involved with these types of ads employ the latest internet marketing techniques and professional looking websites.
You may be enticed to try these products through a “risk-free” trial. You might think they seem like a good deal. You only have to pay $1.95 for shipping and handling. The claims look plausible, and celebrities would not endorse a product unless they believed it works. There may be a risk that the product doesn’t work as claimed, but it costs next to nothing to find out. Just enter your name, address and credit card number and act quickly; supplies are limited.
Better Business Bureau’s (BBB’s) in-depth investigative study found that many of these free trial offers are not free. They do not just send free product samples to try. If you can locate and read the fine print on the order page, or the terms and conditions buried by a link, you’ll discover that you may have only 14 days to receive, evaluate and return the product to avoid being charged $100 or more. In addition, the same hidden information may state that by accepting the offer, you’ve also signed up for monthly shipments of the products. Those also will be charged to your credit card and become subscription traps. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments and get a refund.
The study found that many of the celebrity endorsements are fake. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission, ranging from Oprah Winfrey, Chrissy Teigen and Ellen DeGeneres to Mike Rowe, Tim Allen and Sally Field. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.
BBB receives complaints from free trial offer victims nearly every day and warns consumers to use extreme caution before agreeing to the offer and entering their credit card information. The chance of encountering this type of deception is high; they have infested the internet and social media. Solving this issue will require widespread education, law enforcement and work by credit card companies to recognize these types of fraudulent activities and deter access to the credit card system.
Losses in cases of this type pursued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the last ten years total more than $1.3 billion. Fraudsters have created a global multi-billion-dollar industry.
Free trial offers can be legitimate ways to introduce new products. Credible companies make sure consumers understand what they are signing up for and do not hide key information.
What should you do if you believe you have been a victim of a free trial offer fraud?
- Complain to the company directly.
- If that is not successful call the customer service number on the back of your credit card to complain to the bank.
- Complain to www.bbb.org
- Report the fraud to www.bbb.org/scamtracker
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-Help
- Report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3
- Report suspicious, confusing or misleading ads to BBB AdTruth.