Free Trial Offers: Are They Really Free?


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We’ve all seen them. Free Trial Offers are everywhere – on TV and online. Who doesn’t want to try something new for free? The question is, do they all stand up to the test of transparency in advertising? The Answer: Not always.

Quite often that “free trial” turns into an expensive, long-term commitment that you didn’t sign up for – or so you think. While most businesses try to advertise honestly, the dishonest ones will try a number of tactics to hook you into paying more than you bargained for initially.

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that “some companies use free trials to sign you up for more products — sometimes lots of products — which can cost you lots of money as they bill you every month until you cancel.”

Here are some of the tricks to look out for in a “Free Trial Offer” advertisement:

  • Vague or no information on when the offer ends.
  • Hard-to-read or nonexistent Terms and Conditions.
  • Pre-Checked boxes in sign up form.
  • Restrictive Cancellation and Returns Policy.
  • Excessive Shipping and Handling Fees with respect to the value of the free trial item.
  • Automatic Enrollment in a Subscription Program that you did not authorize.

How to Avoid the Tribulations of Free Trial Offers:

  • Don’t click on unsolicited Free Offer links in emails or from a pop-up website.
  • Do your homework. Check out the business at to see if the business has any advertising or sales issues complaints or negative reviews.
  • If the Free Trial advertisement does not display its terms of service and expiration date of the offer, walk away.
  • When filling out the Free Trial registration form, be sure to uncheck all the pre-checked boxes that give the business permission to send you additional offers or to enroll you into a subscription program.
  • Keep a close eye on your monthly credit card statement for recurring charges that you did not authorize.
  • If you decide you no longer want to use the product or service, be sure to cancel before the free trial ends.

For more information, go to Are Free Offers Really Free?.  Also check out the FTC video, Free Trials Can Cost You. Source: United States Federal Trade Commission, – not subject to copyright protection. 17 U.S.C. 403

To find a business you can trust, check out To report a scam, go to

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