Read this before you sign up for a ‘risk-free’ trial


Perhaps you’ve been there: You run across a new service and want to give it a try, but it costs money. You think long and hard, but then you see that it has a “risk-free” trial. What could go wrong, right?

A new study from the Better Business Bureau says that many of those “risk-free” trials are anything but free. The offers, which usually come with “celebrity” endorsements or other lures, are oftentimes not what they seem if not outright fraudulent, the BBB says.

BBB: Why many ‘risk-free’ trials are anything but free

We get it: On the surface, doing a risk-free trial looks like it will save us money, allowing us to test a product or service before purchasing it fully. But the BBB says buyer beware.

The agency’s investigation unveiled that in many cases, offers for free product samples are outright lies and that many companies bury the stringent conditions in fine print.

“The study found that many of the celebrity endorsements are fake,” the BBB says. “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.”

“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.”

Most free-trial scams have a routine structure, which is unsubstantiated claim + way to pay. Here is a graphic that explains it from the BBB:

Read this before you sign up for a 'risk-free' trial
Photo credit: BBB

3 tips on how to handle ‘risk-free’ trials

So before you sign up for a “risk-free” trial, here’s what you should know:

  • Always read the fine print: That’s where you may discover that you only have 14 days (or less) to review and return the product to avoid charges.
  • Don’t fall into a subscription trap: Always locate the company’s phone number, address and other contact info before subscribing. “Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments and get a refund,” the BBB says.
  • Don’t use a debit card: If you do sign up for one of these trials, don’t use a debit card, use a credit card. A credit card has more consumer protections and essentially uses the bank’s money rather than yours. If something goes wrong, the bank always works harder and has a greater incentive to get its money back.

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