Free trial offers are everywhere these days — for streaming services, subscriptions, various types of products and more. Seems like a great deal — why pay for something until you’re sure that you like it?
That’s the idea, but unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legit free (or super cheap) offer and one that’s a total ripoff.
How ‘free trial’ offers can cost you big
Regardless of the product or service, trial offers of any kind can be very risky for your wallet.
The most obvious danger is our own forgetfulness. You sign up with every intention of canceling before the trial period ends, then of course you forget — and all you’re left with is a totally unnecessary bill for something you probably didn’t even want in the first place.
Most trial offers aren’t just a nice gesture — the idea is to get as many people as possible to sign up, while the company hopes that most of them will either forget to cancel or just choose not to deal with it (or ideally, decide they love the product or service…).
According to a recent report by an NBC affiliate in L.A., what appears to be a great trial offer for skin products has been circulating on social media — and it’s causing people big problems.
NBC 4 shared the story of a woman who said she clicked on a link on Facebook that appeared totally legit, thinking she was getting a great deal.
She paid a $4.95 trial fee for a skin product called “Brio” and said everything about the offer seemed great.
“It looked authentic and I thought, gee this could be something, look at the faces. They looked kind of wrinkly, then they looked really good in the next shot,” the woman told NBC.
But while stunning before and after photos may be super appealing, they may be just as deceptive.
Read more: Beware of fake Facebook offers
What you see is NOT what you get
Any time you see an advertisement or online post with totally amazing before and after photos, you need to think twice before you click.
Of course there are plenty of real products out there that can produce incredible results — and prove it with shocking images of the before and after — but unfortunately, not all of those images are genuine.
Why you need to read the fine print
What many people don’t realize is that when you sign up for a free trial, or any other type of trial offer, you typically agree to a lot more than you think.
With most free trial offers, you have to agree to the terms upfront and then when the trial period ends, you will automatically be charged unless you cancel before the deadline.
In many cases, when you agree to the terms of a trial offer, you not only agree to recurring automatic shipments of the product you signed up for, but you also agree to buy several other products.
When the woman who signed up for the skin care product trial agreed to the terms, she didn’t realize she was actually agreeing to receive, and pay for, several other products at the same time — and that it would all be billed to the same card she used for what she thought was a one-time trial fee of only $4.95.
Over the past several years, the subscription-based sales model has become an increasingly popular way for companies to attract new customers — especially when there’s a special offer involved. The idea is to bring people in and do whatever you can to keep them.
That’s why the initial sign-up is so crucial for businesses — because once you agree to the terms, the company assumes you want to continue receiving shipments from the subscription indefinitely, unless you specifically tell the company otherwise.
In this case, Brio refers to it as an “evergreen” subscription — explaining that if you do not return the cream within 14 days of receiving it, you agree to an “evergreen” (indefinite) subscription to receive the company’s skin cream for $109 a month.
On the Brio website, the company outlines each different package offer and price — then at the bottom of the page, there is a long explanation of how exactly the trial package works:
Here are the terms explained on the product’s website:
* IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING TRIAL OFFER
To help you get started, Company offers a 14 day trial of Brio Day and Night Serum (“Product”), together with an automatic enrollment in Company’s evergreen subscription. We are confident that you will enjoy the Product and invite you to try it. You are only eligible to receive one 14 day trial use from the Company. The 14 day trial contains a full 30 day supply and an automatic enrollment in an evergreen subscription. By submitting an order for a trial offer, you agree to pay the non-refundable, discounted Shipping & Handling cost of $4.95. If the Product is not right for you, please contact Customer Service at 1-877-862-9840 to process a cancellation. You may also send an email with the written subject heading “Cancellation”, to email@example.com. If your email does not contain the proper subject heading, your cancellation may not be processed. Your 14-day trial use period begins from the date you submit your order through the Website. You must cancel your trial before the expiration of the 14 day trial period in order to avoid automatic enrollment in an evergreen subscription. If you cancel your Subscription before the end of the 14-day trial use period you will receive an RMA number by email to return the product within 14 days from the issue date of RMA. If Company receives the product within the 14 day return period, Company WILL NOT charge you for the Product (though the Company will not refund amounts paid for Shipping and Handling), Company WILL NOT enroll you in an evergreen subscription, and Company WILL NOT deliver any additional Product to you. Our products are normally delivered within 3 to 5 business days from the order date. If you do not receive your Product within 5 business days after placing an order, please contact Customer Service to get an estimated delivery date and tracking information. If you do not cancel, in writing, before the end of the 14-day trial period, Company will charge the full retail price of $109.00 to your credit/debit card on file and will enroll you in an evergreen subscription. Evergreen Subscription – Customers enrolled in an, evergreen subscription will automatically receive a 30 day supply of the Product approximately every 30 days, without any further action. Company will charge your credit/debit card the retail purchase price amount of $115.94 ($109.00 + $6.94 Shipping & Handling) beginning thirty days after you place your original order and continuing every 30 days thereafter until you cancel your subscription in writing. The notices on the Website and in this Agreement constitute your only notices of the Subscription delivery/billing schedule and no further notice will be sent to you by the Company. To cancel your evergreen subscription contact Customer Service at 1-877-862-9840. You may also send an email with the written subject heading “Cancellation”, to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your email does not contain the proper subject heading, your cancellation request may not be processed.
How to avoid misleading offers online
According to NBC, after the woman agreed to the terms in order to pay for and receive the trial offer, she was then billed for several other skin care products — adding up to an extra $1,300.
On top of that, NBC also discovered that the images the woman saw online were in fact real before and after photos — of a woman who had received Botox injections.
Meanwhile on its website, Brio says its products allow you to “erase wrinkles and lines without Botox.”
Bottom line: what you see is not always what you get.
From “great deals” popping up on social media to late-night TV ads claiming to cure any and everything, it’s crucial that you always do a little extra research before handing over your card information for anything.
So before you sign up for any type of trial offer, here are a few things to look for and ways to protect yourself!
Red flags: Signs you need to do some in-depth research
- Ad or promotion shows extremely stunning or shocking before and after photos
- Offer contains words like “free trial,” “totally free,” “pay later” and requires payment info upfront
How to protect yourself
- For any subscription that requires your payment info, always use a credit card. Credit cards offer you much better protections in cases involving fraud, overcharges, over-billing etc.
- Do your research: Search for the product or service online and look for reviews, complaints and any other information that can help you determine if the offer is legit.
- Read the ENTIRE “terms of agreement”: If you can’t find it, don’t sign up!
- Make sure that you are able to cancel your subscription or account without getting charged. Then find out exactly when you need to cancel in order to avoid any charges.
- Set a reminder for yourself for when you need to cancel the subscription or account so you don’t forget! Otherwise, you could end up costing yourself a lot of wasted money.
If you’re charged for products you didn’t sign up for or didn’t want
- Contact the company to request a refund and cancel any pending or future charges.
- Contact your bank immediately to dispute the charges.