The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of free trial offers for e-cigarettes. Sounds like an unusual product to buy, however, over the past twelve months, BBB has received hundreds of complaints from consumers across the country who thought they were getting a free trial, but ended up losing often hundreds of dollars in recurring credit or debit card charges.
Ubiquitous deceptive online websites for said “free trials” are even falsely attributing news stations like ABC and CBS to the promotion of their products.
“Fighting deceptive free trial offers online continues to be a game of whack-a-mole,” said Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Just as soon as one company is put out of business it’s replaced by another with the same model of ripping consumers off under the guise of a no-risk free trial offer.”
One company behind these not-so-free trials is Smoke Freely, LLC, which has an F rating with BBB. According to the more than 300 complaints to the BBB serving Central, Northern and Western Arizona, the company lures in its customers by claiming that they will receive a free trial of smokeless cigarettes just by paying the shipping and handling costs. However, consumer complainants say that after agreeing to pay the $9.95 shipping and handling costs, they were repeatedly charged $149.90 along with a variety of other miscellaneous charges. Complainants report getting the runaround from the company when they request refunds or ask to stop being billed; one consumer claims to have lost more than $640 as a result of recurring charges.
Another scam to note, Smoke Assist, racked up more than 130 complaints from people who were interested in the free trial of e-cigarettes, and has received an F grade from the Los Angeles-area BBB. Consumers say that they signed up for a free trial package of e-cigarettes costing $19.95 for shipping and handling, but were promptly charged as much as $90. Complainants also say they are unable to cancel by phone or e-mail and have no way to prevent the typically $90 fee from being deducted from their account.
“Before signing up for any free trial offer, read the fine print carefully and always check the company out with BBB. You’ll save time and money by avoiding the hassle and recurring charges of some unscrupulous offers,” added Cox.
BBB, along with the Federal Trade Commission, suggest you ask the following questions before signing up for a free trial:
• Is the free trial offer related to a membership, subscription or extended service contract?
• Do I have to contact the company to avoid receiving more merchandise or services?
• Who do I contact to cancel?
• Will I receive other products with the free item? If so, will I have to pay for them or send them back if I do not want them? How long do I have to decide before incurring a charge?
• Is there a membership fee? If so, is it refundable?
• Will you automatically bill my credit card for anything?
• Who is offering the trial – you or another company? What is the name and address of the company?
Additional advice on signing up for free trial offers is available at www.bbb.org/us/article/free-trial-offers--are-they-good-deals-425. Consumers who believe they have been misled by a free trial offer can file a complaint online with the BBB at www.bbb.org.