For centuries, consumers have believed when they were told something was 'Free' that it really was. Not always true in today's world. Free trial offers are used by many companies to sell everything from books to CDs, from magazines to Internet access. Free trial offers can be a great way to try out new products or services without making a long-term commitment. You should be aware, however, that by accepting a free trial offer, you might be agreeing to buy additional products and services, if you do not cancel within a specified period of time.
It’s called Negative Option Marketing and according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Negative Option Marketing is a term used to “broadly refer to a category of commercial transactions in which the seller interprets a customer’s failure to take an affirmative action, either to reject an offer or cancel an agreement, as assent to be charged for goods or services.”
Before you accept a free trial offer, be sure you know what your obligations will be. For example, you may have to contact the company to cancel during the trial period to avoid receiving goods or services or to avoid paying for what you have already received. By not canceling, you may be agreeing to let the company enroll you in a membership, subscription or service contract, and to charge the fees to your credit card.
Pay close attention to the “material” terms advertisers use. According to the law, companies must clearly and prominently disclose the material terms of their trial offers before you give your consent. Material terms may include:
Free trial offers are promoted through all types of media: newspaper and magazine ads, TV and radio commercials, direct mail, the phone and online. In print ad offers, the material terms may appear in fine print as a footnote at the bottom of a page, or on the back of the offer. To protect yourself, read the entire offer carefully before you decide whether it is a good deal for you. When offers are made orally – whether by radio, TV or on the phone – listen carefully to the message. If you do not understand the details, ask the caller to repeat the terms and conditions as many times as it takes until you understand. Or, ask them to send you the terms and conditions in writing. Never give into pressure to agree to a deal.
When ordering online, don't click too fast. Review the order form. Look for pre-checked boxes. You may be giving permission to send you more products that you'll have to pay for if you don't cancel, or you may be agreeing to a strict cancellation policy and not know it.
The BBB suggests you ask the following questions:
Be sure to research any company with the BBB prior to placing an order but if you do experience a problem with a free trial offer, try to resolve it with the seller first. If you are dissatisfied with the response, contact the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) or the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov).
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: www.bbb.org or E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org