BBB: Be Wary of 'Free Trials'

March 26, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                            

Vancouver, BC – Many consumers have been contacting BBB lately about a marketing practice where they feel they have been taken for a ride. The common type of business involved in these complaints is online skin care products. They are showcased on slick websites that promise to rejuvenate the skin and make the customer look younger. What happens, however, is the customer signs up for a free trial and ends up enrolled in a ‘negative option claim.’

A Negative Option Claim is a marketing technique used by a seller to bill a consumer for an unsolicited service unless the consumer informs the seller they do not want the service. It is a policy that allows a customer’s inaction to be considered as an approval of renewal of services and charges.

Many times companies offer these free trials as long as the consumer pays for shipping and handling with a credit card. The fine print often explains that testing the skin care product is free, but you are in fact charged the full price if you decide to keep the product. As well, if you don’t return the product within a specified time, it is agreed that you have enrolled in their recurring payment plan to continue to receive the product.

“This is one of those marketing tactics we have provisions for in our Code of Advertising,’ says Evan Kelly, Senior Communications Advisor for BBB serving Mainland BC.  “That code stipulates that a business must ensure that the consumer affirmatively consents to the negative option feature before enrolling them into the plan.”

BBB offers some advice before signing up on seductive websites:

  • Do not give credit card information online to any organization where you did not initiate contact.
  • Do your research, read the fine print under terms and conditions and refund policies.
  • Go to to find Business Reviews.
  • Make sure to uncheck any ‘pre-checked’ boxes on the web order for that may automatically sign you up for continued payment.
  • Ignore pop-up ads and install pop-up blocker on your computer.
  • Avoid impulse buying.
  • Read Government of Canada Regulations on Negative Option Claim here.

“Complaints to BBB include things like credit card companies not allowing customers to dispute the charges because the consumer technically agreed to the terms and conditions or the return policy of the product is impossible to meet,” adds Kelly. “We want to remind the public that they really need to understand the terms and conditions so they are not throwing money away over a technicality that could have been avoided. And if the business is not informing you of the negative option or does not have your consent, you can always report it to us.”


Media Contacts:


 Evan Kelly, Senior Communications Advisor                                                                                                                                                           BBB Serving Mainland BC                                                                                                                                                                                          604-488-8702                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        404-788 Beatty Street                                                                                                                                                                                          Vancouver, BC                                                                                                                                                                                                                  V6B 2M1

About BBB:

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses and brands they can trust. In 2014, people turned to BBB more than 165 million times for BBB Business Reviews, all available for free at BBB Serving Mainland B.C., founded in 1939 and serving the Lower Mainland, Thompson-Okanagan, Northern, Central and Southern Interior BC, and the Yukon, is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America. In 2014, consumers turned to BBB Serving Mainland B.C. more than 1.8 million times for Business Reviews and processed 7,500 complaints.