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Educational Consumer Tips

Free Trial Offers

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:

Free Trial Offers: Are They Good Deals?

Free trial offers are used by many companies to sell everything
from books to CDs, from magazines to Internet access. 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.

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:

* how much time you have to cancel before you incur charges;
* the fact that by accepting the trial offer, you are actually
agreeing to be enrolled in a membership, subscription or
service contract or agreeing to pay for additional products and
services if you do not cancel within the trial period;
* the cost or range of costs of goods or services you will
receive if you do not cancel during the trial period;
* how to cancel during the trial period;
* whether you will be charged a non-refundable membership fee
if you do not cancel within the trial period; and,
* whether fees will be charged automatically to the credit
card you used to buy other goods or services.

Trial offers are promoted through all types of media: newspaper
and magazine ads, TV and radio commercials, direct mail, and the
phone and Internet. 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.

The BBB, along with the Federal Trade Commission, suggest you
ask the following questions:

* 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?

If you have a problem with a trial offer, try to resolve it with
the seller first. If you are dissatisfied with the response,
contact the BBB (www.bbb.org), Federal Trade
Commission (www.ftc.gov) or your local consumer protection
agency.