Free trial that turns out to be a monthly subscription: it’s a trap

News Release

September 20, 2017 – OTTAWA, ON – Competition Bureau

You are reviewing your bank or credit card statement when you stumble upon a charge that you can’t recall. The description doesn’t help either. The following month, the same charge appears, and again the next month. You’ve probably fallen into a subscription trap.

Typical subscription traps entice consumers -- usually via social media advertising, sponsored news articles or pop-up surveys on trusted websites -- to sign up for a “free trial” to access a “limited time offer”. The websites typically market a variety of goods like health or beauty products. Once you provide your credit card information to cover the small cost of shipping, you’ve unknowingly signed up for a monthly subscription and are now making monthly payments.

Subscription traps are difficult to identify and stop. Dishonest companies will use high pressure sales tactics to rush your decision. They’ll hide the link to the terms and conditions and pre-check sign-up or acceptance boxes. They can also resort to strict cancellation clauses that make it extremely difficult to stop delivery and billing. Sometimes, they’ll try to pass themselves off as a trusted company by using URLs that are very close to those of a company you know.

Before signing up for a free trial:

  • Research the company offering the product: If there are a lot of complaints, stay clear.
  • Read the terms and conditions carefully: Note requirements for cancellations, product returns, any time limits or additional charges/product orders. If you can’t find any or can’t understand them, don’t sign up.
  • Check if the order form has pre-checked boxes: These may sign you up for unwanted products and charges.
  • Know when the trial offer ends: Mark the date so you know when to cancel to avoid unwanted charges.
  • Consult a trusted review website: For example, the Better Business Bureau keeps an extensive database of reliable complaints and reviews on many companies and products. It will take only a few minutes to look up a product or company and make up your mind.
  • Trust your instinct: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

If you decide to order a free trial:

  • Carefully read your credit card statements for frequent or unknown charges.
  • Document your dealings with the company.
  • If you have difficulty cancelling your subscription, seek the assistance of your credit card provider, your local consumer protection organizations and/or law enforcement agencies

If you have been the victim of a subscription trap or other fraud, or if you have information about this type of scam, report it to the Competition Bureau. You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or your provincial consumer protection agency.

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