Subscription traps: “no-strings attached” trial offers could leave you with your hands tied

News release

How to dodge the free trial sinkhole

March 11, 2020 - GATINEAU, QC - Competition Bureau

“Tick-tock, time is running out! Take advantage of this free trial offer now!” We’ve all seen them: social-media ads that promise to send a free, no-obligation trial product directly to your home for only a small shipping and handling fee. You might be tempted by that free trial of weight-loss pills, muscle-enhancement pills or anti-wrinkle serum, especially if there’s a timer counting down to the end of this “limited time offer”. Step back and set your own clock!

By accepting certain online “trial offers,” you could end up with:

  • charges for the full cost of that trial product.
  • an unwanted subscription for expensive, monthly products.
  • charges for products you’re certain you didn’t order at all!

Here’s how to avoid the free-trial trap:

  • Take 5: Wait, even just five minutes, to stop and think before entering your credit card information. Resist high-pressure sales tactics like pop-up surveys, customer queues, or countdown timers. These are designed to discourage you from taking time to fully understand the offer and decide if it’s right for you.
  • Be skeptical: Question statements and slogans that seem too good to be true. Don’t take celebrity endorsements at face value. Often, celebrity images are used without consent.
  • Find and read the terms and conditions: The terms and conditions might be buried in hard-to-spot, small-font web links or they may not be there at all! They’re even harder to see if you’re viewing the offer on a small screen, like a smartphone or tablet. If you can’t find or understand the terms and conditions, don’t sign up for the trial.
  • Beware of added upsell products: Clicking “proceed to checkout” or “complete my order” may automatically add more products to your order. To avoid further charges, look for the fine print.
  • Research: Do an online search for the company or product with the words “complaint” and “scam” to help find potential issues. Do some comparison-shopping if the product is available elsewhere.
  • Use your browser’s ad blocker: You can use ad blockers to hide social media ads, pop-up surveys and sponsored “news” articles.

If you do sign up for a free trial, protect yourself:

  • Keep all receipts, emails and text messages.
  • Check your credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges.
  • Know that you can contact your financial institution to request a stop payment because of suspected fraud.
  • Remember that there is no shame in being the victim of a scam. Report suspected fraud and help the authorities and others like you.

The Competition Bureau addresses false and misleading conduct in the marketplace. If you believe you have been misled by a free trial offer, contact the Competition Bureau and file a complaint by phone at 1-800-348-5358 or online.

You can also file a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC); the Better Business Bureau or your provincial / territorial consumer protection agency.

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