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  “Free Trial” Offer Scams

You've recently noticed those extra desserts are starting to catch up to your waistline and decide to lose some weight. While online, you notice a weight loss supplement from the acai berry that you can try out for free! You have nothing to lose other than the extra pounds if you order the supplement, right?


In 2009, the Better Business Bureau released its list of the top 10 scams plaguing the country. Among the scams listed were “Acai Supplements and Other ‘Free' Trial Offers.” Many Americans continue to fall for the ads offering free trials of teeth whiteners and acai health or weight loss supplements.

Many of the offers are advertised to consumers online. They claim a “no-risk, money back guarantee” trial period, but they neglect to make it clear that they will charge your credit card on a monthly basis if you do not cancel within a certain number of days after your initial order. Consumers have complained that when they do try to cancel their membership, no one is available to take their calls, they are put on hold for more than an hour or their time frame to cancel has already expired. They are tricked into thinking the cancellation time frame begins after receiving the product, when it may actually start on the initial shipping date.

A number of “free trial” offers are presented to consumers as “upsells” when the consumer buys another product in response to a television or magazine advertisement. Consumers who call to buy a product are often offered a trial membership in a buying club, travel club, or some other service. Similarly, the consumer is not clearly informed that their credit card will be charged if they do not affirmatively cancel by a specified date. And because the seller already has the consumer's credit card information from the consumer's purchase, consumers do not realize that their card will be charged for the “upsell” as well because the operator did not need to ask for their credit card number.

Other advertisements may offer a “free” product if you pay shipping and handling charges, but the shipping and handling charges may exceed the value of the product.

The golden rule with any offer is to remember: there's no such thing as a free lunch. Make sure you get all of the details of any offer before you say “yes.”

If you become a victim of a free trial scam, contact your credit card company, and ask it to remove the charges.

In addition, you should also file a complaint against the company with the Consumer Protection Division by calling 410-528-8662 or 1-888-743-0023, or online at www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer. You should also call the same numbers before you place an order to see whether any complaints have been filed against the company. You can also check a company's complaint history with the Better Business Bureau by visiting its website at www.bbb.org.


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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