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BBB Tip of the Week: Free trials not always free

Free trials not always free: Free trials are used to market all kinds of products. But be on your guard. Free-to-pay conversions can be hidden by prechecked boxes and tricky fine print. If you don’t take quick action, you’ll get charged monthly fees. Sometimes even if you do cancel before the free trial period ends, the company will only offer a partial refund or will pitch you even more free trials.

One unscrupulous tactic we’ve seen at the BBB over the years is the free trial that requires you to hand over your financial information so you can be billed for a small shipping and handling fee. Then the marketer posts huge charges to your account.

It is a good idea to ask the following questions about any free trial you’re considering:

• 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? 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 are billed for services or products you don’t want and didn’t order, file formal complaints with the BBB, your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. Make your bank and credit card company aware of the situation and that you are not authorizing automatic payments from your account.

More info or report scams: Visit the BBB at Call (509) 455-4200 or (800) 356-100, or sign up to receive our Scam Alerts at

Holly Doering, BBB