The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of free trial offers online for diet pills, work at home jobs and teeth whiteners among other products and services. In this year alone, BBB has received thousands of complaints from consumers across the country who thought they were getting a free trial, but ended up losing often hundreds of dollars in recurring credit or debit card charges.
Ubiquitous deceptive online ads for “free trials” of various products and services can be found on popular sites like MSN.com, ESPN.com, and Weather.com. Often the ads link to websites of phony news outlets which, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, commonly feature the photo of a well-known French journalist—without her permission—under various names.
“Fighting deceptive free trial offers online continues to be a game of whack-a-mole,” said Fred T. Elsberry, Jr., President & CEO of the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia. “Just as soon as one company is put out of business it’s replaced by another with the same model of ripping consumers off under the guise of a no-risk free trial offer.”
One company behind these not-so-free trials is XM Brands which has an F rating with BBB. According to the nearly 2,000 complaints to the West Palm Beach BBB, the company sells roughly 40 teeth whiteners, acai diet pills and colon cleansers online. Complainants say they agreed to pay anywhere from $1.49 to $3.87 to cover shipping for the product trial but were charged as much as $87 a month, sometimes before they even received their trial in the mail. Complainants report getting the runaround from the company when they request refunds or ask to stop being billed; one consumer claims to have lost more than $860 as a result of recurring charges.
In just four months, Internet Cash Machines racked up more than 460 complaints from people who were interested in working from home, and has received an F grade from the Los Angeles-area BBB. Consumers say that they signed up for a free trial package of information costing $2.95 but were promptly charged as much as $149. Complainants also say they are unable to cancel by phone or email and have no way to prevent the typically $139-149 fee from being deducted from their account.
“Before signing up for any free trial offer, read the fine print carefully and always check the company out with the Better Business Bureau. You’ll save time and money by avoiding the hassle and recurring charges of some unscrupulous offers,” added Elsberry.
Additional advice on signing up for free trial offers is available at www.bbb.org/us/article/free-trial-offers--are-they-good-deals-425. Consumers who believe they have been misled by a free trial offer can file a complaint online with the BBB at www.bbb.org.