'Free Trials' Not So Free, It Turns Out

Lisa Fielding
December 12, 2018 - 4:28 pm

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding


CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Debbie Wagner thought she was signing up for a free trial of a new wrinkle cream.

"I ordered the free trial,” she said. “After a couple of months of receiving the product, which I didn't sign up for, I called the number and they told me they'd give me 25 percent reimbursement of the first offer. But they continued to charge me for about four months, and it was well over a $100 each month. I didn't even want or like the product."

Wagner isn't alone. From diet pills to wrinkle creams, the Internet is full of ads and links leading to pictures of celebrities and miracle products that are promised to be free.

"A recent study looked at these so-called free trials," said Steve Bernas, President, CEO of the Better Business Bureau.

"Fraudsters have turned such offers into a global multi-billion-dollar industry that grows each and every year. Sometimes, there can be nothing more expensive than a free trial offer," Bernas said Wednesday.

Data shows that complaints about "free trials” more than doubled from 2015 to 2017, and the BBB has received nearly 37,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports over the last three years.

"We see these offers and ads on social media, websites, touting amazing weight-loss results, magically wrinkle-free skin or bright, sparkling teeth. Those are the types of ads that lead to free trial offer schemes," said Jason Adler, regional office director for the FTC.

Bernas said celebrity scams are also on the rise.

"The majority of these celebrity endorsements are fake. They range from Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Mike Rowe, Tim Allen, even Sally Field,” he said.

"Ellen DeGeneres once said, if my lips aren't moving, I didn't endorse the product."

Adler said there are ways to protect yourself.

"First, do your research. Search the name of the company and look for reviews. See what others are saying about this free trial. Read the terms and conditions, find out how to cancel. Do you have a limited time to cancel? Lastly, look at your credit and debit card statements.”

If you think you've been a victim of a scam, contact the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org or report it to the Federal Trade Commission or call 877-FTC-HELP.