Beware of Free Trial Offers
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
Some consumers get charged for products or services and don't even know it. This happens especially with "free trial offers" for buying club memberships, travel clubs or "credit card protection plans." Then charges automatically go on a credit card or bank account when the free trial period ends. If you don't cancel within the "free trial offer period" (usually 30 days), you will be charged the monthly or annual membership fee. The expense shows up every month or every year until you take steps to stop the charges.
Questionable "free trial offers" may come in several ways:
On the phone. You may order a product or a ticket, or make a hotel or car reservation -then the telemarketer may ask you to consider a "free trial offer."
In mailings. Sometimes a bank or credit card mailing includes a check payable to you for a small amount like $5 or $10. The check may have in fine print on the back that you agree to join some kind of buyers club or program with a monthly or annual charge if you cash the check.
Over the Internet. You may order something over the Internet and then a "pop-up" or screen offers you "cash back" or the like, which may involve a "free trial offer" and later unexpected charges.
Remember, if you made a purchase, sellers may already have access to charge your credit card or checking account, or they may ask you to provide your number again. If you accepted the free trial offer, then they may bill you after the free trial period without further approval from you.
So what do you do if you are being billed for something you thought was free? Your first steps should be to:
- Contact the creditor in writing with your complaint. Explain that you did not request this service and you dispute the bill. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records.
- Also contact your bank or credit card company right away and contest the charges. Ask them to no longer accept future charges from this seller. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you must send your credit card company a notice in writing that you are disputing the charges. The notice must be sent by mail and the credit card company must get the notice within 60 days from the date of the statement with the charge you are disputing.
- You will also want to ensure that these charges are not hurting your credit report. You can review your credit report for free one time per year by visiting: www.annualcreditreport.com. Your credit report will show reports from the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If the charges are showing up on your credit report, you may want to contest the charges with these reporting companies as well.
If the creditor continues to bill you for the free service, you could file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The website is: www.bbb.org
If the previous steps don't produce the result you want, you could also file a complaint with the Attorney General. To file a complaint, write to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover State Office Building, 1305 E. Walnut St., Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (toll-free.) The website is:
Don't be trapped by "free trial offers"
Reject a free trial offer unless you are sure it is something you will use. Make it very clear to a phone solicitor that you are declining an offer. Don't cash checks mailed to you that might trick you into signing up for a program and paying for it.
Examine your credit card bill every month, and also your checking account statement, mortgage statement, and phone bill. Watch for unauthorized charges, and dispute them at once, in writing.
Watch your mail carefully. Some cancellation notices look like junk mail.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org