Information Technology

Posted on: January 11, 2018

Beware of "Free Trial" Offers

Krow What Lies Beneth Product Promises and Free Offers

Know what lies beneath product promises and offers

Lisa Lake 

Consumer Education Specialist, FTC 

Searching online for products to enhance your looks or health will yield tons of results — especially ads. As you look through those results, pay close attention to the product claims and sales offers. Some marketers mislead people about what their product does, who uses it, and how much it’ll cost you. 

For instance, a group operating as Tarr, Inc. settled FTC allegations that it ran a deceptive internet marketing campaign to sell weight-loss, muscle-building and wrinkle-reducing products. The FTC says Tarr used phony news stories and magazine reports, phony celebrity endorsements and customer testimonials, false claims, and sham "free trials" to sell the products. People agreed to pay the shipping costs for the trials, but Tarr allegedly didn’t make it clear that it would charge consumers for the trials and automatically enroll them in a subscription program unless they cancelled within a couple of weeks. In all, consumers paid about $180 million over five years for products that the FTC claims Tarr sold through deceptive marketing. 

Avoid getting scammed by deceptive product offers: 

  •  Read the fine print for a "low cost" or "free" trial offer. Look for terms such as enrollment in an ongoing subscription. This often means automatic debits or charges to your accounts. If you don’t understand the terms of the offer, don't sign up. 
  •  Watch for pre-checked boxes, which the company may claim gives it permission to keep billing you after the trial. Be sure to set a reminder of when the free trial period is over to avoid getting billed if you no longer want the product. 
  •  Learn how to spot phony news sites. These actually are elaborate ads created by marketers to look like news sites. 
  •  Be skeptical about products that promise miraculous results. And just because a celebrity or a believable-looking "customer" appears to be praising the product doesn’t mean it’s trustworthy. 

Tell the FTC if you experience a deceptive product offer 

Federal Trade Commission Website...
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