“Look 20 years younger! Wrinkle cream free trial – $150 value!”

You have likely seen these ads while browsing the web or being social on Facebook. Have you ever tried these products or thought about trying them? It says it’s free…but is it really? Our inquiry centre has recently received calls about these online free trial products – some people asking questions and others found that they had inadvertently agreed to receive expensive products on an ongoing basis. Here are some things to look for before you consider saying yes to “free trial” products.

Before you order:

  • Did the ad come up on a pop-up screen while browsing the web or on your Facebook newsfeed or sidebar? Be cautious! Many legitimate companies advertise online but before ordering anything, it’s important to know who you are doing business with and fully understand the offer.
  • Check to see if other consumers have written feedback on the company. You may also want to contact a local Better Business Bureau and find out if the company has been rated.

If you decide to order:

  • Get all the details of the free trial. Do they have a return policy? Do they charge for shipping and how many days would it take for the products to arrive? Will you receive and be billed for subsequent products? These should be in the terms and conditions. If it’s not stated in an obvious place, look for it! If you still can’t find it, you may want to contact the company so you can fully understand how the free trial works.
  • Be aware that when you click that “I agree” button when buying online, that you are entering into a contract and accepting the contract terms and conditions so watch out for pre-checked boxes. If the site asks for your credit card information, we recommend that you don’t proceed with placing an order, even if it states that it’s only for a shipping fee.
  • If you do go ahead and order, print out and keep a copy of the contract.

If your free trial has gone wrong:

  • If you got charged for the “free trial” products or were sent (and charged for) additional products, call your credit card company to request a chargeback. Take a look at this blog post and learn how to request a refund from your credit card provider.
  • Remember for the next time, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Are there laws around buying / selling online?

In BC, when you buy products or services online you may be entering a contract called a distance sales contract. With this type of contract, you don’t enter into the contract in person and you don’t have the opportunity to inspect the goods before purchasing. Consumer Protection BC regulates certain aspects of distance sales contracts in BC, including what’s required to be in the contract. The law in BC also requires the business to disclose certain information in a clear manner, including cancellation, return, exchange and refund policies. We have more information on online purchases on our website.

Being a savvy consumer may require a lot of knowledge these days especially when it comes to online shopping but we hope this blog post provided you with a little extra information.

Additional Reading:

Free trial traps: how to identify them and what to do if you’re stuck
Tips about free trial offers from the Federal Trade Commission (please note that the article is from the US so some may not be applicable in Canada).