BBB Study Shows Free Trial Offers Mislead Consumers

The internet is rife with ads and links leading to pictures of celebrities and “miracle” products that promise easy weight loss, whiter teeth or disappearing wrinkles. 

You may be enticed to try these products through a “risk-free” trial: Just enter your name, address and credit card number, and the product will be on its way for only a nominal shipping and handling charge. 

An in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau,however, finds that many of these free trial offers are not free. BBB receives complaints from free trial offer victims nearly every day and warns consumers to use extreme caution before agreeing to the offer and entering their credit card number. 

The investigative study looks at how free trial offers ensnare consumers in so-called “subscription traps” that hook them for expensive shipments of products they did not explicitly agree to buy. 

Many free trial offers come with fine print, buried on the order page or with a link that gives consumers only a short period of time to receive, evaluate and return the product to avoid often being charged $100 or more. 

The study found that many of the celebrity endorsements in these ads are faked. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission - ranging from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Mike Rowe, Tim Allen and Sally Field. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.

And they’re working, often on women who make up 72 percent of the victims but men are also being targeted.   They’re hawking products ranging from anti-wrinkle cream and weight loss pills to male performance enhancing pills.

Linda Stodola is sharing her experience with one of these scams. She bought a skin cream that claimed to be endorsed by Christie Brinkley and before she knew it, she was caught in a subscription scam.

“When I called the company and complained, that's when I learned that there's a subscription involved with it where they will send me a 30-day supply every month and charge me likewise."

The Better Business Bureau says to check a celebrity's social media to verify that the do in fact endorse the product you want. And always read the fine print - no matter how hard it is to find.

The Better Business Bureau says to watch out for the following signs of a scam.

  • Surprise celebrity endorsements
  • Too-good-to-be true claims
  • Free trial offers
  • The need for a credit card for shipping
  • Websites with no contact information and subscription information hidden in fine print




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