Beware of 'free trial' scams on the internet

Beware of “free trial” scams on the internet, the Indiana attorney general's office is warning.

You may think you're paying a small fee for shipping and handling, but the hidden terms and conditions of the offer may require you to pay a larger fee if you don't return the product within a few days.

The terms of the offer may also require you to pay for monthly shipments.

“Deceptive free trial offers permeate the internet, often using big claims and celebrities to lure consumers,” said Tim Maniscalo, BBB Central Indiana president and CEO. “Before accepting any offer, it’s crucial that consumers understand all terms and conditions by carefully reading the fine print.”

From Attorney General Curtis Hill's office:

Attorney General Curtis Hill today warned Hoosiers to beware of “free trial” scams proliferating on the internet. These ads, often featuring fake celebrity endorsements, frequently tout products promising to help people improve their physical well-being by losing weight, looking younger or increasing energy. Over the last 10 years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has documented losses of more than $1.3 billion in cases of this type. Now the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has announced it is targeting such scams via a national campaign.

Although some companies offer legitimate free trial offers, an investigation by the Better Business Bureau has found that many online advertisements for such offers are deceptive. Consumers may provide their credit-card information in the belief that they only are paying a small fee for shipping and handling. They may neglect to read the terms and conditions – sometimes contained in a separate link – explaining that unless consumers return the product within a few days they will be billed a larger fee (sometimes more than $100). In addition, the terms and conditions may also state that consumers are signing up to receive monthly shipments of the products for which they also will be billed.

“Consumer protection is an important focus of my office,” said Attorney General Hill. “We must use every available tool to safeguard Hoosiers from scammers trying to take people’s money or steal their identities. One way we make progress on this front is through collaboration with partners such as the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. I’m pleased to be working with both of them in this effort to combat deceptive free trial offers.”

Representatives from the BBB and the FTC joined Attorney General Hill at a Statehouse press conference today to bring attention to the dangers posed to consumers.

“Deceptive free trial offers permeate the internet, often using big claims and celebrities to lure consumers,” said Tim Maniscalo, BBB Central Indiana President and CEO. “Before accepting any offer, it’s crucial that consumers understand all terms and conditions by carefully reading the fine print.”

Todd Kossow, director of the FTC’s Midwest Region in Chicago, said his agency continues to vigorously investigate such scams.

“The Federal Trade Commission is proud to partner with the Indiana Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau to help get the word out about free trial offer schemes and the steps consumers should take to avoid them,” Kossow said. “The FTC will continue, through aggressive enforcement, to stamp out schemes that can cost consumers hundreds of dollars a month under the guise of a ‘risk-free trial.’ ”

If you believe you have been the victim of any type of scam or attempted scam, the Office of the Attorney General can help. Go to indianaconsumer.com or call 1-800-382-5516 to file a complaint.