Watch out for "free trials" - - Jackson, MS

Watch out for "free trials"

Consumer experts warn: don't turn online shopping into an online scam! The government and Better Business Bureau received thousands of complaints this year from people who were tricked into paying hefty monthly charges after supposedly signing up for a free trial.

Visa did a survey and found almost one in three consumers have been tricked into buying something they thought was free. You're shopping online and see the magic words: "free trial!" But read on.

"After your trial period of 14 days, you're going to get charged every 30 days the same low price of $79.95," said the Better Business Bureau's Steve Salter. It's in the fine print hidden behind poorly labeled links.

"Legitimate marketers don't hide critical information," said David Vladeck of the Federal Trade Commission. And it's in small boxes that the company checks for you, getting your consent to charge your credit card every month. It's called "negative option billing."

"If there are pre-checked boxes, that's a danger sign something is wrong," Vladeck said. Visa's on the lookout and is punishing those merchants.

"We've removed more than 100 merchants from the Visa system," said Visa's William Sheedy.

Here's what you can do.

  • Check your merchant's record with the Better Business Bureau before you buy. They've got 4 million reports online.  "They should have a letter rating: A+ through F. If they have a bad rating - if they have a bad record with the BBB - be very, very careful about using them," Salter said.
  • Read the fine print.
  • Look for pre-checked boxes.
  • Review your credit card statement.
  • And if you are billed for something you didn't buy fight it. The FTC says contact the company first, then your credit card issuer. Most will reverse the charge while they investigate. You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

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