It’s hard to go online these days without running into an offer for a free product or service. Free trials can be a practical way to sample something new before you make a financial commitment, however buyers must be aware that what often starts as a free trial can end up costing lots of precious time and money.
Some companies use free trials as a ploy to sign consumers up for more products and bill them every month without notice. The particularly dubious ones will trick consumers into expensive monthly membership programs through coupon savings, rebates or free trials. In many cases, consumers face huge challenges when trying to cancel monthly charges.
Thankfully, the Oregon Legislature passed new laws to rein in the deceptive use of promotional and free trial offers and negative option plans. Effective January 1, 2012, any person making a free offer or imposing a financial obligation on the consumer as a result of accepting such an offer must provide clear and conspicuous notice of the terms. Companies must also obtain the consumer’s affirmative consent before transferring their billing information to a third party and obtain affirmative consent to the terms of any automatic renewal plan. Note: This law does not apply to telecommunications companies (providers of internet, phone and cable television service).
Consumers can also take these affirmative steps to avoid the pitfalls of free or promotional offers:
Research. Do some basic online research about the company and the products or services they sell. Search DOJ’s online database of consumer complaints, Be InfORmed, to see whether anyone else expressed concern about the company.
Understand the terms and conditions. This includes offers online, on TV, in the newspaper, or on the radio. If you can’t find them or don’t fully understand what they mean, don’t sign up.
Look for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, watch out for boxes that are already checked. That checkmark may be a green light for the company to send your other products, share your billing information or waive the cancellation period.
Mark your calendar. Free trials almost always have a time limit. Make sure you cancel your order before that time is up. If you don't cancel before the trial period ends, your acceptance of a free trial offer may lock you in to other products and services.
Monitor your account. Check your credit and debit card statements on a regular basis to make sure you’re not being charged for stuff you didn’t order.
Steer clear of pop-ups. Pop-up ads offering free products often contain malware and viruses. Avoid clicking on them altogether.
If you experience a problem you cannot resolve with a company that offered you a free trial offer, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 or complete an online Consumer Complaint Form.
Learn More From the Federal Trade Commission
Information For Businesses
Applicable State Law: