A free trial can be a practical way to try something new before making a financial commitment. However, they can also end up costing precious time and money if you’re not careful.
Some companies use free trial offers as a ploy, to sign you up for more products and bill every month without notice. Some will even trick you into expensive monthly membership programs through coupon savings, rebates or free trials. In many cases, canceling the monthly charges is a challenging and difficult process.
Oregon has laws to rein in the deceptive use of promotional and free trial offers. Anyone making a free offer or imposing a financial obligation must provide clear notice of the terms.
Companies must also get consent before transferring your billing information to a third party and clear 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).
Tips for Using Free Trial Offers Safely
Take these steps to avoid the pitfalls of free or promotional offers:
- Do some basic online research about the company and the products or services they sell. Search the Oregon Department of Justice’s Consumer Complaints Database » to see whether anyone has 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 you 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 into 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 ». Do not click on them.
If you experience a problem you cannot resolve with a company that offered you a free trial, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 or complete an online Consumer Complaint Form ».