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BBB warns: Be wary of 'free trial' offers

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Posted at 6:25 AM, Nov 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-21 08:40:21-05

The Better Business Bureau is commending a pair of celebrities for bringing attention to online scams that start with some sort of free trial.

Those trials are hard, sometimes almost impossible, to get out of once an illegitimate company has your credit card information.

In a recent warning, the BBB said it's received "more than 6,600 complaints and reports from consumers in the U.S. and Canada about problematic free trial offers.

"This is a really bad scam. People, we figure, are losing over a billion dollars on this," said James Temmer, President & CEO of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.

Temmer said the free trials typically ask for a credit card up front - sometimes to cover a product's small, shipping and handling fee.

But here's the catch: the policy for canceling the free trial is often hidden in small print, or even behind other links within a company's website, if it's even disclosed at all.

The BBB recently praised Sandra Bullock and Ellen DeGeneres for taking legal action against companies the celebrities alleged had been using their likenesses to promote free trials to products without getting permission first.

Temmer said such phony celebrity endorsements are a common problem associated with advertised free trials of products or services -- especially when the ads show up on social media or other online websites.

"These are fake videos to try and give those products credibility, which they don't have," Temmer said. "Then they sucker you in with the free sample."

A recent article in Consumer Reports notes legitimate companies, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, offer free trials with available and straightforward instructions for cancellation.

The BBB recommends researching a company before signing up for any type of free trial. It's also important to find and read through the free trial's cancellation policy ahead of time.

If a product or service claims to have a celebrity endorsement, the BBB said you can check that celebrity's social media accounts for verification.