Those “free trial” product offers really aren’t so “free”…

Have you ever ordered a trial product because everyone is talking abut it? Many of us do. There is no end to the number of companies that advertise online for you to “try” their product free of charge.

The trial of products for free is a marketing tool that works for many business models, however it is open to abuse and there are many companies out there who do abuse this marketing tool to defraud consumers.

The way most of these deals work is as follows; the company puts up online ads with “testimonials” from alleged customers who think their product is exceptional. This sparks interest. After all a product must work if so many people are singing it’s praises right? Then the company follows up these “testimonials” with a trial offer that can’t be beat. They will send you a months worth of the product free of charge or for a greatly reduced price and all you have to do is pay shipping. Sounds great, right? You get to try out the product without the huge price tag, what could be better? Problem is this “company” now has your banking or credit card info, and they are going to use it. About a month after your “trial” period you will notice a huge charge to your debit account or credit card that you did not authorize. Why? Because the company has just billed you for another months worth of their product, even though you did not authorize it, or order it.

You will question the payment, but the company already has your money, and your bank will tie that money up for weeks while they do an investigation into the unauthorized charges. You see, your bank’s default position on fraud is to start an investigation into the charges to determine whether or not you deserve to have the misappropriated funds returned to you. Telling the bank that you did not authorize the payment is not enough for them to return the money.

When these companies do this they are betting on the hope that you will not notice the charges, they are taking advantage of your trust in ordering from them by keeping your financial information on record and using it to defraud you of funds on a monthly basis even though you have not authorized monthly payments to them.

So now you have paid for a trial product, with no intention of ordering from said company until after you have tried the product, but the second you paid for shipping you set yourself up to be defrauded. Banks assume that if someone has your credit or debit information it is because you authorized it, therefore when a company puts through a second charge the bank honors the payment without authorization because they assume you have given said company authorization to charge your account. These companies are well aware of this and will use it to defraud you of your hard earned cash.

Many people miss these charges because they use a credit card and don’t really look at their bills and check that each transaction listed is authorized. ┬áThose who use a VISA debit card are more likely to catch the fraud soon after it occurs because the money comes directly out of their bank account making the payment glaringly obvious.

This recently happened to me when I ordered a trial of some anti-aging beauty products. I paid the $5.95 shipping fee and received my trial products within a week. I began the trial and the products were working as advertised, but before I could decide if I wanted to continue using these products the company billed me $180.00 on my VISA debit. When I ordered the trial I checked the box marked “trial only” meaning I was not authorizing this company to charge me anything beyond the initial shipping costs for the trial product. I of course noticed this charge because the money was removed from my bank account as soon as the charge was put through and who wouldn’t notice a company basically stealing almost two hundred dollars right out of their bank account? So of course I called my bank. Much to my surprise the bank refused to return my money until they had investigated the fraud which I am told would take 10 – 14 business days. So effectively my money is now being held hostage because a fraud was perpetrated against me. When I asked the bank how I could stop[ this from happening again in the future I was told not to order things online, which to me is not an acceptable answer.

This entire ordeal has taught me one thing however, do not order trial products with a regular credit card or a debit card attached to your bank account, this is not an acceptable solution but it is the only solution made available to me. What I fail to understand however is the fact that companies like this are given the benefit of the doubt, and there is a chance my money will not be returned depending on what the company does and says about the charges they made to me. The biggest question I am left with is why are companies given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fraudulent charges? Is my bank not supposed to be serving MY best interest? After all it is MY money they are playing with and not the company’s who is stealing from me.

Conclusion? If you are going to order a trial product you might want to load up a prepaid credit card to be used for the purpose of online shopping. That way the company can not come back later and charge you unauthorized payments. I will not stop ordering trial products but in the future I will use a prepaid credit card instead of using the debit card connected to my bank account. I suggest you do the same!