When browsing some of your favorite websites, you may have seen links for free trials of certain products. Some are more believable than others, but according to the Better Business Bureau, almost all are scams.
The free trial scam has been around for years, but the number of consumer complaints pertaining to free trial fraud has skyrocketed in recent years, making it one of the most common and effective scams affecting consumers, says the BBB in a December 2018 report.
Citing data from the Federal Trade Commission, the BBB notes that complaints relating to free trial scams more than doubled from 2015-2017. Federal data says that consumer losses in free trial scams pursued by the trade commission in the last 10 years total more than $1.3 billion.
The anatomy of the scam is simple: Garner interest in a supposedly effective product, and hook people for recurring charges that are often in the very fine print and difficult to fully understand at the time of purchase.
The scam starts with the product, appealing advertising, a well-designed website and often a fake celebrity endorsement designed to increase the credibility of the product. What comes next is shipping, often the small initial charge that requires payment information to be entered to receive a free trial, followed by payment processing and finally, poor or unavailable customer service.
How free trial scams get your money. Courtesy BBB
Once you have signed up it can often be difficult to get out from the scam or to get your money back from credit card companies. BBB data suggests most people do not even try to get their money back and even fewer report their experience to the BBB or to law enforcement.
BBB data says that 57 percent of credit card users defrauded in free trial scams did not bother to try to get their money back. The full results look like this:
The FTC reports that less than 10 percent of fraud victims report their losses to the BBB.
Online free trial scams were the number one most reported scam to the BBB by Montanans in 2018.
For the breakdown of how free trial scams operate you can view the full report here.