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BBB: Spending more time on the internet? Beware of ‘free trial offer’ scams

MILWAUKEE — With many people staying at home due to COVID-19 and spending more time on the internet, chances are they will encounter bogus “free trial offer” scams.

While celebrities, credit card companies, and government agencies have increased their efforts to fight deceptive free trial offer scams, victims continue to lose millions of dollars to fraudsters after the release of a December 2018 Better Business Bureau (BBB) study about the shady practices.

Free trial offers often use celebrity endorsement ads on social media and the internet to attract consumers to deceptive websites that charge a small shipping and handling fee, usually $4.99 or less, for a “free” trial of beauty or health products like skin creams or weight loss pills. The true cost of these free trials — ongoing monthly subscription plans — is buried in small print and behind links, if disclosed at all.

Free trial offers are not illegal. Video streaming services often offer free trial offers. Scammers now are using free trial offers to take advantage of the desire for streaming services. BBB has received Scam Tracker reports that scammers are using social media to offer bogus free Netflix services. To receive a fake pass, those clicking on a link may be directed to provide personal information and send the offer to friends. Scammers are likely phishing for personal and banking information or to distribute malware.

BBB urges consumers to:

  • Examine online free trial offers carefully
  • Resist being swayed by the phony use of a well-known name
  • Report free trial offer scams to BBB Scam Tracker
  • Report losses to credit card companies. After the BBB free trial offer study, Mastercard and Visa issued new policies to increase transparency for free trial offers. Victims should call the customer service number on the back of the credit card used to ask for their money back.

Those who have lost money to deceptive free trials need to challenge the charges on their credit cards and file complaints so they can educate others.

Complain to the company directly. If that is not successful, call the customer service number on the back of your credit card to complain to the bank.

Report suspicious, confusing or misleading ads to BBB AdTruth at bbb.org/ad-truth.

File a complaint about free trial offers with:

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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