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Is a Free Trial Really Free?
October 11, 2021
Is a Free Trial Really Free?
October 11, 2021

Curious about the types of movies and shows available on Hulu but aren’t ready to commit? Want to binge-watch your favorite shows on Disney + without paying a dime? Or try a new beauty product before paying for it? Free trials make it all possible.

In an ideal world, free trials are a noble idea, particularly in a competitive market. They’re supposed to offer an additional layer of protection when trying out new products and services.

Sadly, we don’t live or operate in an ideal world. Unscrupulous online sellers have refined the art of exploiting shoppers using free trials. In every sense, free trails from some online merchants are Hotel California personified; you can check out, but you can never leave.


The lure.

Free trials have one primary goal. To introduce you to a product or service and turn you into a paying customer. The concept is simple – if you really like the product or service, you keep it beyond the trial period, and the merchant gains a willing customer.

On the flip side, you may forget to cancel the trial period and become an unintentional customer. Most services offer free trials that range from a week to a month. That’s enough time to make up your mind and keep the subscription, cancel the free trial, or forget ever subscribing to a service.


The catch.

Merchants use free trials to capture your email address and credit card details. They need your email to build a mailing list and payment details to simplify the payment process.

Most online shoppers never stop to question why they need to provide credit card details when signing up for a free trial. And therein lies the ultimate catch.

Once a merchant has your payment details, they may no longer need your consent to bill you for the product or service. And it’s legal too. The FTC classifies free trials as negative options. Negative options allow the merchant to interpret the lack of action on your part as consent.

So, your failure to cancel your subscription after the free trial period ends gives the merchant the green light to charge your account. They can lawfully proceed to bill you for the product or service until you cancel. It’s like you’re being punished for forgetting to cancel a service that you no longer use or need.
Some unscrupulous merchants use dishonest tactics to get dibs on your money, including:

  • Charging for shipping and handling: They ask customers to pay a minimal charge to cover shipping but charges your account for a subscription once they have your credit card details.
  • Prechecked boxes: They offer pre-checked boxes during signup, consenting to recurring charges or additional purchases. Most people fail to uncheck the boxes, and it leads to additional charges.
  • Dark patterns: It’s the dubious use of graphic design tactics to influence user behavior. For instance, making signup buttons large and colorful and opt-out buttons small and unappealing.


The costly aftermath.

The Bureau of Better Business reports that free trial scams are on the rise. More than 58,000 people filed complaints about free trials between 2017 and 2019. Online shoppers have lost an estimated $1.4 billion to merchants with unscrupulous free trial offers. On average, victims of the free trial lost $140.

Free trials aren’t really free; if anything, they can be a great source of misery:

  • They can lead to extra charges
  • You can accrue huge debts
  • Unpaid bills go to collection and ruin your credit score
  • They give a 3rd party power over your finances
  • Make you jump through hoops to cancel
  • Charge you for not cancelling


Approach free trials fearlessly.

Free trials are great – if you do your due diligence. Reputable companies offer hassle-free trials to let you sample their products. Unscrupulous merchants use them to scam customers.

OK Subscribe allows you to take charge of your purchases, including free trials. It lets you automate and centralize your subscriptions and purchases under one dashboard. Having your entire online financing under one command hub put you in control. Never again will you ever forget to cancel a free trial or jump through hoops to cancel one.


    Don’t let ‘free trials’ drain your finances.

    Sign up today.