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Attorney General Warns Vermonters: "Free Trials Are Rarely Free!"

CONTACT: Jason Duquette-Hoffman, Consumer Assistance Program, (802) 656-8755

March 10, 2011

Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell is reminding Vermonters to be wary of free trial offers because often they contain hidden fees and other subscription obligations. Attached to promotions from online merchants or associated with health-related or other products advertised on television and in print media, these free trial offers usually include inflated shipping or handling charges and an automatic subscription and monthly charge if the consumer does not cancel. "Companies hide recurring fees behind free trial offers and make cancelling membership plans hard in the hopes that consumers will forget or give up. They then continue to charge consumers monthly for services and products they don't need or want," says Sorrell. When consumers finally cancel they may be charged cancellation or restocking fees. Many consumers may miss the small monthly charges on their credit card, checking account or telephone statements.

Protect yourself from hidden fees and recurring charges:

  • Avoid or be wary of free trial offers and other similar promotions- Read the disclosure! Often by clicking YES, you are agreeing for your credit card number and other personal information to be forwarded to a promotion company running the free offer. Free trials, discount codes at the checkout of online merchants and low-cost initial purchases are all tricks used to get consumers to agree to something in the hope of saving money. Read the fine print, decline the promotional offers or get good information first about what it will take to cancel or stop any membership. Know where your financial information is going.
  • Review your bank account, credit card and telephone statements carefully- Companies rely on the fact that many consumers do not review their statements line by line, and will likely miss a small charge. Small charges add up quickly over time and it is the consumer who is responsible for monitoring their statements.
  • Dispute unauthorized charges right away- You are often able to contest a charge on your bill, but only within a certain amount of time. Contact your bank, credit card company or telephone service provider as soon as you notice a questionable charge and request that it be removed. You may have to provide some additional information, but in some cases these charges can be reversed if caught soon enough.
  • Having trouble resolving unauthorized charges? Contact CAP for help!

    Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) toll free in Vermont with questions at (800) 649-2424 or (802) 656-3183, or visit CAP on the web at www.uvm.edu/consumer for more information or to file a complaint.

      Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.