As a Web-savvy personal finance editor, I would never be fool enough to fall for the “free trial offers” of Acai berry supplements. But I guess I’m a chump for wrinkle-eliminating-spot-fading-luminous-glow-dead-cell-removing facial products. I mean, did you see the before-and-after photos? Wow. Yet another testament to the power of Photoshop.
And that’s exactly how I got locked into a 3 month-long battle with my credit card issuer over several “free trial” offers of facial products and hundreds of dollars of recurring monthly charges.
It started out innocently. I was reading something on the Web, saw some testimonial for a beauty product, and clicked on the link. I was taken to a “free trial” offer page, read what I thought was all the fine print (I had to cancel the order within seven to 10 days or I would incur a monthly charge of $65 or so and a new shipment of the product would arrive every four weeks) and filled in my contact information and credit card details. I also clicked on a box that allowed the company to send me samples of other products, which were “free.” To quote banker
David Hannum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
A few days later, a box arrived with three different containers of magic serums, lotions and capsules, and I promptly went back to the site and canceled the trial period. “See if they can scam me,” I thought. If the products performed as promised (I know, I know), then I could always return and order more.
Two weeks later, I received another box of the same products. Suspicious as to why the company would keep sending me stuff after I canceled, I pulled up my credit card statement online and was shocked to see I had been billed for more than $200 from three companies. I called the credit card issuer and complained. It used to be that when you complained about a fraudulent charge, the charges were quickly removed. Not anymore — or at least not in the case of free trial scams. You have to prove you’ve been had, which adds insult to injury, but I understand the logic of the safeguards.
First, I was required to call the companies charging me and ask them to reverse the charges. Luckily, the card issuer had the telephone numbers associated with those accounts, so I started dialing. After umpteen hours of precious cell-phone minutes of waiting on hold, I managed to talk to live people (!) at the companies and canceled the orders. I was told that my online cancellation did not go through in the allotted time, which I hotly disputed. Then I was told that the charges would be reversed only after I returned the products (at my expense, of course).
Then, I had to draft a letter outlining how this all happened, who I contacted to cancel the orders and when, and mail it (yes, snail mail) to my credit card issuer.
I was so exhausted from all this that I totally forgot to return the package with the products — for about a month. That box slid around the back seat of my car until I rechecked my statement again and discovered that yet another charge had been added by one of the companies. That got me going again. I drove straight to the post office, mailed the stupid box, called the offending company, told them to reverse the charge, e-mailed my card issuer to ask them to remove the new charge, and waited.
It took almost another month before my account was clear.
Was it worth it? Of course not.
Worse, I think the whole ordeal gave me a new wrinkle.
See related: FTC eyes new rules on (not-so) free trial offers