Deceptive marketing practices associated with free trial memberships with a negative option feature can trick consumers into a cycle of recurring payments for products or services they don't want.
Consumers accept an offer online, often for a "free trial" or "sample" and don't realize that by supplying their payment card number, they are agreeing to be charged monthly for future shipments. To avoid being charged at the end of the trial period, they are required to un-click or opt-out of a pre-checked terms and condition or payment authorization box - or call the company to cancel before the trial period ends. With a negative option feature, a company takes a consumer's failure to cancel before the end of the trial period as permission to continue charging. In some cases, the 'opt out' disclosure message to the consumer is buried in fine print available only through a poorly labeled hyperlink. Cancelling also can be complicated by merchants with poor customer service, slow response times and untimely refunds.
Tips to avoid deceptive online marketing practices
- Take time to read and understand all terms and conditions, so a free trial doesn't turn into a costly purchase you didn't intend to make.
- Pay particular attention to any pre-checked boxes before you submit your payment card information for an order. Failing to un-check the boxes may bind you to terms and conditions you're not interested in.
- Review card statements when you get them for any unauthorized charges, and notify the card issuer promptly of any unusual activity or unauthorized charges.
- Try to resolve the situation with the merchant. If you're unsuccessful, contact the card issuer immediately to dispute the charge.
- Report your experience to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling 1-888-495-8501 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.