Over the years, the European Consumer Centre in Ireland has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who have lost significant sums of money after signing up for free trials online.
Advertisements for free trials of skincare and weight-loss products appear frequently, with consumers invited to pay a nominal postage fee to obtain a free sample of the 'wonder' product. However, hidden in the small print is the catch – unless you contact the company to cancel within a set timeframe (usually 14 days), you will be billed every month for the full cost of the product which can be up to €200.
In one case reported to ECC Ireland, a lady signed up for a free trial of weight-loss capsules and paid the postage charge of €7. The product arrived after three weeks and she soon stopped using it as she was not very impressed. After a number of weeks she noticed that her credit card had been debited almost €400 by several different companies. When she called to query this, she was told that as she hadn't cancelled within 14 days, she had tacitly agreed to additional supplies of the product. The company refused to refund her even though the 14-day trial period had passed before she even received the initial sample and she had never received any further supplies from the company.
Although there are EU rules in place on Unfair Commercial Practices, prohibiting behaviour which is likely to deceive the 'average consumer', it can be very difficult to track down the companies behind these schemes as they often seem to operate from outside the EU.
We strongly recommend that consumers avoid free trials that require credit card or bank details unless you are fully aware of the applicable terms and conditions.
Otherwise, the 'free' trial may end up being very costly indeed.