Not what you signed up for? In National Consumer Week 2017 don’t fall in to the ‘Free Trial Trap’

In National Consumer Week 2017 (beginning Monday 27th November), Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service are warning residents to beware of falling in to the ‘free trial trap’ and unintentionally subscribing to products they don’t want or need.

Warwickshire County Councillor Howard Roberts, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said:

“Subscription services are becoming an increasingly popular way to buy goods and services with 90% of UK consumers now believed to be using them to buy products including groceries, music and TV and software.”

“Most consumers are very happy with the products they buy via subscription, but problems arise when they are misled in to signing up for a monthly subscription for goods they didn’t want.”

“In National Consumer Week 2017 we are warning consumers about subscription scams that have cost some consumers hundreds of pounds and how to avoid them.”

Warwickshire Trading Standards has received almost 100 complaints from consumers who mistakenly signed up to expensive monthly subscriptions for face creams and other products they didn’t need or want. Typically, problems arose when they used their credit or debit cards to pay postage and packing for items they believed were ‘free trials’. Hidden in the small print were agreements to pay £70 to £100 per month subscriptions, something consumers didn’t spot until money was taken from their accounts and boxes of creams began to arrive! Many of these ‘free trial advertisements were on social media websites.

In the last 18 months, many Warwickshire consumers have fallen victim to this scam. Most losses go unreported but those that did included: three Nuneaton and Bedworth residents who lost a total of £214; Four Warwick, Leamington Spa and Kenilworth residents who together lost £530; a Studley resident who reported losing £131 and two Coleshill residents who lost £684!

‘Free trial’ scams are often operated by foreign companies based in the Middle East or USA. They use ‘continuous payment authority’ to take money from consumer’s accounts. These can sometimes prove difficult for consumers to cancel and get their money back.

How to avoid the subscription scams

1) Use a prepaid card. You can’t spend any more on a pre-paid card than is loaded on to it so it’s particularly useful to pay for goods (and free trials) from businesses you don’t know.

2) Switch from continuous payment authority to direct debit. The Direct Debit Guarantee is easy to cancel and if there is a payment error, the bank must refund you.

3) Check your bank and credit card accounts regularly and act quickly if you see any unexpected withdrawals.

Fallen for a subscription scam? What you can do.

1) You have a legal right to have a continuous payment cancelled. Banks must cancel them, even if a company refuses.

2) Contact the retailer and bank as soon as possible and request a cancellation.

3) If further payments are taken in error after a customer asks for a cancellation, the bank must refund them.

4) Still having problems? You can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman if your bank refuses to help. Visit: http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/

Further help and advice

• Further help and advice: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ncw17

• Trading Standards email alert system: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/scams

• Make a consumer complaint: 03454 040506

• Visit us on social media: www.facebook.com/warwickshiretradingstandards/

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