FTC: ‘Free’ Products Aren’t Free

The feds are cracking down on companies offering “free” trials and deceptive health claims.

FTC: ‘Free’ Products Aren’t Free Photo (cc) by Alan Cleaver

You’ve likely seen companies advertise products that promise dramatic weight loss results and add to the temptation by offering free trials for the product.

But the Federal Trade Commission warns that both the product and the promise of getting it free may be bogus.

The reality: the company can’t support, or deliver on, those weight loss claims. If you give your credit or debit account number, you get charged $60 to $210 every month, and it’s almost impossible to get a refund. On top of that, you get enrolled in offers you didn’t ask for — with more monthly charges.

In its first action against companies accused of violating the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, the FTC announced Monday that at its request, a federal judge has barred Health Formulas LLC and its network of companies from using “free” trial offers and health claims the FTC alleges are illegal and misleading.

The companies advertised a number of products, including green coffee bean weight loss and dietary supplements.

The FTC said the companies charged consumers without properly disclosing the terms of the transaction and failed to get their clear consent. The consumer watchdog said the firms charged consumers for the products unless they were specifically instructed to stop.

“The defendants allegedly trick consumers into disclosing their credit and debit card information, and then enroll them without authorization in a negative option program in which defendants continually charge consumers’ accounts,” the FTC said.

Consumers were charged $60 to $210 per month. According to the FTC:

“The defendants behind Simple Pure used nearly every trick in the book to deceive consumers,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They not only deceived consumers about the effectiveness of their products, but also repeatedly debited consumers’ accounts without their approval.”

Before you sign up for a “free” trial, follow these tips from the FTC:

  • Check out the company and make sure it’s legit. If the firm has a lot of negative reviews, steer clear.
  • Find and read the terms and conditions of the offer.
  • Make sure you look for pre-checked boxes when you’re signing up for a trial. “That checkmark may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products — only this time you have to pay,” the FTC warns.
  • Take note of when the trial ends and what you have to do to end it.
  • Monitor whichever card you used to authorize the free trial and make sure you don’t receive any unauthorized payments.

Have you ever felt conned by a “free” trial? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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