Scam Alert: When Free Becomes a Fee

November 4, 2012

Have you ever signed up for something thinking it was free, only to get charged for it later on? The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) receives thousands of complaints from consumers scammed by free offers that suddenly turn very costly. Here are some of the most common free offers that can become expensive mistakes, plus tips for avoiding these unwanted expenses.

“Free” Credit Servicescredit card statement

You can review your credit score for free each year by visiting, but similar websites are scamming users out of hard-earned money for a service they could be getting for free. The Internet Crime Complaint Center says they’ve received more than 2,000 complaints from people who thought they were signing up for free credit scores and credit monitoring. But the free report only lasted for a limited time. After that customers began paying a monthly membership fee ranging from $ 19.95 to $ 29.95.

Trial Offers

From weight loss pills to magazines plenty of brands utilize the “free trial offer” to entice new customers. Many people sign up thinking they’re scoring a great freebie. But once their free issue or sample arrives it’s followed by more product and a bill. The best way to avoid getting charged in these scenarios is to write down the deadline for the free trial period. Make a note of which number to call to cancel your service so you can avoid paying for something you don’t want. Companies are banking on the fact that you’ll forget and once you’re charged there’s little you can do to get your money back.

Read the Fine Print

Before you sign up for any freebie, make sure it’s really free. As boring as it may be, it’s important to read the fine print. Find out if you will be charged and how to stop that from happening.

Don’t Provide Payment Information

credit cards

When you do sign up for a free trial offer or service, beware if you’re asked to provide a credit card number. This is a warning sign that what is free now will end up costing you in the future. If you don’t want to face this fee, it’s best to avoid giving out any payment information– especially if you’re not sure whether you can trust the company.

Once You’ve Been Scammed

If you do find yourself in a situation where free has turned into a fee, take these three steps. First of all, contact the company and ask them to cancel your service. Submit a complaint to management and if you’ve had money drafted from your account, ask for a refund. You may not get it, but it’s worth a shot. If the company has your account information you’ll need to call your bank to have them blocked from drafting any more funds. Finally, if you feel you’ve been scammed you’ll want to submit a complaint to your state’s attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission. While they probably can’t help you get your money back they may be able to stop more consumers from falling into this trap in the future.

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