Warning about the pitfalls of subscription payments
Date published: 01 December 2017
People are being warned about the pitfalls of subscription payments linked to free online trials or samples. Ever been locked into a subscription you didn’t sign up for? You're not alone.
Subscription trap scams
Known as subscription trap scams, you become locked into a subscription for a service you did not, or were not aware you had, signed up for.
The most common types are for:
- free-trial slimming pills
- anti-ageing products
- health foods
- on-demand TV services
- streaming services
- audio books
In many cases, you can unknowingly end up making monthly payments ranging from between £10 to £70 for a product or service you didn’t want.
Subscription traps work by misleading you into signing up for a subscription to goods or services after seeing an advert on social media or a pop-up on a website.
This is commonly done by the retailer promising a free trial, a reduced rate trial, or sample goods where you only have to pay for postage and packaging using a credit or debit card.
The card details provided are then used to take recurring payments for a subscription using a continuous payment authority (CPA).
This is often not made clear, usually burying the key information in lengthy or unclear terms and conditions.
Advice about dealing with subscriptions
Free-trial offers are often extremely misleading, devised by fraudsters to deceive you and trick you into parting with your cash.
It is essential to be aware of what is involved in accepting offers or incentives to take up a subscription.
When providing bank details for online offers, always read the terms and conditions carefully to make sure you do not get more than you sign up for.
When dealing with subscriptions you should:
- check that the company is genuine - does it have a padlock symbol on the website and a proper contact address and working telephone number?
- research the company by reading online reviews of the site
- look carefully at the wording of the advert - does it make clear that in order to take advantage of an offer you will be enrolled onto a paid-for subscription plan? This information must be presented prominently in the ad itself (not buried in the terms and conditions)
- check payment methods and full cost before you agree to the contract
- check if you can withdraw from the purchase - you have the right to a 14-day cooling-off period for distance purchases of goods within the EU (if the trader has not informed you of your right of withdrawal, the withdrawal period is extended by 12 months)
- not use the product when delivered and return it unused, making sure you get a shipping receipt
- contact your bank - you may want to cancel your bank card to prevent the company from withdrawing more money from your account
- regularly check your bank statements for any unexpected payments and query them if you don’t know what they are for
Report a subscription trap scam
If you feel you have been misled into signing up for a subscription you can get advice by contacting Consumerline online.
You can also phone the helpline or email:
- phone: 0300 123 6262
- email: email@example.com
Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
More useful links
- Little Book of Big Scams
- Consumer affairs and issues
- Victims and witnesses
- Victim Support NI
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