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:

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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