I’m sure you’ll agree that the Internet has changed the world in many ways.
Most of those changes were for the better (in my humble opinion), but some of them were actually for the worse.
The Internet’s most awesome benefit is the way it lets us access needed information from home in seconds instead of having to drive across town to the library.
Nowadays you can instantly get an answer to most any question via a simple web search.
But unfortunately, the Internet also makes it a LOT easier for the scammers of the world to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.
I’ve written about many of the most common scams and hoaxes on my Rick’s Daily Tips Tech Blog, but today I’m going to tell you about a different kind of scam that just might be affecting you at this very moment without you even realizing it.
I call it the “Fraudulent Free Trial” scam and it’s quite ubiquitous on the Internet today.
In a nutshell, this scam involves any type of free trial offer that makes it very difficult for you to cancel the “subscription” and avoid having charges applied to your credit/debit card.
The most common way this scam is perpetrated is by requiring you to enter your payment information during the free trial signup process.
Once a company has your credit/debit card info they can automatically renew the “trial” subscription (i.e. convert it into an actual subscription) and begin charging your card after the trial period ends.
If you aren’t careful you could end up paying for an unwanted service for months or even years before you even notice that it’s happening.
To make matters worse, many of these free trial offers are very difficult to cancel.
Some of them bury the cancellation request form several layers deep on their website and then hide the link to that page in some obscure place where it’s virtually impossible to find.
Even worse, some websites won’t even have a cancellation page anywhere on their site!
If you want to cancel the subscription you’ll have to call them up on the phone and request the cancellation.
And of course when you call you’ll likely have to listen to a sales pitch explaining why you’d be an absolute idiot to cancel such a “valuable service”.
This is why you need to be extremely careful about signing up for any free trial offer that requires you to enter a payment method as a condition for starting the free trial.
If the offer is for something that you really, really want to try, I strongly recommend that you do all of the following:
1 – Before you sign up and enter your payment info, check the website to make sure there’s an easy way to cancel the trial subscription.
If you’re able to find a cancellation page, bookmark that page in case you need to use it later.
Some really unscrupulous companies will make their cancellation page very easy to find before you sign up but then “hide” it once your free trial subscription has been created.
2 – Always make sure you cancel a free trial subscription before the trial period ends!
Some companies include language in the Terms of Service (TOS) stating that even if you go over by one day you’ll be responsible for at least one month’s payment. Make sure you cancel the subscription in time to avoid having to make that payment!
Now all of the above being said, there are plenty of companies that do free trial offers the right way.
One example is the free trial for the “paid” version of Malwarebytes, the outstanding anti-malware app that I so highly recommend.
Malwarebytes offers a completely free version of the app, and you’ll never have to pay a fee to keep using it.
When you click the link to download the free version of Malwarebytes you will actually end up installing a trial version of the “paid” Premium app.
But don’t worry, this is not a “bait and switch”. You really will end up with the free version of the software after the free trial period ends, and you won’t incur any unwanted charges whatsoever.
How do we know this? Because you are not required to enter any payment info just to take advantage of the free trial. They can’t charge your card if they don’t have your card info.
If you end up liking the paid version and decide to purchase a paid subscription you simply enter your credit/debit card info and sign up for it at that time.
The wonderful thing about this setup is you get to try the full version of Malwarebytes for a couple of weeks during the trial period.
If you ultimately decide that the free version of Malwarebytes is all you need (and it really is in my opinion), simply allow the free trial period to expire and your Malwarebytes installation will automatically revert to the free plan.
In my humble opinion, this is how ALL free trial offers should work.
Bottom line: You need to be very careful about which free trial offers you sign up for on the Internet.
There are plenty of great offers that are entirely on the up-and-up (like the Malwarebytes offer mentioned above), but there are far too many that are just out to take your hard-earned money.
To finish up, here’s a fantastic short video from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that discusses several other ways to avoid the pitfalls of fraudulent free trial offers. Check it out!
Note: As always, you can watch the video at full screen by clicking the “square” icon in the lower-right corner of the video after it begins playing.