How Free Trials Can Lead to Months of Credit Card Charges

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Free trials are a great way to test out a product or service to decide whether you like it and want to continue your subscription. But if you’re not careful, the trial could turn into a paid monthly subscription.

The Red Flag that a Free Trial May Not Be “Free”

If you sign up for a free trial and you have to enter your credit card information, there’s a good chance the company plans to start billing you automatically once the trial period ends.

Some companies bury the details of their free trials in the fine print, making it unclear that you have to take action if you don’t want to be charged every month. But, it’s safe to assume that any free trial that requests your credit card details must be cancelled to avoid monthly charges.

Can You Get the Free Trial Without a Credit Card?

Probably not. There are websites that will produce fake credit card numbers for you: “fake” because they’re not tied to a real credit card account, but real enough to fool a computer into thinking it’s a legitimate credit card number. All credit card numbers are generated based on an algorithm and some trial subscriptions will only validate that the credit card number fits the criteria. However, some merchants may actually preauthorize your credit card to be sure it’s a real credit card before activating your free trial.

Not all merchants who ask for a credit card during a free trial are trying to gimmick customers into paying for the service.

In some cases, the credit card is used to verify that a real person is signing up for the service or to prevent people from signing up for multiple free trials.

What to Do Before Signing Up for a Free Trial

Before you sign up for a free trial, read the terms and conditions of the subscription (if you can find them).

A word of caution, if you’re having trouble getting details about the terms of the trial, it’s likely that cancelling will be a hassle. Keep this in mind as you decide whether you want to give up your credit card number for a trial subscription.

What you want to know most of all is how long the trial period lasts. It may be 7, 14, 30 days, or some other time period. You must confirm the time period before giving up your credit card details for the free trial. Otherwise, you won’t know when you need to cancel. After you’ve verified the timing for the trial period, set a reminder to cancel the service before the trial period ends. You might even want to cancel a day before the trial period ends just to be on the safe side.

Cancelling a Free Trial Subscription

Some services allow you to cancel online, but others may require you to call customer service to make the cancellation. Look for “Terms of Service” or “FAQ” on the website to find instructions on cancelling. And if that doesn’t work, do an internet search for “How to cancel” and include the service name.

If you can’t find a way to cancel online, it’s safer to assume that you can’t and just call customer service. Pushy customer service representatives may try to talk you into keeping your service, but remain adamant about cancelling.

Make a note of the date and time you’re cancelling or if you’re making the cancellation online, take a screen capture of the confirmation for your records.

After You’ve Cancelled

Monitor your credit card statement closely to be sure you’re not charged for the service. These charges can easily go unnoticed for months. If you do notice that you’re being charged for a service you cancelled, call the company again to verify that you cancelled. Ask for a refund of any charges made after your cancellation.

How to Handle Issues With Your Free Trial Cancellation

You may want to get your credit card issuer involved if the merchant continues to charge you for a subscription you’ve cancelled or if they refuse to refund you for charges made after you cancelled your subscription. You can also report companies like this to the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

With enough consumer complaints, the FTC may fine the company and require them to refund affected consumers. If a credit card company is charging you for add-on services that you cancelled or never agreed to, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.