Be extremely cautious about ‘free’ online trials

(Consumer Reports) - They sound tempting: Online free trial offers promising everything from grocery delivery to skin creams and dietary supplements.

Consumer Reports warns that some "free" online trials are actually scams designed to part you from your money. (Consumer Reports)

However -- few things in life are actually free -- no strings attached. Some trials are actually designed to scam you out of your hard-earned cash.

“Click here to get your first box free!”

“Act now to claim your trial bottle!”

“Claim your risk-free trial.”

Spoiler - none of these products were actually free! Luckily tens of thousands of people who got charged for the 'free' products in these three ads got their money back -- but only after the Federal Trade Commission took action!

"The FTC Has sued companies that have engaged in this practice of offering a free trial and then later on enrolling people into a program that they didn't approve related to products from skin creams, dietary supplements, electronic cigarettes," said Rosario Mendez of the Federal Trade Commission.

Complaints about 'not-so-free' trials doubled between 2015 and 2017. And it's not surprising that so many consumers fall for them. After all, plenty of legitimate companies offer free samples all the time.

So how can you tell if you're getting a deal or just getting duped?

"If you're interested in a free trial offer, it's always a good practice to Google the company first and check for reviews or complaints because that may give you warning signs that the offer is not legitimate," Consumer Reports’ Penny Wang advised.

CR also says to read the fine print and check to see what the process is for getting a refund or cancelling.

"Check the links to make sure they work. If there's a phone number, try it… make sure there's someone at the other end," Wang said.

If you do sign up for a free trial, CR recommends keeping any receipts, emails, or screenshots from the transaction. And be sure to note the date if you have to cancel--Set a reminder in your phone's calendar -- Otherwise your credit card could be charged.

And finally, have all the documentation handy in case you have to dispute any charges with your bank credit card.