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Shropshire council warning of "free trial" scams

Shropshire Council’s trading standards service is advising the public to be extra vigilant when looking to take advantage of free trials offered by companies for things such as meal delivery schemes or hair and beauty products.

Most people are spending more time at home than usual to stay safe so many businesses are looking to attract new customers by offering ‘free trials’ of their products or services.

There is a risk that unscrupulous businesses will use misleading advertisements for free trials, to catch consumers in a subscription trap.

A subscription trap is where a consumer is misled into signing up for a subscription with promise of a free trial, a reduced rate trial or sample goods where the consumer only has to pay for postage and packaging.

Any card details provided are then used to take recurring payments for a subscription, using a continuous payment authority.

Shropshire Council’s trading standards fully supports the advice and is encouraging consumers to ask:

  • What am I agreeing to in order to claim this offer?
  • Is the trial really ‘free’? Or could I have money taken from my bank account or card?
  • Do I have to provide my payment details? If yes – stop and ask why.
  • If there can be a charge, do I know how much it is and when the payment will be taken? Also, what exactly will I get in exchange for that charge?
  • What must I do to stop the payment and by when?
  • If I do get charged – what does the company say about giving me my money back?
  • If I do get charged and do nothing, what happens next? Might the company take more payments in the future?

Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing operations manager, said: “Businesses offering a free trial period or similar, which then results in a paid subscription if not cancelled, must make this clear.

“The terms and conditions for any such offer must also state: how and when the subscription will start, the total cost of the subscription per month or billing period, if there is a minimum subscription period, and details on how to cancel the subscription, if applicable. Businesses failing to provide this information are at risk of committing offences under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.”

Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for communities, place planning and regulatory services, said:- “I would advise all customers to be cautious when looking to take advantage of a free trial or sample. Whilst I understand free trials are often an excellent way to try a product or service without committing to spend any money, unfortunately there are dishonest businesses looking to trap you in a costly subscription without you realising. Be sure to carefully read the terms and conditions associated with any free trial or similar and remember that, if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

“If you think you’re caught in a subscription trap, you can seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer helpline by calling 0808 223 1133 so you can get the support you need; this will also ensure trading standards is informed to help prevent others falling victim too.”

If you are concerned that a business is acting illegally, you should report it to trading standards though the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.  Further details can be found at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue/

Complaints about misleading adverts can also be brought to the attention of the ASA at https://www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint.html.

Businesses looking for free advice on how to comply with the law are advised to visit https://www.businesscompanion.info/.

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