January is the time of year when we are ready for a fresh start and look ahead to what the new year will bring. When working toward your 2020 resolutions or goals, you might think twice before trying a new, amazing product. Social media ads or links leading to pictures of celebrities and products can sound intriguing. The ads claim these “miracle” products will help you lose weight, smooth wrinkles or whiten teeth. Often, fraudulent operations involved with these types of ads employ the latest internet marketing techniques and professional looking websites.

Enticements to try these products often offer a “risk-free” trial. They seem like a good deal. The only payment is minor, $1.95 for shipping and handling. The claims look plausible, and celebrities would not endorse a product unless they believed it works. There may be a risk that the product doesn’t work as claimed, but it costs next to nothing to find out. Just enter your name, address and credit card number and act quickly; supplies are limited.

A Better Business Bureau (BBB) in-depth investigative study found many of these “free trial” offers are anything but free. If you can actually locate and read the fine print on the order page, or the terms and conditions buried by a link, you’ll likely discover you have just 14 days to receive, evaluate and return the product to avoid being charged $100 or more.

In addition, the same hidden information often states that by accepting the offer, you’ve also signed up for monthly shipments of the products. Those also will be charged to your credit card and become subscription traps. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments and get a refund.

Losses in cases of this type pursued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the last ten years total more than $1.3 billion. Fraudsters have created a global multi-billion-dollar industry. BBB receives complaints from free trial offer victims nearly every day and warns consumers to use extreme caution before agreeing to the offer and entering any credit card information. The chance of encountering this type of deception is high; they have infested the internet and social media. Solving this issue will require widespread education, law enforcement and work by credit card companies to recognize these types of fraudulent activities and deter access to the credit card system.

There are free trial offers that have legitimate ways to introduce new products. Credible companies make sure consumers understand what they are signing up for and do not hide key information.

For more information about free trial scams and the BBB investigative study visit bbb.org.

Rebecca Barr is Boise Marketplace Manager of the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, serving the Snake River Region from Ontario to Jackson, Wyoming. For more information, visit bbb.org or call (800) 218-1001.

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