Better Business Bureau warning consumers of ‘subscription traps’

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OAK PARK, Ill. — More and more people are getting ripped off by scams promising free trials and more. It’s costing millions of people billions of dollars worldwide, and it’s only getting worse.

Debbie Wagner from Oak Park knew something was wrong when she started getting face cream mailed to her home that she didn't order.

A new Better Business Bureau study shows just how serious the problem is. These “free trials” and so called “subscription traps.” They’re everywhere, primarily online on social media. They promise everything from weight loss results to magic wrinkle creams.

"Often the scheme includes months of recurring charges before consumers even notice the pattern or credit card statements some of them have gone on for months. Some for years before consumers finally realize this,” Steve Bernas, BBB, said.

Federal data shows complaints about these “free trials” more than doubled between 2015 and 2017..

The FTC is going after these companies and shutting down the websites. In one case, the company took in more than $30 million over the last several years.

“In October of last year, we mailed 227,000 refund checks totaling more than $9.8 million dollars to people who were charged in these types of cases,” Jason Alder, FTC assistant director of the Midwest region, said.

Like most scams, the offer seems legit. Many even use celebrity endorsements from people like Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres. The BBB said those are fake, even DeGeneres commented on those “endorsements.”

“'If my lips are not moving, I did not endorse the product.' That bodes well for all these scams on the internet. If their lips are not moving, talking about the product, they did not endorse the product,” Bernas said.

What’s worse is that the BBB said some consumers are told they need to click a button to complete the checkout process. That actually tricks them into a second subscription.

Experts said you should do your research, look up company reviews and look closely at the terms—it's usually buried. And finally, read your debit and credit statements closely.

“If people knew the free trial doesn't mean free, and it could mean lifelong charges, these consumers wouldn't click on that particular link,” Bernas said.

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