Are Free Online Trials Worth It?

Protect yourself from the dangers of "free" online offers

As the saying goes “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But what if an ad offers you something for free? You might be tempted to click on internet offers promising subscriptions and services for a free trial period because really, what’s the harm? You can just cancel after the first month and reap the free reward until then, right? Maybe.

The Better Business Bureau included “Not so ‘Free’ Trial Offers” on their list of Top Online Scams. Many companies make it easy to sign up and very difficult to get out of the deal. Some will continue to charge your card after the trial period ends and only reverse the charges if contacted. In some cases, the process to get out of the deal is obscured and even broken.

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Tom Spring, a writer for PCWorld.com, signed up for 40 free trials and then attempted to quit them. All 40 required a credit card number in order to start the trial. What he discovered was disturbing. Almost half of the trials buried the instructions on how to get out of the deal, and many of them had broken links or disconnected phone numbers. Sometimes emails were “accidentally misspelled” or missing. He often had to call the company and talk to a salesperson who tried to convince him to stay on and continue paying the charge.

Even if you’re able to cancel a subscription without a fee, your information is now store in the company’s system and can be used to send you spam, either by mail or email. In addition, many sites resell your information to giant banks of customer data that advertising companies can use.

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Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than getting something for free. You just have to be careful about how you get it. Always look into an offer before giving out any information. Read all the documentation on the site carefully, and Google the name of the offer to see if anyone has had problems in the past. And before you get in, make sure to mark your way out. Always know how to back out of an offer and more importantly, that you can. Set a calendar reminder a day before the free trial period ends and follow through when it comes up.

Never use a debit card when signing up for an offer. If you use a credit card, major providers such as Visa and MasterCard have features that allow you to combat fraudulent charges easily, especially if the site does not have an “easy out” option. A prepaid card with a low balance is also a good option, as there is no way that the sites can charge you more than its balance.

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