Don't get caught out by subscription scams

Holly Thomas / 23 March 2016 ( 28 November 2016 )

People are getting caught out by unknowingly signing up to expensive subscriptions when they send off for free samples and products.

Try before you buy is a trick of the trade used to reel in customers and make more sales. It works for the savvy consumer too, who can cash in on lots of freebies! 

But more and more people are falling victim to a scam targeting women eager to try out new beauty and nutrition products. Tens of thousands of people are mistakenly signing up to subscriptions for skin creams and weight loss pills after registering for a free sample online.

These trial offers for goods and services are duping trusting consumers out of millions of pounds a year, according to Citizens Advice.

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If you like to send off for freebies and trial packets of anything, this is what you need to know:

How the scam works

To get the freebies, you need to enter payment card details. The consumer gives their card details thinking that they are just paying the postage but don't realise that there is small print which signs them up to an expensive monthly subscription which is then hard to cancel.

Even if they do spot the small print and mark in their diary the date at which to cancel so they don’t slip into the subscription, they are unable to cancel because they cannot get hold of the seller.

Signing up sets up “continuous payment authorisation” from your card. Once you approve being billed this way, a series of payments up to £100 a month can be taken without seeking further authorisation.

Five signs that you are walking into a scam

Protect your money

Don’t get carried away with the prospect of free items. Before you start signing up for anything, it might help to simply type the name of the company into an internet search engine. 

If it’s a well-known scammer, countless forums will pop up with people warning against it. A simple search could save you a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, in the long run.

Be very careful about handing over card details to internet companies. If you can’t see any clear terms and conditions of what happens to your card details before you enter them online, walk away.

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Money matters

If you have already sent off for items and do find that money is disappearing from your account, contact the firm in the first instance. 

If you can’t get hold of anyone, contact your bank where the card is held and ask them to place a stop on the payments. Explain that you had not consented – or that you can’t get hold of the company taking the cash to stop it.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.