'Free sample' website scam warning

A warning about a 'free sample' scam, where victims provide card details to pay for postage and unwittingly sign up for a paid subscription.

I was recently contacted by a reader who wanted to alert me to a potential scam. I’ll call her Jean. 

She followed up an advert for a free sample of skin cream. In fact, it cost 99p for postage and she had to give her debit card details to pay for it. Fourteen days later £89 was taken from her account.

Jean complained but was told she had agreed to a regular subscription when she submitted her details. 

She said that wasn’t made clear and cancelled the subscription. A month later another £89 was taken. She complained again but was told the same. 

Keep bank details safe

Jean was, of course, unwise to give all her bank details to a strange website for a payment of any size – especially for a ‘free’ product. But she can stop the payments by telling her bank she no longer authorises them. At that point the bank is legally obliged to stop making them. 

If it does make any more, it must reimburse her in full – regardless of any contract she may or may not have entered into with the cosmetics supplier. 

Bank reimbursement

If the sale was a scam and Jean received nothing of value for her £89, she could also apply to the bank to reimburse the money she was tricked into paying earlier. The process is called ‘chargeback’, and is run by Visa and MasterCard. 

If the bank proves difficult to deal with at any stage, she should appeal to the Financial Ombudsman Service (0800 023 4567). 

Free sample offers often turn out to be scams. Never take them up.

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.