The 'free trial' that will cost you £80 a month


Updated on 09 February 2015 | 4 Comments

Signing up for these 'free trials' could be an expensive mistake.

If your New Year resolution to get fit has fallen by the wayside you might be tempted to try miracle weight loss tablets or muscle building supplements instead.

But there’s not just some dubious science behind the claims of these companies – there’s also a sneaky way to steal your money.

And one of the nation's biggest banking groups has revealed these scams are costing its customers collectively an incredible £30,000 a day.

Don’t fall for advertising hype

Weight and body image is a weak point for many of us and fraudsters know it.

Clever advertising and pop-ups on social media websites lure customers into what they believe to be a free trial of some kind of 'neutraceutical' to cure an ailment or improve their looks.

Neutraceuticals can be anything from teeth whiteners and hair growth stimulators to muscle builders and weight loss tablets.

Often the products are 'endorsed' by celebrities. However, many of these endorsements are fake. For example, in 2013 the Advertising Standards Authority found a company called Slimzene had faked endorsement by Adele, doctored pictures of the singer and falsely claimed she lost 27kg in a month by taking the pills.

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How the scams work

Although many companies offer 'free trials', they justify asking for customers’ card details by saying it’s to cover a small fee for postage and packaging.

But in reality, by providing your card details you are inadvertently agreeing to a recurring subscription if you fail to cancel within the trial period.

Subscription details and charges should all be laid out in the terms and conditions of the agreement, but an investigation by RBS and NatWest found instances where the terms and conditions only appeared after the customer had agreed to them, where they’re hidden at the bottom of the page or where they’re greyed out making them near impossible to find.

Some sites say customers simply need to cancel future deliveries of pills to prevent their card being charged, but then make this very difficult to do by being impossible to contact or ignoring cancellation requests.

Complaints to banks

At its peak RBS and NatWest received more than 390 customer calls a day on unrecognised payments of around £80 a month as a result of pill scams.

The bank estimates that this was costing customers more than £30,000 per day and over £2.9 million in fees since June last year, with more than 37,000 customers having fallen foul of these scams.

RBS and NatWest have raised the issue with Visa, MasterCard and Cards UK and have provided them with the details of merchants causing regular complaints. Since August, this information has led to more than 1,000 of these companies having their acquirer relationship terminated leaving them unable to process payments.

How to avoid being scammed

Firstly, be very suspicious of any advert that claims you can cure all your body woes by popping a pill. While some supplements may have health benefits, the best way to a better body is combining an exercise regime with a healthy diet.

If you are tempted to buy some diet pills from the internet, make sure you read all the terms and conditions before handing over your card details. If you can’t find the terms and conditions, be suspicious.

Do a quick search of any company you’re thinking of buying something from. Adding “scam” or “rip-off” after the company name should alert you to any dodgy practices.

Be aware that many diet pill firms set up a recurring payment or continuous payment authority (CPA) on your card rather than a direct debit.  Direct debits are easier to cancel.

In short, never give your personal or bank details to anyone unless you are 100% sure you know what you are getting into.

What to do if you’re a victim

If you sign up for a free pill trial and later realise you’ve signed up for regular payments, contact the company concerned and ask for payments to stop. This might not yield a response but it will help your case if you get your bank involved.

Bank staff are often confused about the process to cancel CPAs. However, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules are clear: banks must cancel these payments when the customer asks, and if future payments somehow go through then these must be refunded.

In some cases your bank or credit card company may be able to get payments already taken refunded.

How much are you worth? Find out with a free trial of Plans

More on scams:

Young people most likely to fall for jobseeker scams

Watch out for the new 'parcel' scam

Scam victims who got their money back

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