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UK European Consumer Centre

When is a free trial not a free trial?

On Air Radio SignListen to UK ECC consumer advisor Laura Johnston on BBC Radio Ulster's On Your Behalf consumer programme as she talks about subscription traps.

The answer is... when you find out that you've signed up to a recurring payment for future products.

'Subscription traps' can occur when consumers unwittingly sign up for repeated payments for purchases online, often for beauty-type goods.

Although not universal - there are good health or beauty product companies supplying such products to consumers in an honest and above-board way under contracts which are fair - subscription trap complaints still come in fairly regularly to the UK European Consumer Centre.

Laura Johnston told On Your Behalf that there are some specific red flags to look out for when signing up for free trials online. She said: "A free trial is always an invitation or enticement to get you into a longer contract. Having to give payment details should ring alarm bells because once a company has got these details, it is something they can use again in the future."

With subscription traps, on some websites consumers may be billed a monthly fee of something like £90. People can be unaware that this is a subscription as the initial price can be misleading. Consumers may enter their card details, thinking that they just need to pay P&P. Reading the terms and conditions can be crucial.

Andy Allen, UK ECC service director, said: "Very few, if any companies, will offer you a trial of anything unless it is going to lead on to further purchases and this is often done by an automatic renewal system which places the responsibility on the customer to actively cancel an ongoing contract. In most of these cases the customer doesn't realise what is happening until they notice continued payments disappearing from their bank accounts."

For more information on subscription traps - including what the Consumer Contracts Regulations mean for you - listen in to Laura's interview on On Your Behalf:

The segment starts at 34 minutes and 30 seconds. 

Also check out our consumer checklist to look at if you have ordered samples or accepted an offer which has led to being stuck in a subscription trap.

And if you find yourself in a position where you have ongoing payments being taken from your account, contract the UK European Consumer Centre on 01268 886690 for advice (weekdays between 9am and 5pm). 

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