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BBB, FTC say "Free Trial Scams" on the rise

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Posted at 4:56 PM, Dec 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 18:15:48-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) --  — A major increase on an old scam has the Better Business Bureau and federal authorities on alert. They're called "Free Trial Scams" and thousands are getting duped. The misleading ads and fake celebrity endorsements are getting people to take the bait.

A new study released by the BBB says the number of complaints about "Free Trial Scams" have more than doubled from 2015-2017. They estimate 37,000 people are bilked out of $1.3 billion dollars.

These so called subscription traps entice people with a "Risk-Free Trial" or by putting a celebrity in the ad. Then they make it difficult to read the fine print, send expensive shipments they didn't agree to buy, or make it hard to cancel the trial.

"If you do get connected with one of these celebrity endorsements it's really important to take some time dig a little deeper, go to their site their personal site and see if in fact they are endorsing this product," said Jim Hegarty, CEO of the BBB of Nebraska, SW Iowa, South Dakota, and Great Plains Kansas.

Linda Stodola said last winter she saw an ad for wrinkle cream and seemingly an endorsement from Christie Brinkley. She thought she was getting a trial jar for $4.95, but ended up being charged $180 because of the fine print. She was able to get half of her money back.

"I was appalled to see the initial charge and that was the only charge that I had was the initial time because I was able to get the subscription canceled," Stodola explained.

Officials say most of the criminals involved are actually in the United States, so they have had some success tracking them down.

BBB Tips to spotting a deceptive online ad:

  • Surprising celebrity endorsement
  • Extravagant claims about the product
  • "Free Trial" offer
  • Website with no contact information
  • Website with no contact information
  • Subscription information hidden in the fine print

To report a scam visit BBB Scamtracker, or FTC "Free Trial Offers" page.