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ConsumerWatch: ‘Free Trial’ Leads To Shopper’s Bank Overdraft

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Free online trail offers may seem appealing, but usually they come with strings attached, as Molly Whitnack from Palo Alto found after she ordered cellulite removal cream.

According to Whitnack, the website stated a free trail offer for a 30 day supply – All she had to do was pay $4.95 for shipping and handling.

Weeks later Whitnack said she was charged $86.55, followed by a second charge.

“I didn’t even realize until I logged on my bank account,” she said. “I was like $80 negative. I was shocked.”

Whitnack immediately called the company, but was told the trial was 14 days, even though the offer included a 30 day supply.

Whitnack also discovered she had been enrolled in a monthly plan since the original package was never returned. Jeremy Gin from Site Jabber, a website that tracks tricky behavior online warns consumers against similar websites.

“The way they hook people in is by claiming it’s free,” he said.

Any time a company requires a credit card, Gin said it should raise a red flag.

“Presumably they’re going to charge you, unless you read the small print often time you’ll get stuck paying large fees down the road,” he said.

That’s a valuable lesson Whitnack has now learned after paying $172.

After ConsumerWatch called the company, Cellulean agreed to give Whitnack a partial refund as a goodwill gesture. The company told CBS 5 the website clearly states the free trial is 14 days. They also said it is the responsibility of the consumer to thoroughly read the contract.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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