(CBS) – Be careful when responding to offers advertising free products – you could get hit with a bill. Online marketers frequently don’t disclose all the terms of “free” offers, even in the fine print.
Walt Landers of San Jose, a small business owner, recently ordered a bottle of Garcinia Camboggia from a company called “Slimmer You.” The company’s website plainly states “Claim your Free Bottle Today.” Landers understood he would have to pay shipping and handling. “That sounded ok,” he told ConsumerWatch.
But ten days after the pills arrived, Landers noticed Slimmer You had charged his credit card $87.65.
“What the heck is that?,” Landers recalled saying when he saw the charge.
When Landers called the company to ask about the charge he says a representative told him: “’If you don’t call in 14 days, we just presume you want a subscription.’” That’s even though it hadn’t been 14 days since Landers received the pills. “It’s like if someone came up and took my wallet and took 87 bucks out of it,” Landers said.
Consumer advocate Joe Ridout says people who respond to “free” offers frequently end up getting charged because they don’t realize they have to take additional steps to opt-out. “We call it negative option marketing,” Ridout explained. “If a consumer is silent as to whether or not they want to continue buying or not, that’s automatically taken as a ‘yes,’ and that goes on every month until the consumer proactively opts out.”
When ConsumerWatch called Slimmer You to ask about the charge we were told the “Claim Your Free Bottle today” offer was actually a free 18-day trial, something not spelled out in the terms and conditions on the company’s website. A company representative also told us that even though we called the same number on the company’s website, we’d actually reached another company selling the same product.
So, we emailed the company and a few hours later, Slimmer You reversed the $87.65 charge on Landers’ account. It did not offer an explanation why.
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