Beware: The Perils of Online FREE Trial Offers

Free trial offers, particularly those that require your credit card to sign up, are like internet quicksand. The bright, shiny “Try Now for Free!” emblazoned all over the webpage lures you in. You think, “30 days is a long time. I can test it out and if it’s not something I use I can just cancel.” Before you know it, though, you spot the charge on your credit card statement for the service you forgot to use and forgot to cancel.

The Better Business Bureau included “Not So “Free” Trial Offers” on their list of Top Online Scams ( Many companies make it easy to sign up and hard to cancel. Some will continue to charge credit cards even after attempts to discontinue service. But there are ways to ensure that your free trial remains charge and hassle free.

In an article written for, Tom Spring signed up for and then attempted to quit 40 free trials that required a credit card number. What he discovered was troublesome. Nearly half buried the instructions for how to cancel, requiring lengthy searching to find a path to service termination. Once contact info was found, in some cases web-links to cancel online were broken, phone numbers were disconnected and email addresses incorrect. Almost a quarter required a phone call to stop automatic billing. In most cases this allowed a salesperson an opportunity to attempt to upsell continued service.

Even if you manage to cancel service before you’re charged, you’ll likely continue to be regaled by email offers from the company and their affiliates now that they have your contact information.

If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a girl who flocks to free. I would never tell you to shun all free trial offers. Instead, take a few precautions before you hand over your credit card to a company you aren’t ready to commit to.

Do your homework in advance. Search the site for cancellation steps before you sign up for a trial. Pull up the site’s Terms of Service or FAQ section and use your browser’s search function to look for the keyword “cancel.” If you’re still hesitant, do a web search for “cancel XX” to see if others have reported difficulty.

Pick your card wisely

If you do elect to supply a credit card, don’t choose a debit card. Visa,MastercardAmerican Express and Discover have consumer protections in place that will make it easier to cancel charges through your credit card company should you have difficulty terminating service with the vendor.

To be extra safe, consider picking up a pre-paid Visa, Mastercard or American Express gift credit card in a small denomination. Or, inquire with your credit card company as to if they offer single-use card numbers that will allow for a onetime charge without supporting recurring charges. PayPal offers a similar product. Be sure to confirm that use of the number is limited to one time as some card companies allow multiple charges from the same vendor. You can always update your account with a regular card once you’ve decided to commit.

Cancel at least a day early

It’s tough to determine exactly when a free trial will end. Periods typically last calendar days, so the 7-day trial you sign up for on Tuesday at 8pm will likely end Monday (not the following Tuesday at 8pm as it would seem). Don’t chance it. Set a calendar reminder for at least a full 24-48 hours before the trial is likely to end and decide if you want to continue service before you’re billed for it.

Check to make sure you’re getting the best price before you commit

Tom Spring found that some companies charge a higher annual rate to their free trial customers than those customers that sign up without a trial. If there’s a better price to be had, cancel and call the sales department (it’s almost always easy to find a phone number to call to sign up) to ask them to extend to you the lowest possible price.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns, a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on ABCCBSFOXNBCThe CW, and CNN on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona and MORE Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. 



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