The Dangers of Free Trial Periods

This customer got trapped into paying for something she didn't want.

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

In January, I decided to try out a free offer for facial cream. I've been around the block on 'free offers,' but I thought I was safe because I could cancel the trial period and get a full refund if I didn't like the product.

I received the product on day ten and the trial period was set to end on day 15, so I only had five days to make a decision. They also sent an additional product, which I didn't request. I was billed for both products within days of receiving them, despite my repeated efforts to cancel almost immediately. I was unable to reach anyone at the company, either by e-mail or phone.

My next step was to contact my credit card company to ask them to take up the dispute on my behalf. Unfortunately, I waited two months to do this because I was so upset about the fiasco. I didn't hear a response. But the $300 in charges from the products helped send me over my credit limit, which triggered higher interest rates on my cards.

I am upset and offended and am trying to rebuild my credit situation. Please let me know if you have any advice for me.

It sounds like you got trapped not just by a free trial offer, which many legitimate companies use to attract new customers, but also by a fraudulent company that made it impossible for you to cancel your order. The first lesson here is to stay away from free trials. Even when a product is tempting, the risk of forgetting to cancel or ending up in a situation like yours is too high.

The second problem here is that your credit card company did not serve you well. Part of the problem seems to be that you delayed reaching out to them. Usually, credit card companies take up disputes on behalf of customers. They typically credit customers for the disputed charge while they investigate and then work with the retailer to figure out who is at fault, but they often require that the dispute be filed within 60 days of the original charge.

Since more than 60 days elapsed since you filed your complaint, you might need to swallow the $300 charge. But I wouldn't do that without first alerting the Better Business Bureau to what happened. Perhaps other people have also had trouble with this company.

As for the bigger problem—rebuilding your credit—that will take time. Even before this problem, it sounds like you were relying too much on your credit cards, since $300 put you over your credit limit. Make a plan for paying off your debts and stop building up any new ones. Anyone with credit card debt shouldn't even be thinking about $300 facial creams.

Do you have a question for me? Please send it to alphaconsumer@usnews.com.

For more, see "Resolving Credit Card Disputes."