Ellen Roseman: Beware strings attached to 'free' samples, contests online
- January 20, 2010 1:25 PM |
- By Ellen Roseman
Money Talks is a daily business column from CBC radio.
Ellen Roseman is a business writer at the Toronto Star.
(Listen to the original audio of this column.)
Would you like to have whiter, brighter teeth? Would you like to lose weight and gain energy, thanks to natural food supplements with miracle berries? Free sample offers of cosmetic and health products are all over the internet. Even on Facebook, hackers can get into your friends' accounts to solicit you. And they're quite persuasive.
In order to get your free sample, you have to give your credit card number to cover shipping charges. This allows the companies to continue charging your credit card account for monthly product deliveries. Once you say yes to the trial, you will find yourself going back to your credit card issuer every month, trying to stop getting billed for shipments you didn't think you had authorized.
Did you read the terms and conditions of the online offer? That's the first question your credit card issuer will ask.
Alas, many people miss the fine print because it's hidden away. And since they think they're getting a free sample, they don't look for strings attached.
These promotions have a Canadian address, but usually originate offshore. They're cleverly designed to trick you into paying a bunch of monthly fees before you can extricate yourself.
This same fiendish marketing method applies to online quizzes that offer free prizes. The twist here is that you're asked to supply a cellphone number to get the results.
Handing over your cellphone number can be just as risky as giving your credit card number. You can end up receiving premium text messages that cost you $1 to $5 each, compared to only 15 cents for ordinary messages.
This time, you will be wrangling with a wireless carrier. Again, you will be asked if you have read the elusive terms and conditions - and if you say no, prepare to pay for the premium text messages.
So, never let down your guard when shopping on the internet. It's the new playground for fraudsters, who circumvent the rules by burying the cautionary messages that may tip you off to the traps.
One scam victim told me he has learned his lesson. Impulse shopping online can be costly in both money and in time.
I think governments have to look at what constitutes genuine consent in a client-seller relationship. There needs to be more transparency, since the lack of disclosure allows this flashy internet scam marketing to exist.
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