Beware of “Free Trial” Scams!

Several years ago, I posted a blog warning about a scam involving a free trial for a dietary supplement supposedly featured on the popular TV show Shark Tank.

It wasn’t on Shark Tank. But it was a scam.

I received countless messages from people who fell victim to this scheme. These are not dumb people, but advertisers and scammers are so slick with their messaging they can trick a lot of smart people.

Sharon’s story

One comment from Sharon struck a chord. Sharon wrote she was normally wise about these ads, yet after ordering a dietary supplement for what she thought was $19, got an email with a charge of not $19, but $199. She called immediately but was told it was too late: The product was packaged and out the door.

Seriously, within minutes? Sharon contacted her bank and learned she wasn’t charged $199, but $278. The bank locked her card and referred her case to the bank’s dispute center for investigation.

Four tips before signing up for a free trial

  1. Be aware and BEWARE of the word free. As enticing as “free product or trial” sounds, don’t do it. People sign up thinking they’re only paying shipping but wind up paying a lot of money because they’ve given their credit card or worse, debit card.
  2. Do your research. Don’t assume what you see is accurate. Check the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The company in question, above, had a BBB rating of F. Furthermore, 11 other bogus websites were affiliated with it.
  3. Celebrity endorsements are often fake. Scammers and marketers will often claim their product is the one associated with this celebrity or that TV show. You’ll probably find similar products claiming the same thing. Dietary supplements, anti-aging products, and male enhancement products are common products deceitfully “endorsed.”
  4. Read the fine print. It’s easy to ignore, but this is where they’ll get you. The fine print likely authorizes ongoing shipments with ongoing charges. Unscrupulous companies use the terms and conditions to protect themselves, arguing you authorized the charges — because you should have read the fine print.

You’ve been scammed. Now what?

What if you fall victim and believe you’ve been scammed?

Don’t feel bad. It happens and will continue to happen due to the sophistication of scammers’ methods.

  1. Contact the company immediately. Unfortunately, it might not get you anywhere. There’s no number, no answer, or the number is disconnected. At least try.
  2. Dispute the charge with your credit card company.
  3. Keep documentation of everything: Numbers you call, names, time and date, and so on. Follow up, follow up, follow up.
  4. Report. Only by reporting can authorities be made aware of these scams.


Your experience, although very unfortunate, will help others.

A reminder about the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, DSHEA. No dietary supplement requires proof of its safety and effectiveness before being brought to market. Buyer beware.

Did Sharon get her money back?

Sharon was one of the lucky ones. She got her money back, but not from the company. Her bank reimbursed her after spending countless hours trying to fix the situation. For a 69-year-old on a fixed income, Sharon was out several hundred dollars for the number of months it took to get resolved.
Hopefully, Sharon’s story keeps you or a loved one from being scammed.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is, especially when it comes to free trials. Rarely is anything in life free.

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