Shoppers tempted by 'free trials' of miracle youth cream and weight loss pills are being warned by the Royal Bank of Scotland to read ts&cs carefully after the bank reported its customers lost a combined £3 million in just six months after signing up to such schemes.
Research from the banking group, which includes RBS and NatWest, shows that at the peak of the problem, customers paid over £30,000 per day on these trials, equating to a whopping £2.9 million between June 2014 and mid-January 2015 (see our How to Complain guide).
It adds that at the height of the issue in May last year, it received 390 calls a day from anxious customers who'd had unrecognised payments of around £80/month debited from their accounts. It estimates that in total, over 37,000 of its customers have been affected.
MoneySavingExpert.com often sees complaints from users who say they've been duped by similar schemes offering 'free' trials of products including teeth whiteners, muscle builders, weight loss tablets, hair growth stimulators and skin renewal creams.
The problem seems to be that consumers sign up for what they believe to be a 'free' trial of a product, and give their card details to pay for costs such as postage and packaging costing around £5. People receive the product, but their details are used to set up a recurring payment unless they opt out during the free trial period.
Subscription details and charges should be laid out in the terms and conditions of the agreement, but RBS found instances where the ts&cs only appeared after the customer had agreed to them, where they were hidden at the bottom of the page, or where they'd been greyed out making them near impossible to find.
The banking group has raised the issue with Visa, MasterCard and the UK Cards Association and provided them with the details of firms causing regular complaints, which has resulted in Visa and Mastercard denying payments to nearly 1,000 companies.
Most complained about 'free' trials
The following 'free' trials are the top ten currently most complained about to RBS:1) Advanced Ketone
2) Age renew
3) Aloe Vera Cleanse
4) Agedefying GQ
5) Active Greencof
6) Aloe Vera 4 Diet
9) Healthy Ketone
10) Get Super Ketone / Raspberry Ketone.
How do I stop these companies taking more money?
If you've signed up to one of these 'free' or 'discounted' trials and don't want to pay the recurring fee, you should try to contact the company as soon as possible to cancel your subscription and avoid further payment.
If the firm isn't contactable or it disappears, tell your bank or card issuer to stop future payments. Under the 2009 Payment Services Regulations, a bank must stop such payments if asked to do so by a customer. See our Beware Recurring Payments guide for more on this.
How do I get my money back?
If you paid more than £100 for a single item using a credit card you can try and get your money back under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you believe the item wasn't as it should have been, or that the product was misrepresented to you. Contact your credit card provider to get your money back.
If you paid by debit card or had less than £100 taken from your credit card, you may be able to get a refund from your card provider via Chargeback – though this only applies within the first 120 days of buying the goods and it's a service requirement and not a legal requirement like Section 75.
Can I report the problem?
If you've signed up for what you thought was a free trial but ended up paying a recurring subscription, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to complain about the company and to get advice if you need it.
CAB gives advice on an individual basis, but if it spots numerous complaints about the same company it will pass on the firm's details to be looked into by the relevant enforcement body, such as Trading Standards.
However the CAB can only pass on complaints about UK-based companies. If you've lost money after using a non-UK company, while the CAB can still offer you advice, unfortunately it can't pass complaints on as there isn't an enforcement body that deals with non-UK firms.