I really don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m really glad I blogged yesterday on ways to avoid “free trial” traps! (“10 Tips to Avoid “Free Trial” Traps and Protect Your Financial Information”).   Why is that?  Because after I did that post,  I read about the report issued on April 18th by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).  The report’s titled: “CFA Report: How Identity Theft Services Measure Up to Best Practices.” (www.consumerfed.org/studies).

So you’re asking — “how does that relate to your “free trial” blog?  Here’s how:

  •  CFA had worked with commercial identity theft service companies last year to develop voluntary “best practices” for the firms to follow as they market their services.
  •  CFA decided to do a follow-up to gauge how some 20 identity theft service providers were doing in following these guidelines.
  • As part of its assessment, CFA looked for complaints that had been filed about identity theft services.
  • CFA  found that the biggest source of consumer complaints had nothing to do with something covered by their “best practices” guidelines.
  • The most frequent consumer complaint was about — free trial offers!

Identity theft service companies usually offer consumers the chance to try the service for free for a week or a month.  After that, consumers get charged for the service if they don’t cancel.  What was the biggest complaint about the “free trial” offers?  People not knowing they’d be charged for ongoing services if they didn’t cancel.

With the identity theft service companies, CFA found that consumers who filed complaints said:

  • They tried to cancel but couldn’t reach the company to do so; or
  • They had never even agreed to try the service.

In its report, CFA warns about “free trials”, in general, with points that echo or expand on the “10 tips” I offered.  CFA reports that:

  • Companies sometimes share consumers’ credit card or bank account information with other companies without alerting consumers they’ll do so.
  • Companies sometimes do what’s called “up selling”; that’s when the original company from which you buy a product or service offers you a “free trial” for another  product or service — either from the original company or one of its affiliates or a marketing partner.
  • This is wrong on so many levels — especially since you won’t know that some other company could be getting your private financial information and charging you for other products when the “free trial” period is over for those other products or services.

The CFA report provides excellent information on identity theft service companies and the range of “best practices” which they should follow.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with trying a “free trial” offer — we just have to be pro-active in controlling any “free trial” offers that we accept.