Have you ever discovered an unexpected charge on your credit card or bank statement and complained, only to find you inadvertently agreed to the purchase? Many people have done that. You may have been looking at a magazine’s website, clicked on a link, and later found out you’d accidentally subscribed. Or you may have purchased an item online or by phone and got an incredible price. Later, you found out why the price was so great. The fine print gave the seller the right to ship you more items periodically and charge your credit card.
The Unplanned Subscription
A growing trend among magazine publishers who advertise online is use of the pre-checked box. The magazine may advertise a contest, for example, with no purchase necessary to enter. It seems safe enough, so you figure, why not? Only you don’t notice the small print which offers you the chance to subscribe. Next to the offer is a little box which, if checked, gives your authorization to subscribe. The problem is, the box is pre-checked. If you don’t notice the box and remove the check, you have subscribed.
Next thing you know, you get a magazine in the mail, along with a note saying “thank you for subscribing” and a bill. If you don’t want the subscription, write “cancel” on the bill and send it back.
BOGO — But Not “Free”
You know those “as seen on TV” ads which say they will send you not one, but two for the stated “low, low price?” In other words, buy-one-get-one free, if you just pay the extra shipping and handling on the free item.
The devil is in the “handling” detail, because the charge may not be specified, and if you ask the salesperson, you may not get an answer. Consumers sometimes find they paid more in “handling” charges than the products were worth, even with the freebie.
A better idea is to check your local big box department store. Some of them have aisles dedicated to selling the “as seen on TV” items where you can buy what you want without any shipping or handling charges.
Again, pay close attention to the fine print. If there’s a dirty detail, that’s most likely where you’ll find it. Enthusiastic shoppers sometimes overlook the terms and conditions, fail to check out what nebulous “shipping and handling” charges apply, or get carried away with an offer that says free and fail to consider what value they’re really getting.
Your parents may have told you that there is no such thing as truly “free.” Vendors may offer a free product or service as a way to convert you from a “looky-loo” to a paying customer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is up to you to be a smart consumer.
A vendor may offer an introductory period of free credit monitoring, for example. But the fact the vendor asks for your credit card information should tell you there will be charges later if you don’t act to stop them. That “free for 90 days” offer is soon up and you forget about it. At least until you get your credit card statement and see an unexpected charge, which, technically, you authorized.
Watch Giving Out Financial Info
Avoid giving out your credit card number to merchants online, on the phone or in-person to get a “free” item or estimate. The likelihood that you’ll be subject to recurring charges is high. Even if you directly ask the vendor if you’ll be charged, it might be hard to get a direct answer.
Legitimate businesses hardly, if ever, use deceptive advertising and sales practices like this. Before you give out any of your personal financial information, check out the merchant you’re dealing with carefully. No matter how good a deal sounds, once you’ve given them your credit card information, you may be in for recurring charges or in the worst case, identity theft.
Be Wary of Phone Solicitations
Getting a phone solicitation is common. Usually it’s a company promising a free estimate for repair work or a timeshare company offering a free trip. Generally, the caller won’t volunteer the full terms of the so-called “deal.” If you press the person on the phone, he or she will likely try to avoid giving out the details.
Timeshare companies are notorious for offering trips and cruises and downplaying the fact that you will need to spend part of your time there listening to a high-pressure sales pitch. Unless you like dealing with high pressure salespeople, it’s best to save your cash and plan your own excursions.
Ask and Receive
Check your credit card and bank statements carefully every month. If you do find a charge that you didn’t expect — ask if there’s a possibility of removing it. It may be legitimate — something you forgot about. But don’t leave it to chance. If the charge wasn’t authorized and you don’t challenge it, you might be opening the door to more bogus charges.
Also, check with the company or magazine publisher that charged you in the first place to see if they will refund your money. Be forceful, yet polite, when you ask a company to refund the charge. If nothing else, at least you can stop future charges.
At the end of the day, if you’ve mistakenly opted for a product or service, the charge is your responsibility. It’s a much different situation than a fraudulent charge. So be aware of what you’re getting into. Look carefully before you sign or click. Skepticism can be a virtue when a deal sounds too good to be true. Nobody wants to pay for something they didn’t want.
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Brought to you by: Peterson Whitaker & Bjork, LLC