Large numbers of complaints have continued to flood into West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service from consumers who have signed up to online “free trials” of beauty treatments, slimming and health products.
Consumers say they receive internet offers of these products, telling them to enter their bank details to pay a small amount for postage and packing of the “free” product.
But then a much larger amount is taken from their account without their knowledge - as much as £70 per month or more.
Hidden within the terms and conditions of these websites it appears consumers were actually agreeing to a monthly subscription contract, and ended up being charged for several months before realising what was going on. On top of this, many of the contracts lock consumers into a Continuous Payment Authority, which they then have trouble cancelling.
Consumers are advised to check the smallprint very carefully. The terms and conditions are not clear and often only accessible via a link at the bottom of the webpage, so consumers need to take great care before entering their bank details.
Although these businesses often appear to be in the UK, they are usually based overseas and use a UK address to front the illusion. There are a large number of these businesses offering a wide range of different types of products. In addition to the potential for consumers to lose out financially, the products themselves are often of little use. The Advertising Standards Authority has recently ruled against one such product called Dead Sea Kit because of the misleading nature of the “free” offer and the lack of evidence to support the claims made of the product.
Consumers who may have been a victim of one of these websites can report the matter to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 04 05 06.
Graham Hebblethwaite, Chief Officer of West Yorkshire Trading Standards said, “It’s natural for people to be attracted to a “free offer”. But this is a costly mistake to make and there is little prospect of getting your money back once it has been taken from your account”
Councillor Jayne Booth, of the Trading Standards Committee said, “There are so many misleading internet offers it is difficult for consumers to negotiate the genuine from the scams. Never pass on your credit card or bank details unless you are absolutely sure that the business is trustworthy. If you don’t have the time to read all the small print and research the internet feedback, just walk away from the offer.”