North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers are warning consumers not to sign up for free trials of products without checking the small print and finding out exactly what they are agreeing to.
The county’s trading standards officers receive more calls on the subject of free trials than any other issue.
People who are attracted by the many internet pop up adverts or links that appear on their computer screens, offering slimming products, face creams and other products on free trial, should treat such offers with extreme cautions.
The offers usually seem too good to be true and that’s because they are. They often promise a sample of an expensive product for free with the consumer having to do no more than pay for the postage.
However, trading standards officers are now urging people to look closely at the small print. Anyone responding to the adverts will find they are agreeing to subscribe to a regular, usually monthly, delivery of the product at a cost typically between £50 and £100 per month.
Payments are then taken each month from the payment card that was used to pay for the postage charge to receive the ‘free’ sample. The payment authority unwittingly set up is known as a continuous payment authority and does not come with the same guarantees and safeguards as a direct debit. Moreover consumers can find it difficult to cancel the arrangement.
Jo Boutflower, the county council’s head of business and consumer services, said: Consumers who have unwittingly signed up to these subscription schemes can find that their bank tells them that they need the trader’s permission to cancel the payment authority.
This is not right. Our advice to anyone finding themselves in this position is to write, by letter or email, to the trader notifying them that they are cancelling the payment authority with immediate effect. They should contact their bank at the same time and instruct them to cancel the payment authority immediately. If the trader has not provided an address or email address then consumers only need to contact their bank. If the bank refuses to cancel the payment authority, consumers can report them to the Financial Conduct Authority on 0800 111 6768.
County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, North Yorkshire’s executive member for trading standards said: It is very worrying that it is so easy for consumers to be trapped into an on-going subscription arrangement at a cost of up to £100 every month.” “Many of these scams are being operated from abroad but the county council will do all it can to tackle those operating from the UK and to share intelligence with overseas enforcement bodies to try and stamp them out.
North Yorkshire County Council hosts the National Trading Standards e-Crime Team in partnership with the City of York Council, and the team’s website, www.tradingstandardsecrime.org.uk, is a great source of advice about all types of online scams and frauds.
Consumers who want to report a suspicious advert or who need advice about a subscription scheme they may have become involved with should ring Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06.
Further information about continuous payment authorities is available at the Financial Conduct Authority website at www.fca.org.uk/new/continuous-payment-authorities-your-right-to-cancel