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Signing up for a free trial? Don’t make these mistakes

Everybody loves a good sale or being offered a steep discount. But if that isn’t possible, you have probably opted for a free trial of a service or website. Knowing that they don’t intend to make a purchase, most cancel the trial before it expires.

But websites and services know this. Research numbers are all over the place, but the consensus is free to paid conversation rate of about 15% is considered the norm. That means only 15% of free trial users switch to a paid version. Tap or click here for streaming services offering free trials.

A free trial might seem like a good idea, but there is a dark side too. With low conversion rates, websites and apps employ other methods to retain your business and that can mean even selling your personal data.

Protecting your details

Thankfully the instances of personal data being sold for profit isn’t that prevalent, but companies can use other tactics to score some of your cash. Not paying attention to the fine print or what happens after the trial expires can leave you in a bit of an awkward situation.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) highlighted some of the most important aspects to consider before signing up for a free trial. As mentioned, your personal information is an asset for any service. “Always protect your personal information online,” explains the BBB in a recent blog post.

In most instances, a free trial will require personal data to process your request. This can include your email address, telephone number or credit card number. Before gleefully handing over the information, make sure the website is secure. This will be denoted by a lock icon in the address bar, and the URL starting with HTTPS.

Read the fine print

Every website, service, or app comes with lengthy terms and conditions. Usually tucked away at the bottom will be what is referred to as the “fine print.” It’s not in a different font but can be the details that a service legally needs to include but secretly hopes you miss.

This can be anything from automatic renewal, unmentioned taxes or charges, a steep cancellation fee or strange policy changes. The BBB suggests that you should read through the terms and conditions before signing up.

“If you can’t find the terms and conditions or can’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, you shouldn’t sign up,” the BBB explains.

Mark it down on your calendar

Together with the fine print, make sure that you know when your free trial is about to expire. In many cases, a credit card is needed to activate the free trial. If you don’t cancel the trial, the card you used will automatically be charged.

It is becoming increasingly rare for companies to send out a notice that your trial is about to expire. Mark the date of expiration on a calendar and cancel it at least a day before. That way, there can’t be any disputes over the exact date, and there will still be enough time to correct any mistakes.

Here are some more tips from the BBB on dealing with free trials:

  • Always review your credit and debit card statements. This will help you to know right away if you are being charged for something you didn’t order. If you see charges you didn’t agree to, contact the company directly to sort out the situation. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn’t actively order the additional merchandise.
  • Research the company online. See what other people are saying about the company’s free trials — and its service. The FTC points out that “complaints from other customers can tip you off to ‘catches’ that might come with the trial.” 
  • Find the terms and conditions for the offer. Even if you heard about an offer through a radio, TV, or print ad, the company should still provide the details on their website. As many Scam Tracker reports show, if you can’t find the terms and conditions or can’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, you shouldn’t sign up.
  • Always protect your personal information online. When you sign up for a free trial online, you’ll likely need to provide some basic personal information and your credit card number. Before you hand over your information, review the site’s privacy policy and make sure the website is secure. Make sure it starts with “HTTPS://” and has a lock icon on the sign-up page.
  • Want to subscribe past the free trial? Understand how to cancel future shipments or services first. Know the policies for canceling or pausing your subscription. Do you need to respond or cancel by a certain time each month?

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