“Free Samples” Aren’t Free


The ads for “free samples” are impossible to avoid. They often appear as side-bars, sometimes as expensive banner ads and even as pop-ups. The pitch is very simple: You can receive a week’s (or month’s, or six week’s) supply of pills that will do X (thoroughly clean out your colon, burn fat while you sleep or some other unlikely or even physically impossible task). The hook: In order to receive this free sample, you have to provide a credit card number. The credit card will not be charged for your free sample, the reader is assured, but it is necessary for verification purposes.

And, actually, the credit card is not charged for the free sample. That is true, as far as it goes. It might be charged for a hefty processing fee and shipping costs, though. More to the point, it will be charged – and usually quite a bit – for the next shipment of pills, which will be sent within days after your free sample has been shipped. In fact, the next shipment will often be sent before the consumer even receives the free samples, let alone has enough time to try them and test their effectiveness.

Credit card

Welcome to the world of “free samples.” The trick is in the fine print. By agreeing to order the free samples, the person is agreeing to subscribe to additional shipments of the pills, to be sent on a regular basis. The rules and charges are all carefully explained, but only in the fine print which can be accessed only if the reader carefully clicks through to the end of the series of windows. Cancellation is, of course, an option, but the grace period between the original order for the free sample and the first charge against the credit card is usually breathtakingly brief – in many cases, as pointed out above, before the free samples have even been received.

It is all legal, which makes it the perfect scam (from the scammer’s point of view, of course). It is also entirely avoidable. First, read the fine print. Always. Carefully. Second, ask, “If it is free, why do they need my credit card information?” Finally, ask, “If they are giving away stuff, how can they afford all those expensive ads?”

There is a basic human desire to want to get something for nothing. Scammers know that and count upon that. All they need is a tiny percent of the people who see their ads to act impulsively upon that desire. Don’t be one of them: Always read the fine print.

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