Free trial fails: What are you really signing up for?

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- You see it on your Facebook and Instagram feeds all the time: miracle wrinkle cream, secret youth serums and fast weight loss supplements.

Many offer free trials claiming to be risk-free and some even purport to have big name celebrities behind their products like First Lady Melania Trump, Dr. Oz and even the Duchess of Windsor, Kate Middleton.

The reality is that many of these ads use A-listers' names and images, but the celebrities often do not endorse the products, and their pictures are being used to lure customers into trying the items advertised as "free," but can have plenty of strings attached.

Makeup artist Rachel Whitehurst thought she was getting a free sample of a top-rated skin tightening treatment for women from LifeCell Skin, which had over 6,000 views on Instagram. The ad said pay $4.25 for shipping and handling for a free 30-day trial, which could get rid of your sagging skin in one easy step.

Whitehurst ordered the product and provided her credit card for the shipping cost, and to her surprise, she discovered a charge a month later for $189.

What Whitehurst didn't realize was by signing up for the free trial, she was automatically signing up for a two-month supply, plus a VIP replenishment service. Because she didn't return the free sample before the end of the trial period, she gave the company pre-authorized permission to charge her card for refills.

The Federal Trade Commission said while the companies are not doing anything illegal, it calls this type of marketing "negative option marketing," a broad term in which sellers interpret a customer's failure to take an affirmative action, either to reject an offer or cancel agreement as assent to be charged for goods and services.

MORE: Inside a low-cost trial scam

When Whitehurst tried to cancel her subscription, she says the company initially refused, so she went to her credit card company to dispute the charge. She also informed LifeCell customer service she had complained to 7 On Your Side. LifeCell promptly canceled the transaction and her subscription.

7 On Your Side contacted Linda Goodman, LifeCell's compliance counsel, and she said South Beach Skin Care, LifeCell's parent company, sends customers emails three days before the trial period ends and six days before cards are charged to let customers know about their policy.

"It's not hidden," Goodman said. "It's written on the side of the agreement and in the first paragraph of our terms and conditions as well as in the customer welcome email."

She said they actually give customers 120 days to return the product for a full refund, and have never been contacted by the FTC about negative option marketing complaints.

Goodman said any upset customers should call their customer service number, which is clearly displayed on the website, or email

There are plenty of complaints from people who feel they've been victims of deceptive marketing practices from hundreds of other companies.

Beauty and health blogger Rachel Vrabel of Women's Blog Talk even created a list of phone numbers to help customers cancel subscriptions and get out of recurring bill arrangements they had no idea they signed up for.

Before you order products follow these guidelines:
-Research the company: Look for reviews and other customer feedback
-Uncheck Pre-Checked Boxes: This can automatically sign you up recurring billing or even to receive and be charged for other products
-Mark Your Calendar: Be aware of when your trial period ends and any deadlines
-Read Credit Card Statements to see if you are getting hit with recurring charges
-Keep a copy of your Free Trial Offer

Here's what to do if you get stuck in a subscription you didn't want:
-Contact the Merchant Directly and request an immediate cancellation of your order
-Blogger Rachel Vrabel said if you can't find their name, which is often listed as a different company name from the product, ask your bank to look for the company who billed you the shipping and handling fees or any other fees for the product
-Do not give the merchant your Credit Card number to look up your account, only provide your email
-Get a confirmation email of your cancellation
-Dispute the Charge with You Bank or Credit Card Company
-Report to the FTC


Do you have an issue with a company that you haven't been able to resolve? If so, 7 On Your Side wants to help you!

Send us your questions, issues, and story ideas to Nina by filling out the form above, by emailing, or contact Nina on her Facebook page or tweet her at Twitter @7OnYourSideNY! You can also call the 7 On Your Side Hotline at 917-260-7697.

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