The Morning Call Archives
Copyright ? 2009 The Morning Call ID: 4380757
Publication Date: May 28, 2009
Caption: No Art
Byline: By Paul Muschick Of The Morning Call
Headline: Free trial offers can cost you
Stephanie Epler isn't smiling about her attempt to get free teeth-whitening products online.
She fell for a common Internet sales trick – signing up for a free trial and
then being charged for it, and unknowingly being enrolled in a monthly
subscription that's hard to stop.
It happens with all sorts of products, including an acai weight-loss supplement I wrote about in February.
Epler skimmed through the sales terms when she ordered the teeth
whitening trials in April and didn't catch on until she checked her bank statement. When she didn't cancel before her free trial periods ended, both companies – Easy White Labs of Colorado and Advanced Wellness
Research of Florida – charged her for the products she thought she was getting for free.
"They know people aren't going to know about this," said Epler, of South Whitehall Township.
Of course they do. Why else would their automated phone system and "terms and conditions" fine print dedicate so much space to cancellation, return and refund policies? They expect unhappy customers to complain after they realize what they've gotten themselves into.
In addition to charging her for the products she ordered as a free trial, Easy White Labs and Advanced Wellness Research also enrolled Epler
in a monthly subscription for their products, meaning she'd receive more and be charged more.
Not knowing when the companies might charge her again, Epler was
afraid to pay bills, fearing a check might bounce. She tried to cancel both subscriptions, but isn't sure it worked. So she did the only thing she could, canceled the debit card she'd used.
Epler got snagged when she saw an online ad for whitening products with a testimonial from "Cathy Anselmo" from Allentown.
The pitch from a local woman helped sell her on the products. Turns out she isn't local. If you read the ad on your computer in Chicago, Cathy Anselmo is from there, too.
The ad is a gimmick that changes to reflect the name of the city where your Internet service is located.
Epler ordered the free trials April 22, paying only $6.99 and $4.99 for shipping. They arrived in three or four days.
In mid-May, she found each company had taken $78 more from her bank account.
She dug through the Easy White Labs box and found the fine print saying her free trial lasts "about" 10 days from the date she ordered. If she didn't cancel within that period, she'd be billed for the shipment, and
enrolled to receive more.
Epler said the Advanced Wellness Research trial package didn't include
a notice. It was on the Web site where she ordered, though, in the fine print and not mentioned by the smiling spokeswoman.
After a 14-day free trial – again, from the day she ordered – she'd be
billed for what she had received, and then receive more.
A manager at Advanced Wellness Research told me the company gets
lots of complaints from customers about being billed for free trials and enrolled in the subscription plan. I suggested the company disclose the terms more prominently, and have them read by the talking spokeswoman in the online ad. He said he'd see what he could do, but I'm guessing he's not beating down his boss's door to share the idea.
The manager didn't have an answer for why the clock starts on the free trial the day you order, when you won't get the product for several days. He also wouldn't address why the free trial offer comes with so many conditions.
Legitimate companies should provide truly free trials and let satisfied customers order more, instead of automatically enrolling them in a subscription plan.
Easy White Labs didn't return my calls.
Epler is fighting the charges through her bank. She wishes she'd read the
fine print carefully, and warns others to do the same. The whole experience has made her skeptical about ordering anything else online. That's good advice, especially free trial offers in Internet ads.
You're better off ignoring online offers like this and finding a similar
product at the store. You'll know what you're getting and what you'll pay.
If you can't resist, at least check out the companies. There are tons of gripes about Easy White Labs and Advanced Wellness Research on
Internet complaint boards. Advanced Wellness Research gets an F from
the Better Business Bureau in Florida and an unsatisfactory rating in Illinois, where it also has an office.
Easy White Labs somehow manages a B+ from the BBB in Colorado, but
gets an F from the one in Arizona.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by e-
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