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Consumer Reports: Free trial offers could cost you

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Online free trials sound tempting. They’re for everything from grocery delivery to skin creams to dietary supplements. But few things in life are free with no strings attached. As Consumer Reports explains, some of those offers are actually designed to take your hard-earned cash.

The Federal Trade Commission has sued companies that offer free trials but then charge consumers recurring fees for products they may not want anymore.

Complaints about not-so-free trials doubled between 2015 and 2017. It’s not surprising that so many consumers fall for them. After all, plenty of legitimate companies offer free samples all the time. But how can you tell if you’re getting a deal or just getting duped?

If you’re interested in a free trial offer, it’s always a good practice to research the company first online to check for reviews or complaints. They may provide warning signs that an offer isn’t legitimate.

CR also says to read the fine print and see what the process is for getting a refund or canceling. Also, check the links to make sure they’re legitimate. If there’s a phone number, try it to make sure there’s someone at the other end.

If you do sign up for a free trial, CR recommends keeping receipts, email, and screenshots from the transaction. Keep all the documentation handy just in case you have to dispute any charges with your bank credit card. And if you want to cancel when the trial is over, be sure to set a reminder in your cellphone’s calendar, otherwise, your credit card could be charged.

Credit card companies are responding to this problem. Last year Mastercard announced a new policy that requires a merchant offering free trials to get permission from consumers before they can hit them with recurring charges. And in April, Visa will require merchants offering these kinds of promotions to remind cardholders when they’re near the end of a trial period.