Free samples

Imagine: you come across an online advertisement promising you (almost) free samples of beauty or slimming products. You only need to pay the shipping charges - with your credit card.

As agreed, you receive a trial pack. However, after a few weeks, you receive a second shipment and this time a far greater amount is taken from your card. It is one of those classic misleading trading practices.

The same misleading trading practice also happens in other sectors, for example, electronic cigarettes, collectors’ coins and dating.

How does the scam work?

Decided to opt in? Then the advertisers will ask you, for example, for your credit card details for paying the shipping charges. Now they possess your credit card details and will collect the price for follow-up shipments, which you have not ordered, without you being required to do anything further.

Follow-up shipments? Some websites do indeed state in the small print that the free sample or trial pack will be followed by other products, but this time they are payable. Other websites state absolutely nothing.

In both cases, they are unlawful practices. After all, you never agreed to buy payable products. Sometimes, it can even be a case of inertia selling.

The right reflexes before you order

Before you opt into such an offer, be sure to check the following points:

  • Who is the vendor? Look on his/her official website and elsewhere for his/her geographic address and e-mail address.
  • Where is the vendor registered? Do not assume that the vendor is registered in the country indicated in his/her URL. Remember that dealers registered outside the EU are not subject to European consumer legislation.
  • What are the standard conditions? Do they include, for instance, the information about your right of withdrawal, the vendor’s cancellation and return shipment policy? If not, then they ought to be on the website. If they are not there either, then do not take up the offer.
  • What are you committing yourself to? Are you just ordering a free sample or trial pack, or are you entering into an agreement to receive follow-up shipments? Take print-screens during the ordering process so that afterwards you are always able to demonstrate/check to what you have committed yourself.

Still a victim?

  • Immediately (certainly within fourteen days from delivery) present the vendor with a written complaint to dispute and cancel the purchase. Ask for a refund of the unjustly collected amounts. Keep copies of all correspondence.
  • Refuse receipt of any new packs that the vendor sends you.
  • Did you pass on your credit card details? Block the card so that no new sums can be collected. Register objection with the credit card issuer as well and try to get back the unjustly collected amounts that way.
  • Did you receive an invoice? Do not pay it and dispute it in writing.
  • Did you receive a claim from a collection company or bailiff? Dispute it in writing. The collection company or the bailiff may not bother you any longer, upon receipt of your written and reasoned dissent.
  • If necessary, contact the legal specialists at ECC for assistance.

Anyone wanting to know more about these sorts of unfair trading practices can find more information in a study by ECC-Net “Too good to be true? It probably is!