Subscriptions

Subscriptions exist for all manner of things, such as gym membership, monthly magazines, and TV streaming packages.

Most go without a hitch and are an easy way to pay for goods and services.

This section focusses on subscription traps. These are often linked to product trials that are advertised as being ‘free’ or ‘low-cost’, however, it later becomes apparent you are locked into expensive, and sometimes extortionate repeat payments, and a payment agreement that is hard to get out of.

Very often the trials involved in these types of subscription traps are for goods such as beauty and anti-aging products, slimming pills, health foods or pharmaceuticals, however, other types of goods are becoming more common, such as the latest mobile phones.

How subscription traps work

The scammers that operate these types of traps take advantage of ‘continuous payment authority’.  They take your card details to make a one-off payment to cover postage and packaging for your ‘free trial’, or to act as proof of age and identity to, but then keep your card details in order to take ongoing monthly payments.  Often you will have unwittingly agreed to this by failing to notice the arrangement buried in the terms and conditions, hence the difficulty of withdrawing from the agreement.

How to avoid subscription traps

  1. Always be wary!
    Read the small print, and take your time before signing up to any agreement, or making a purchase of this type.
     
  2. Check there are no pre-ticked boxes
    It is against the law for a company to pre-tick a box, for example in the terms and conditions, or in relation to hidden or non-optional charges.
     
  3. Cancellation date
    If you make the purchase online, by catalogue or other ‘distance’ sale i.e. not in a shop or store, then by law you should be given 14 calendar days to cancel. If you use any of the goods during this time period, you will be expected to pay for them.
     
  4. Before you pay…
    Always do your research before handing over your card details to a trader you have not used before. It is a good idea to enter their name into a search engine to see if previous customers have had a bad experience with them.
     
  5. Keep a copy
    If you do go ahead with the subscription, keep a copy in case you need to refer to it again at a later date.
     
  6. Check your bank statements
    If you do not already do this, check your bank statements every month to ensure there are no unexplained or unexpected payments going out of your account.

What to do if you have been trapped

  1. Contact the trader in the first instance to try and cancel the agreement.  Also ask them for a refund if you believe the advertisement did not make clear about the charges. (This is where keeping a copy of the order, including the terms and conditions, can be useful). If you contact the trader by telephone, follow-up with an email to make your request in writing.
     
  2. Contact your credit or debit card provider to cancel future payments, and ask your bank if it would be wise to replace the card.
     
  3. If you feel your card provider is not being as helpful as they could be in relation to the issue, you can refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman.

Contacts

In the first instance you should contact Consumerline, managed by Trading Standards Service on 0300 123 6262 or visit: www.nidirect.gov.uk/consumerline.