Residents are being warned about diet pill and anti-wrinkle cream internet scams following a spate of complaints to Derbyshire County Council.
The council’s trading standards team is urging people to be wary of ‘pop up’ advertising which can appear when they are looking at unrelated websites or unsolicited emails offering a ‘free trial’ in return for a small delivery cost paid by credit or debit card.
Some consumers who accepted trials complained to trading standards officers weeks later when they noticed several debits of between £50 and £100 taken from their card – despite repeated references on the website to a ‘risk free trial’ of the product.
Officers said that when accepting terms and conditions consumers often do not notice that the trial must be cancelled within a few weeks or it will turn into a monthly subscription for the full price of the product.
Derbyshire County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Communities Councillor Dave Allen said: “We always advise consumers to read the terms and conditions of any contract carefully. The problem is that this information can be hidden and is not immediately obvious.
“Many of these scam operators quote UK addresses on their website but often these are just mailing addresses and customers have to pursue their lost money overseas, which is far more difficult.
“We would advise people to be very wary about accepting any free online product trial offer without carefully reading the small print first.”
Trading standards officers have received 30 complaints from people in Derbyshire losing up to £600 in similar scams.
In most cases the customers agreed to pay small postage costs but a clause in the small print committed them to monthly auto payments of between £50 and £100 with no apparent way to stop the deliveries or debits.
Consumers taking up ‘trial’ offers are effectively signing up for recurring payments called continuous payment authorities (CPAs). These must be cancelled by the bank or card issuer when asked to do so by an account holder without the need to cancel direct with the company behind the scams.
Anyone who has lost money on a free product trial or would like advice about online shopping can contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 040506.