Fortunately for you, there are no shipping and handling costs for this article (unless you’d like me to print it out for you and send it to you in a lovely decorative box). Some consumers in Florida and California, however, are learning the hard way that “free” doesn’t always mean “no cost.” As the Washington Post’s Caroline Mayer points out…
I called the Florida-based Email Discount Network to find out how these charges could have occurred. Supervisor Kristine Morales patiently explained that most consumers who were charged had agreed to take a survey–for a chance of winning a $1,000 online shopping spree. In the terms and conditions of the survey (which I think most consumers probably never read), there is a $12.95 nonrefundable initial fee, imposed after a 72-hour trial period, unless the consumer drops out and notifies the company by e-mail before then. Then, there’s a $14.95 monthly fee for the online shopping service.
It looks like consumers had plenty of chances to pick up on the fact that they wouldn’t be getting a free lunch here. In case you run across a similar offer in the future, follow these three simple steps to help determine if you’ll incur hidden charges for participating.
- Read the terms and conditions. In both of the cases Mayer mentions, the offer very clearly spelled out the fees in the lengthy but thorough fine print. Most people skip over this part since those pages of conditions can be long and boring. But a little reading now can save you from an unexpected charge later.
- Be wary of giving out credit cards or checking accounts. If an offer asks you for your account numbers, it’s a clear warning sign that there may be a conditional charge tucked away somewhere. Read the full terms of the offer and only give out your billing information once you’re certain you understand what you’re getting into.
- Search the internet for clues. Pick a few choice words from the offer and send them through any search engine to see if others have been burned by similar offers in the past. Oftentimes you’ll find that someone has already been pinged with hidden charges and that they took to the internet to lament their monetary mishap.