You happen to come across an advertisement praising the effects of a beauty product, or offering you a free sample of a weight-loss pill, or offering a smartphone for only €1. Be careful!
An online advertisement, an ad on a social network, a survey, or a pop-up window offers to send you a gift for free or for €1. The only requirement is that you pay for shipping costs, which are generally around €4 or €5. You agree, but a few weeks later you discover that your bank account was charged for much more than you were told. Without realizing it, you signed up for a membership with a company based in other EU Member State. The cost of this membership can rise to dozens or even hundreds of euros per month. You check back to see where you went wrong, and you find that in fact you did accidentally agree to a paid membership. But how? Often fraudulent websites use pre-checked checkboxes to trap consumers.
Method used by fraudsters
- It is difficult to identify the companies at the root of hidden memberships. They often present themselves under different names with changing website URLs or only temporary pop-ups in social media. Otherwise, they often provide different physical addresses, like from the United States, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands, or provide different phone numbers.
- The address mentioned is often either simply not an address or is just a mailbox. In this case, an amical solution to your litigation is not possible.
Contact with the internet user
- Advertisement on social networks or elsewhere on the Internet
- Pop-up window
- Publication in a social network’s newsfeed
- Send a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt to the company to dispute the validity of the membership, demand its cancellation, and demand the cancellation of all future deliveries as well as a reimbursement of the amount paid
- If you are still within 14 days of your purchase, you can take advantage of your right to withdrawal. Send back all packages in your possession -- besides the sample -- to the address provided by the company on their website
- Contest the membership with your bank. Check with your bank or your card issuer (brand) if you can benefit from a “chargeback” procedure, which allows you to receive the reimbursement
- In the case of a complaint against a company based in the EU, in Iceland, in Norway ot the UK, please contact the European Consumer Center of you country of residence.
How to avoid the trap of hidden subscriptions
- Be wary of advertisements or surveys on social networks or elsewhere on the Internet that offer to send you a free gift if you pay for the shipping costs.
- When a pop-up window appears on your screen, do not click on its buttons: even just a simple click could mean you agree to a paid membership.
- If you agree to the offer, make sure that there are no pre-checked checkboxes (which could mean paid memberships).
- Read the Terms and Conditions carefully to see if they contain a hidden paid membership, and keep a copy of them. If the pop-up window doesn’t mention any Terms and Conditions, check the website.
- Verify the postal address on a search engine, and check other websites and online forums, too.