Registered letter, CV, QR Code: beware of hidden subscriptions!

Sending a registered letter to cancel your internet subscription, getting a personalized QR code, creating a CV easily... These services are offered by many websites operating with hidden subscriptions.. Be careful!

Description of the fraud and hidden payments/memberships

After sending a free sample, a gift with only the shipping costs to pay or customs fees for a so-called parcel blocked at the border, these are some of the "new generation" traps of hidden subscriptions!

A registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt for 1€ including postage, a QR code for 50 cents, a CV template for 5€... The sums seem reasonable for the service rendered, but you may not realise that you are signing up for a monthly subscription.

The websites whoch offer these services are apparently serious: legal notices, general terms and conditions of sale and the proposed service is even delivered. But a few days/months after the order, your bank statement will show unwanted debits.

Example: you buy a personalized QR code for 50 cents which comes with a subscription, which, if not cancelled within 14 days, commits you to pay 50 € each month. You now have unlimited personalized QR codes!

The trap: having approved the terms and conditions by checking the famous box, you have accepted a tacit renewal clause and thus the subscription price.

Method used

  • Well written website, apparently serious but whose graphics and ergonomics hide or make difficult the access to essential information during the order. See also our article on dark patterns.

Example: The highlighted and pre-checked price is actually hiding a "VIP" subscription. By accepting it, you are subscribed to this service and will be charged every month. 

What are the rules to respect?

You, as a consumer, must be informed, before signing the contract or subscribing to the service, of the price, the service, the duration of the subscription, the renewal ... This is mandatory pre-contractual information.

At the time of validating your choice, confirming your purchase or subscription, you must also click on a button that contains a clear and unequivocal statement about your obligation to pay.

If the website knowingly conceals this essential information, it can be considered as an unfair commercial practice. In this case, the manager may be subject to significant administrative sanctions and fines.

Good to know: if your cross-border subscription is governed by French law, you must have clicked twice (once to check your cart, another time to validate it) to be engaged. This is called the "double click" rule in French law. This rule does not exist in other EU countries.  Contact us to know if the trader has respected the information obligation!

Automatic renewal of the subscription: how is it possible?

Online subscriptions are often renewed automatically. This is called a tacit renewal. In principle, this is only possible for an amount and duration equivalent to the initial subscription you have agreed to. Beware of the so-called "test" or “trial” periods, which are of short duration. They generally provide for an automatic renewal of the contract but for longer periods and therefore more expensive. Be very careful and cancel quickly if the service does not interest you.

The automatic renewal is very much framed by the French law and you are protected by this law if the website on which you registered was in French, in ".fr", and directing its activities to the French market (even if the company which manages the site is itself located in another country of the EU). More info in our article Subscription and "premium" option: from subscription to cancellation

How to cancel a hidden membership or subscription

  • Send a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt to the company to dispute the validity of the membershipdemand its cancellation, and demand the cancellation of all future deliveries as well as a reimbursement of the amount paid.

Be careful! Some websites require a certain formality to cancel the subscription. Check the cancellation conditions on the site. Interesting to know: Since July 1st 2022, Germany allows consumers to cancel their subscription with a simple click ("Kündigungs-Button").

  • 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.

Be careful! if you have the right to change your mind after subscribing online, you no longer have this right if you agree to use the service immediately. To do this, the website must have informed you and "expressly" requested your consent to waive the right of withdrawal. If they do not do this, you can withdraw within the legal time limit of 14 days and get a full refund. If you were only informed, you keep your right of withdrawal but the site will be able to keep a part of the price paid in proportion to the use that you had of the service.

  • 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 or the UK, please contact the European Consumer Centre of your residency country.

How to avoid the trap of hidden subscription

  • Check the trustworthiness of the trader;
  • Check the reviews of other consumers (don't hesitate to consult several sources to make an informed opinion);
  • 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.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.