Online subscriptions – don’t get caught in the trap

November 7, 2018

Are you paying a monthly subscription for a digital paper that you never read, a music or video streaming service you rarely use, or have you signed up to a ‘free’ trial and forgot to unsubscribe after the free period ended? You could find yourself wasting money if you don’t take the time to check.

Types of subscription traps

  • Subscription traps take place when you sign up online or on the phone for free or low-cost trials of products, only to find that you have been unwittingly locked into costly repeat payments.
  • They come in many different forms; free trials, free for the first number of months or an introductory product price but there is more than one purchase required to get the product. Another ‘trap’ is where you were not aware that the subscription was going to automatically roll over into a new subscription once it expired.
  • Common areas of subscription traps include dating services, food and health supplements, cosmetics and healthcare.

Avoid online traps

  • Make sure you read the terms and conditions of any online offer you sign up to. If it looks too good to be true then it usually is.
  • Find out what happens after the trial ends. Find out if you need to actually contact the seller to cancel an unwanted subscription. Otherwise it might automatically rollover to a subscription that you end up paying monthly – without realising.
  • Be aware of scams, know what company you are signing up with and check the website to make sure you haven’t been taken to a different one. Don’t give your bank or card details to a company without researching them fully. Online reviews may help but don’t sign up if you have any doubts. A company should have its physical address, telephone number and email address listed.
  • Companies should be upfront about how a subscription service works. Watch out for companies who hide the terms and conditions away on their website in hard to read text or fine print. Some companies may use pre-checked boxes that mean you need to actively opt out by unticking them.
  • Check your bank statements regularly to see how much you are paying on subscriptions. This might be a subscription to an online service that you no longer use.
  • Set a reminder in your phone for when the free trial ends, and you can decide then whether you want to cancel or continue the service.

Cancel unwanted subscriptions

  • You might spot unfamiliar charges on your bank statements that could mean you have signed up to a subscription without realising.
  • Usually online subscriptions are set up as recurring charges on your debit or credit card. These are different to direct debits. Direct debits are set up by giving your BIC and IBAN numbers. A recurring charge is when you give your card details. You can’t cancel a recurring charge through your bank so you must get in touch with the company directly. Keep all correspondence you have with the company as proof you have contacted them to cancel. Check your bank account to make sure the subscription charge is no longer being taken.
  • If you are having trouble getting the company to cancel the subscription, contact your bank and ask them to stop any more payments going out. You can also ask them for a chargeback for any payments that went out after you tried to cancel the subscription. As a last resort, you may have ask your bank to cancel your card and re-issue you with a new one.
  • EU-based companies are obliged to give you clear information about the cost of goods and services, and your right to cancel when buying online.
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