BBB: Items advertised as free are often the most expensive

08/02/2013 2:57 PM

08/02/2013 2:57 PM

How would you like a free iPad? Care for a free credit report? Free money from a government grant could come in handy, couldn’t it? Surely you wouldn’t want to pass up this opportunity to claim your free $1,000 Wal-Mart gift card? How about trying our amazing product for free?

They can make you feel like the luckiest person of earth, but the folks behind these offers have you pegged differently. They’re betting you are the most gullible person on earth.

“Free” almost never is. For that reason, it can be worthwhile to review some of the current high-profile “free” offers and learn what is really behind them.

Free trial offers

Trial offers can be a great way to find out whether you like a product. But in many cases, you’ll be agreeing to buy additional products and services by default, unless you cancel within a specified period of time.

Without knowing it, you could be enrolling yourself in a membership, subscription or service contract, complete with fees automatically charged to your credit card. That’s why it is vital that you read the entire offer’s fine print.

If you have questions that are not answered in writing, contact the company and ask them.

Here are questions that the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission recommend asking:

• Is the free offer related to a membership, subscription or extended service contract?
• Do I have to contact the company to avoid receiving more merchandise or services?
• Who do I contact to cancel?
• Will I get other products with the free one and will I have to pay for them or send them back if they’re unwanted?
• Is there a membership fee and is it refundable?
• Are any charges going to my credit card?
• What company is offering the trial and what is their address?
• Is there a shipping and handling fee?

Free grants

Offers made in advertisements or in phone calls from those claiming to represent a government agency, telling you that your application for a grant is guaranteed to be accepted. It could be for education costs, home repairs, home business expenses or unpaid bill assistance.

The FTC says that “money for nothing” grant offers are almost always scams. If it’s a phone call, they’ll congratulate you then request checking account information so they can “deposit your money into your account,” or charge you a one-time “processing fee.” You will get no money, and they will take yours.

Remember to never give out bank account information to someone you don’t know. Never pay money for a free grant. Be aware that they can make up names that sound like official government agencies, and they can trick caller I.D. systems.

Free iPads and gift cards

These scams continue in spite of the fact that the FTC has sued companies for them.

You will be charged fees and incur other obligations, like applying for credit cards. The scammers are also after your private information so they can sell it to third parties. Those parties then send prerecorded messages to you for whatever purposes they desire.

Additionally, who really knows where your information can go and how it can be used?

Free credit reports

The real goal of most companies that advertise free credit reports is to sign you up for “credit monitoring” and other services, putting from $15 to $30 monthly charges on your credit card. If you don’t cancel within a trial period, the charges can go on and on.

Go to the AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free credit report once a year. It’s the only federally authorized site for the reports. Don’t find yourself at one of the frequently hyped sites that try to sign you up for monthly fees.

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