DON’T BE DUPED BY FREE TRI­ALS.

Pilbara News - - Pilbara Lifestyle - Gwyn­neth Hay­wood

A prod­uct, mem­ber­ship or sub­scrip­tion may say “free trial”, but in many cases that claim can turn into an au­to­matic charge or re­newal and con­sumers need to be aware of this po­ten­tial mar­ket­ing trap.

Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion re­ceives many com­plaints and en­quiries from con­sumers who re­port re­ceiv­ing un­ex­pected charges re­sult­ing from the au­to­matic charg­ing or re­newals of prod­ucts or ser­vices they have pur­chased, usu­ally online.

It may be or­der­ing some wine, cos­met­ics, health­care or di­etary prod­ucts once and then re­ceiv­ing the same or­der ev­ery month there­after.

Or join­ing a free trial for a dat­ing web­site as­sum­ing that the mem­ber­ship will end when the trial pe­riod ex­pires, but in real­ity they have signed up to an on­go­ing con­tract and an au­to­matic charge is made on the con­sumer’s credit or debit card when the free pe­riod is over.

Usu­ally the con­sumer has to meet a dead­line to can­cel an or­der or sub­scrip­tion be­fore the charge is made, and can­cel­la­tion can of­ten be a dif­fi­cult process.

In some cases, the con­sumer has been mis­led, which may be a breach of con­sumer law.

More of­ten, how­ever, the charge or au­to­matic re­newal is con­tained in the terms and con­di­tions of the pur­chase con­tract, which few peo­ple read but many read­ily ac­cept.

Con­sumers can ask for the re­newal clause to be re­moved or, if it’s a non-ne­go­tiable stan­dard con­tract, then there may be some pro­tec­tions un­der the un­fair con­tract term pro­vi­sions of the Aus­tralian Con­sumer Law.

The re­newal term in a con­tract will be deemed un­fair if it causes a sig­nif­i­cant im­bal­ance in the rights and obli­ga­tions of ei­ther par­ties, would cause detri­ment to a party and is not rea­son­ably nec­es­sary to pro­tect the le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests of the sup­plier who would be given an ad­van­tage.

Later this year, the ACL’s un­fair con­tract term pro­vi­sions will ex­tend to pro­tect small busi­nesses in WA.

The best way to avoid ap­prov­ing any charges un­know­ingly is to care­fully read all the terms and con­di­tions to make sure you know what you are sign­ing up for and how much it will cost, es­pe­cially if a “free trial” is be­ing of­fered.

Check your op­tions for can­celling the con­tract and note any can­cel­la­tion dead­lines or the ex­piry date for any free trial pe­ri­ods.

Con­sumers hav­ing prob­lems re­solv­ing a dis­pute over a re­newal charge can seek ad­vice from Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion on 1300 30 40 54 or con­sumer@com­merce.wa.gov.au.

Pic­ture: Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion

Con­sumers should read the small print be­fore sign­ing up to a free trial.

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