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Mar­ket­place has re­ceived hun­dreds of emails from view­ers who’ve been stung by sur­prise credit card charges af­ter sign­ing up for what they thought were “risk-free” prod­uct tri­als en­dorsed by re­spected celebri­ties like Ellen Degeneres, Ce­line Dion and the stars of CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

While think­ing they signed up for a free trial of­fer, thou­sands of Cana­di­ans found them­selves trapped in a sub­scrip­tion scheme. Th­ese schemes use fine print and de­cep­tive mar­ket­ing tech­niques, in­clud­ing fake ar­ti­cles, bo­gus en­dorse­ments and phoney sur­veys from le­git­i­mate com­pa­nies, to trick peo­ple into pay­ing for prod­ucts and ser­vices they don’t want.

The scam starts with a mer­chant who de­cides to sell a prod­uct on­line, whether it is face cream, garcinia cam­bo­gia, weight loss pills or teeth-whiten­ing prod­ucts. As the U.S.-based Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion has pointed out, the prod­ucts used in sub­scrip­tion traps are largely ir­rel­e­vant; the pri­mary pur­pose, af­ter all, is to ac­quire credit card num­bers, not to im­prove peo­ple’s com­plex­ions.

The mer­chant then cre­ates a web­site of­fer­ing free tri­als of the prod­uct. Un­der­neath the prom­ise of a free trial, the mer­chant will place re­cur­ring fees in the fine print of buried Terms and Con­di­tions, hid­den at the bot­tom of the page in a hyperlink. Af­ter what is usu­ally a 14-day trial pe­riod, cus­tomers au­to­mat­i­cally be­come en­rolled in TRUTH, LIES, OR SOME­THING IN BETWEEN? monthly sub­scrip­tions if they don’t can­cel, and their credit card can get billed hun­dreds of dol­lars ev­ery few months.

And it gets even more con­fus­ing for con­sumers try­ing to get their money back. The mer­chants are con­stantly chang­ing their prod­uct names to avoid bad on­line re­views, ac­cord­ing to Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau. The RCMP’s Anti-Fraud unit told Mar­ket­place they have linked 371 dif­fer­ent prod­uct names to this sub­scrip­tion trap.

As the mer­chants need ad­ver­tis­ing to di­rect peo­ple to their of­fers, they then har­ness the power of what’s called af­fil­i­ate mar­ket­ing.

Af­fil­i­ate mar­keters pro­mote

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