Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the lure of a “risk-free trial” when it comes with a product that promises to leave your skin youthful, radiant and as soft as a baby’s bottom. But as the Federal Trade Commission once again reminds us, those deals often come with strings attached and hollow promises.
The FTC announced today that at its request a federal district court temporarily shut down a group of marketers using allegedly deceptive online “risk-free trials” for skincare products.
The 15 California-based marketers allegedly use deceptive offers to trick consumers into providing their credit or debit card information to charge them full price for the product and enroll them in recurring programs for additional fees.
According to the FTC complaint [PDF], the marketers, which sell Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit brand products, have used such deceptive techniques on a variety of websites since 2010.
Much like the equally deceptive weight loss supplement marketing schemes, these marketers used pop-up advertisements, banner ads, and advertising space on third-party websites – including Amazon.com, Huffingtonpost.com, and Lowes.com – to tout “risk-free trial” offers to direct consumers to their websites.
The sites – aurviefreetrial.com, auraviewtrialkit.com, and mymiraclekit.com, just to name a few – then instruct visitors to provide their credit or debit card information to pay shipping fees of $4.95 to receive the trial offer.
“Defendants also use deceptive pop-up advertisements that discourage consumers from leaving Defendants’ websites without accepting a trial offer,” the complaint states. “When consumers attempt to leave the websites, a text box appears that offers to ship the trial offer at an even lower shipping price.”
Many customers say they were charged far more than the stipulated shipping fees.
The FTC alleges that the companies often charge full price for the product – at times up to $97.88 – thanks in part to terms hidden in the fine print on the websites.
In addition to unknowingly being charged full price, customers are often enrolled without their consent in subscription plans. Such plans ship additional products and charge recurring fees to the provided credit or debit card.
To make matters worse, the FTC alleges that when customers attempt to cancel their trial and unwanted subscription plans, the marketers make it extremely difficult.
For example, the “100% satisfaction guarantee” touted by the companies only allow customers to return opened products within 10 days of the purchase. However, the products generally don’t arrive until after – or nearly after – that 10-day window.
Additionally, the companies failed to disclose that returns of unopened products can only be made within 30 days of purchase.
“Defendants’ marketing practices are materially deceptive and employ tactics including hidden costs, signing up consumers for negative option continuity plans without their consent, and undisclosed and onerous return policies,” the complaint states.
The FTC’s complaint also purports that the marketers misrepresented themselves as being accredited by the Better Business Bureau with an “A-” rating. In reality, the companies are not accredited and have a BBB rating of “F.”
Although, today’s court order is temporary, the FTC is seeking to require the companies to provide refunds to consumers and be permanently barred from continuing the alleged deceptions.