‘Free’ Anti-Wrinkle Cream Offers Could Drain Your Bank Account

No matter how tempting they seem, stay away from online offers of “free trials” of skin products. Instead of smoothing your wrinkles, they may deepen your frown lines by draining your bank account, since agreeing to a “free trial” of a product can mean agreeing to automatic shipments of it and other products as well.

NBC 4 in Los Angeles shared the story of one viewer, who followed a Facebook link to what looked like a legitimate deal. She paid $4.95 for a trial of a skin product called Brio, and the website didn’t look shady to her at all.

“It looked authentic and I thought, gee this could be something, look at the faces. They looked kind of wrinkly, then they looked really good in the next shot,” she told NBC 4. Yes, if they were genuine before and after shots, that sounds very appealing.

What she didn’t expect, though, was that signing up for one trial would mean that she’d be bombarded with even more skin care products, all billed to the same payment card that she had used to pay for the original free trial.

This is called negative option billing, where a customer is presumed to want shipments from an indefinite subscription unless they specify otherwise. On the Brio website, the company spells out how this works, explaining that not returning the cream within 14 days means committing to an “evergreen” subscription to the skin cream for $109 per month into infinity.

Customers are supposed to agree to these terms before paying for their trial offer, but the NBC viewer complains that the other products she received drained her bank account, adding up to $1,300 for skin creams that she didn’t want.

Oh, and do you remember those before and after images that sold her on the product? The investigative team tracked down a woman whose image had been used to sell dozens of skin care products, including Brio. The pictures were taken before and after she received injections of Botox, not a $109 skin cream forced on customers who don’t want monthly shipments.

Fortunately, the woman’s bank reversed some of the charges, citing her status as a longtime customer. Let this serve as a warning, though, to avoid using debit cards for subscriptions or for online shopping if you can avoid it: Credit cards offer better protections, and mean that the money doesn’t leave your account immediately.

Before buying a skin care product online, read the site’s claims and ask yourself whether they seem reasonable. Creams that promise to work as well as plastic surgery or even better are probably over-promising, for example.

Be wary of free trial offers, and be especially wary of any site that pressures you into making a purchase or committing to a subscription right away.

Other companies behind negative-option skincare schemes have temporarily been shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, with the owners barred from engaging in negative option marketing in the future.

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