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How free is that free trial?

How FREE is that free trial?Reading Time: 3 minutes

No matter where you go online, adverts follow you around. Some of those will be for whatever the current fad product is, from Aloe Vera to Noni Berries to Psyllium Husks, Guar Gum, tooth whitening toothpaste, weight loss, skin peels, detoxes, raspberry ketones, we’ve all seen them. This article isn’t about their claims for efficacy (although you can be pretty confident they don’t produce anything like the results promised, they’re usually mostly harmless), but about the sales model they build around themselves.

It all starts with something they can buy in bulk for pennies and package up with pseudoscience to charge more. This might be a byproduct of another industry, grapefruit seed extract, for instance, left over from the pressing of juice.

Next, create a load of false testimonies and links to apparently supportive papers. Maybe a compound found in small amounts in the product has been shown to have marginal effect in test tubes under lab conditions with a tailwind – but you can be sure by the time the hype hits the press, it’ll be reported as direct causal proof. If they can get newspapers repeating the press releases, all the better – it adds legitimacy. The Daily Mail in the UK are known for miracle cure headlines, for instance.

The ad campaign on websites will push HARD how easy it is to test/trial their product. They need you to click on that link to read more about the free trial, research, etc. This is the start of the sales funnel. The links usually go to very convincing looking web pages with the logos of credible news agencies (CNN, BBC, etc) and may even be mocked upto look like a news website you’ll be familiar with. There will often be a fake ‘comments’ section with positive feedback. Then finally there is the chance to try the trial for free, with no obligation!! Must Try!!! Limited time only!!

This is the moment everything else has led to. To get the free trial product, you just pay a few pounds or dollars for postage. And, of course, you click past the terms and conditions – you already know it’s an obligation-free risk-free trial, surely this generous company wouldn’t bury nasty clauses in those terms? So you sign up for a few dollars.

The problem is those terms tell a different story – instead of a casual trial, the conditions actually sign you up to a huge subscription to the product – months worth at a time, at £89+/month. This information is often buried so deep in so much small print, you stand no chance of discovering it, especially with the time contraints for application. The terms also contain the cancellation process – which is designed to make it as close to impossible as possible. No returns without a return code. Return codes are only available via a phone call to an international number that’s never answered.


Fact is, the company know full well that if they make it easy enough to sign up and hard enough to return outstanding product, most people will give up after the first week of feeling mugged. People will have paid best part of £200/$300 for ingredients worth pennies. And if you’re not attentive to your credit card bill, and don’t realise you’re being fleeced for those tiny tubs that start turning up, they may even get a second or third cycle of sales before people rumble!!

They work this model as long as they can get away with it, then change product to match or create the next fad, and start all over again. How do you not get caught? There’s a very simple double-headed solution! 1) Don’t buy fad products – celebrities and newspapers are not qualified to judge if a diet supplement/tablet/toothpaste works (especially safely!). 2) Don’t give out your card details – claiming to be for the postage charge only, they then get used to sign up to a CPA – continuous payment authority, which the banks cannot easily recover for you and which allows the companies to take money easily.

As the old adage goes, if it seems too good to be true (whether the product or the free trial), it certainly is!