People warned not to be tricked into subscription traps

With the start of a new year, many people will have made new year’s resolutions to improve their health, lose weight, or get fit. In doing so, they may be tempted to sign up for or try new health foods, slimming pills or even join a local gym.

Staffordshire County Council’s Trading Standards service are now advising people about the dangers of subscription traps. This form of scam occurs when people sign up online or on the phone for free or low-cost trials of products or services, only to find that they have been unwittingly locked into costly repeat payments.

Typically these products are slimming pills, health foods, pharmaceutical and anti-aging products but increasingly, attractive consumer durable products such as the latest mobile phones
are being featured.

Subscription trap scammers exploit the ‘continuous payment authority’ provided by banks, normally by requesting payment card details as proof of identity and age, then using those details to draw monthly payments from your account. Details of this ongoing commitment are generally buried in the terms & conditions and are missed by many people, eager instead to take advantage of the offer being advertised. To make matters worse, consumers often face difficulty in cancelling continuous payments.

Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards at Staffordshire County Council said: “In recent years we’ve seen a real increase in the popularity of subscriptions and it can be anything from gym membership to a TV channel or health products to e-books.

“Subscriptions and subscription traps affect millions of people in the UK each year. One issue that officers have experienced recently is where people sign up for a fixed term deal, trial or promotion where it is unclear that the consumer will be auto-enrolled into ongoing payments.

“This is where knowing your consumer rights is vital. It means you’ll know what to look out for and be able to make a more informed decision about your purchase. And remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it generally is.”

Things to look out for when signing up for a subscription include:
– Read the small print (terms & conditions) carefully before entering into any agreement or making a purchase and make sure the terms & conditions box has not been pre-ticked.
– If you make a purchase of this kind that gives you a limited timescale to cancel the agreement, make sure you do so before the due date if you want to cancel it.
– Never provide bank details to companies without doing some prior research beforehand.
– Keep a copy of any advertisement (print it or take a screenshot) that you reply to and keep a note of the webpage.
– Remember that you will have more chance of cancelling agreements or obtaining a refund if the company is UK-based.
– Check your bank/payment card statements regularly for unexpected payments.
– With gym memberships – check if payments will be suspended during lockdown closures or will you have rights to terminate the contract?

For more information about what to do if you’re finding yourself caught in a subscription trap, visit Citizens Advice at http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ or by calling 03454 04 05 06.

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