Beware Free Trials of Anti-Aging Products Sold on the Web
What Cole didn't realize was that she'd actually just agreed to pay
"It was so hidden within the jargon of the fine print that I missed it, and I have a master's degree," says Cole, a freelance book editor in
A flood of cosmetics and other elixirs advertised as magic against old age is pulling in consumers on the Internet these days, often to their later dismay. Complaints from consumers like Cole about tactics often used to sell the products -- the so-called free trials, the monthly commitment, an often complicated and difficult cancellation process -- have caught the attention of federal lawmakers, who are looking into the problem.
"When an anti-aging company says 'free trial, give us your credit card,' it's almost always a 'gotcha,'" says
Often, the companies that sell the cosmetic concoctions, colon cleansers, and supplements make anti-aging claims backed by little or no scientific evidence. In some cases, the pitches even come with phony celebrity endorsements. Last year,
While both stars have discussed the likes of Brazilian acai berry and resveratrol on air, they've never endorsed any particular product.
"I used it for two weeks, but I couldn't tell the difference. My kids couldn't tell the difference," says Summers, 53. She was able to get through to customer service and cancel before monthly charges started, though she did get slapped with the return shipping costs.
At the moment, retailers can impose monthly charges as long as they disclose what they're doing in their terms and conditions, he says, which they often bury in "mouseprint" on their websites. The Northern California BBB office has fielded more than 300 complaints about
"The information regarding the terms and conditions associated with all Dermitage products and offers are clearly stated and provided in full to every consumer,"
As for Dermitage's benefits, the website claims that its "Glucosamine Complex" helps boost collagen production, and O'Brien noted that the cream got a thumbs-up from 86 percent of a test group of more than 250 women, "who told us their skin looked younger after using our products for 21 days."
Anyone tempted to buy from an unfamiliar Internet retailer should first check the Web sites of the local BBB and the state attorney general's office to ensure there are no complaints on record. Even if not, it's never a good idea to hand over your credit card information without reading the terms and conditions page to make sure you're not agreeing to any automatic charges. If it indicates that the free trial period starts the day the company ships the product, be aware that there's a risk you won't get it in time to return it; typical return deadlines are just two weeks from the date shipped.
Also be wary if the company's return address is overseas, as you might have to pay a large postage bill to return the goods.
Still feel compelled to take a chance on a product? Consider protecting yourself against a run-up in charges by using a card with a low credit limit. Also, it's wise to check with your card issuer to make sure you're allowed to block companies from charging the card.
"I had to cancel my Discover card," says Beauport, 60, a realty specialist for the
Many people who file complaints about online retailers report that when they call customer service, they always get busy signals or full voicemail boxes.
If you're ordering a vitamin or herbal product, keep in mind that the U.
In any case, it's best to stick with products that have the "USP Verified" seal. U.S. Pharmacopeia is a nongovernmental agency that sets standards for ingredients used in prescription and over-the-counter drugs. While the seal doesn't guarantee that a supplement will live up to its marketing claims, it does show that the maker follows good manufacturing practices and that the supplement actually contains the ingredients listed on the label.
Finally, beware of breathless testimonials from supposedly satisfied customers, which commonly accompany free trial offers on the Web.
"My skin, hair, nails are vastly improved (hair is thicker!)" says a smiling middle-aged woman on one supplement seller's site. But Internet fraud expert
"We call them testiphonials -- they're made up," Durst says. You don't have to be an expert sleuth to sniff them out, either. Photos can be researched in most browsers by right-clicking on the photo, choosing "image properties," then copying the photo's URL into the homepage at www.tineye.com.
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