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Twice as many complaints about online traps

Ads on free samples, trials and contests cause a growing number of consumers in the Nordic countries to complain to the European Consumer Centres. These consumers feel tricked into subscription or they are being charged a sum on their credit card without approving.
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Think before you click if you are exposed to a pop-up advertisement for a free trial or a contest with great prizes. Perhaps the trial isn’t free at all, or maybe you will be trapped in a costly subscription as you sign up in a contest. The European Consumer Centres (ECC), a network that works across EU borders to assist consumers in connection with cross-border trade within the EU, have received an increasing number of complaints on free trials and subscriptions. In the Nordic countries* the ECC offices have experienced a rise in complaints from 1 193 in 2014 to 1 820 in 2015 and 2 443 complaints in 2016 – so far.

Typically a consumer contacts the national ECC office explaining that their credit card has been charged an unauthorised sum of money.

"Our observation is that far too often consumers don’t receive the correct information on the product or on the terms of the offer. Often the consumer end up in a subscription without giving consent," says Lars Arent, director of ECC in Denmark.

Most commonly the problem arises when the consumer responds to an offer for a product or service that is advertised as being free or for a very small sum of money. The offer could be on dating services or cosmetics and healthcare products, e.g. diet pills, facial masks and snore stoppers. The offer can also be on becoming a product tester or a participant in a contest.

Most frequently the consumer comes across the offer on ads in social media but it can also be offers through emails and other advertisement. In order to make use of the offer the consumer has to provide the company with credit card details.

"A subscription trap is very tricky. Perhaps the consumer click on a button saying ‘Next’ or ‘Choose’ while its actual function is giving consent to a deal. The button should state ‘Buy’. This can happen to anyone.  The only way to avoid it is to avoid clicking on random ads," says Lars Arent.

* The Nordic ECC’s include Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden offices.

Checklist for consumers: Before saying yes to an online offer

  • Make sure who you are dealing with. You can’t be sure that the contact details on the company website are true. Check the company on the web site who.is, as this will reveal in which country the domain is registered.
  • A simple search on the internet about the company or product can save you a lot of trouble. How high or low is the company rating, and what is the experience of other consumers?
  • Read thoroughly the offer’s contract terms, especially the section on what the agreement means, your rights of termination and what applies regarding the right of withdrawal. Do not forget to read the fine print.
  • Use common sense! If an offer it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Checklist for consumers: If you have ended up in a subscription trap

  • Do not use the product that is delivered, if you haven’t ordered it and don’t intend to keep it. Products that are marketed as a sample package, often is called a welcoming package in the order confirmation.
  • Inform the trader that you have not ordered the package and that you want to return it. Ask the trader for a return label.
  • If the trader have already charged your credit card for the package, make a demand to get your money back. Contact your bank if this I s not successful.
  • If the bank can’t help you or if the trader keeps troubling you – seek help at European Consumer Centre Denmark.

Consumer complaints on subscription traps / unsolicited goods

2014

2015

2016
(jan.-sep.)

The entire period

All Nordic ECCs *

1193

1820

2443

5456

What is European Consumer Centre Denmark?

European Consumer Centre Denmark is a European network that advises consumers on their rights and provides assistance if problems arise with a vendor in another EU country. European Consumer Centres are based in each EU state as well as in Norway and Iceland. ECC Denmark is part of the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority.

More information

Journalist Stine Sofie Mathisen
Direct tel.: +45 4171 5263
E-mail: stma@forbrugereuropa.dk