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BBB Shares Findings On Deceptive 'Free Trial' Offers

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Consumer watchdogs say it's a billion-dollar industry built on lies.

It's also the #1 consumer complaint received by the Ones for Justice.

The BBB released a study Wednesday about misleading "free trial" offers, often for products like wrinkle cream or weight loss pills.

Representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the Texas Attorney General's Office, the BBB and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service joined forces to talk about combating these "subscription traps."

Customers have lost more than $1.3 billion after signing up for what they thought was a temporary trial.

Chances are, you've seen the ads online.

Consumers typically pay $4 or $5 for a "free trial" sample of wrinkle cream or weight loss pills. But then, the next month's bill arrives.

"I call it the the bait and switch," said Trudy Heatherly. "They baited me into it and they started charging me."

It's a story the Ones for Justice has heard multiple times over the past few years.

"I don't have $200 to throw out the window for a cream," said Roxanne Barnes in 2017. "I would never do that."

"I paid $600 in a mistake," said Susan Sinclair in 2017.

Many of the products are sold using fake celebrity endorsements.

"It's a fake company, it's a scam," said Pauley Perrette in an interview.

"This is a this is a slippery, sleazy, scammy outfit," said Judge Judy.

Joanna Gaines took to her blog to issue a warning: "Don't buy the beauty cream, friends," she wrote.

An attorney for the "Fixer Upper" star said some upset customers have even come to the Magnolia store in Waco looking for refunds.

"I think that people feel duped," said Phylissia Clark, with the BBB of North Central Texas.

The BBB has received roughly 37,000 "free trial" complaints since over the past three years, many coming from the office in west Florida.

That's where one company makes and ships thousands of creams and pills.

Our producer went on a tour there last year. She was told if a product gets too many complaints, it gets a new name.

"They talked about whenever you need to shut that cream down and you need to relabel your cream, you can just slap a new label on it and sell the same thing," said Ones For Justice producer Kelsy Mittauer.

While the company doesn't sell the material, they understand how the billing works.

"They purposely charge them on different days so that it doesn't show up on their statement as one big amount," Mittauer said.

Credit cards play a huge role in these schemes.

That's why the BBB is urging credit card companies to do more, such as identIfying suspicious activity and ensuring victims receive chargebacks.

"We definitely encourage the credit card companies and the banks to work with us and other agencies to see if they can find ways to alert them that these companies are on the list," Clark said.

The BBB is asking internet providers and social media companies to do the same by vetting the ads on their sites.



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