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It can be so easy and tempting to sign up for a free trial to a subscription for a service or product — like streaming channels, software applications or publications. All you have to do is push a few buttons to install an app or create a login, and you can start using them right away. And they don’t cost anything, at least for a little while.
But once the charges start hitting your bank account, even seemingly trivial amounts can quickly add up. However, canceling a subscription might seem far less straightforward than signing up for it. You might find yourself going in circles on your account page or holding on the phone for a representative who then tries every possible angle to convince you to keep paying.
If you feel like you’ve had difficulty stopping a subscription, it’s probably not your imagination. Convoluted instructions, pushy customer service reps and sneaky fine print are all tactics commonly used by businesses that sell subscriptions. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is trying to stop these schemes.
The FTC is Cracking Down
Last October, the FTC warned companies against using illegal schemes to trick or trap people into subscribing or make it difficult for them to unsubscribe from products and services.
The enforcement policy statement informs companies that they will face legal action if they do not abide by the three following requirements.
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose terms upfront, including costs, cancellation deadlines and how to cancel.
- Obtain the consumer’s express informed consent before charging them.
- Provide cancellation mechanisms that are at least as easy to use as the method used to subscribe to the product or service in the first place.
Reporting Noncompliant Companies
The FTC needs help from consumers to enforce these rules, so if you have trouble canceling a subscription or if you believe you have been charged for a subscription without agreeing to the terms, you can and should report it.
First, go to reportfraud.ftc.gov and click Report Now to fill out a report, which the FTC will also share with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Next, you can report it to your state’s attorney general. Go to the Consumer Resources website and select your state to find out how.
Businesses found in noncompliance can be subject to law enforcement action, including potential civil penalties.