TRURO, N.S. – A Truro woman was excited to receive her free trial skin cream in the mail.
But when Lisa (her real name is withheld by request) saw the subsequent charges to her account that followed, it made her sick to her stomach.
In late 2017, a pop-up on Lisa’s phone greeted her as a customer of North Nova Cable and promised a free trial of high-quality moisturizing cream if she answered a few questions.
“I thought I was doing a survey and I didn’t worry about it because it didn’t ask for bank information,” she said. “I had the car running so I clicked on the terms and conditions without reading them.”
In January, the Perlelux cream arrived in the mail, and appeared to be a decent product.
But then she checked her bank statement. The balance was more than $600 below what she’d expected. There were several transactions sending money to names such as Pearleve, Luxopearl.com and serumlux.com. The amounts ranged from $5.95 to $189.98, and totaled about $650.
“I felt violated,” she said. “I didn’t realize they could get my bank information without me typing it in. I’d never heard of that happening before.
“It was devastating because I worked really hard for that money and was trying to save it.”
A representative of North Nova Cable said the companies running the online offers trace IP addresses and find out the name of a person’s provider, then add it to the pop-up message.
Peter Moorhouse, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Atlantic Division, noted that about a year ago there was a big spike in complaints about online skin care product “free trials.”
“Variants of this have been around for quite a while, and they’re driven by social media advertising now,” he said. “The biggest issue, on the purchaser’s side, is that once they’ve accepted one shipment they’re locked in. It’s often very difficult to find that information when you agree to the trial.
“In some cases, people have been charged thousands of dollars, and some people have had to cancel their credit cards because they couldn’t get payments stopped.”
People often believe the first product they receive is free, but it’s only free to try. If it’s not returned within 14 days of the order being placed, the customer is charged the full price.
Moorehouse said the offers usually involve creams that are targeted at aging, but sometimes it’s acne-fighting products.
“I think they’re successful because they’re targeting and playing to people’s insecurities,” he said. “We get a lot of calls about this type of thing but the tendency to under-report is quite prominent, so what we’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. People are uncomfortable telling other people they’ve fallen victim.”
He said finding the people running this type of website can be impossible, as addresses they use are sometimes just a mail drop.
Companies offering free trials sometimes go by several names. A Better Business Bureau entry for Abella Mayfair, which offered a free trial of cream that would reduce the signs of aging, lists 10 alternate names for the company. The BBB has received 367 complaints for this company.
A call to the phone number on the Perlelux website reached someone who said she was with a third-party business, handling customer care, and there was no one available to answer media questions. The address listed on the site is in The Czech Republic.
The online experience:
Going to the Perlelux site and clicking the box to get your ‘free trial’ takes you to a page that asks for your name, address, email and phone number. It has a counter at the top, telling you how many specially priced kits are still available. During a recent test, it began counting down from 22. Once the counter reached 1, it remained there.
Better Business Bureau tips:
Look at bank and credit card statements frequently.
Read all terms and conditions.
Ignore the impulse to sign up for something in a pop-up banner or ad.
Read consumer reviews about the business or product.
Contact BBB about any concerns.