What Are Autoship Programs?
What Are Autoship Programs and Why Should You Avoid Them?
Picture this: you’re shopping on the internet. You carefully read reviews and view scientific evidence for a new weight loss supplement. It promises to help you lose 15 pounds in under 2 months and it has clinical trials reinforcing these claims.
So far, everything about the product looks good.
But wait, it gets better! This company is so confident about the value of its weight loss supplement that it’s currently offering a free trial! You get a valuable weight loss supplement for only the cost of shipping and handling. How awesome is that?
Your product arrives in the mail a few days later. You try it for the 15 day trial period, only to find that it doesn’t give you the results you were expecting. It makes you feel nauseous and you’ve having trouble falling asleep at night.
Shipping and processing for the “free trial” was a little more expensive than you thought it would be: $19.95. But that’s still not a bad price to pay for a 15 day trial of a weight loss supplement.
The trial period ends, and you decide not to order a full package. After all, it didn’t work and it gave you negative side effects.
But then you look at your credit card bill, and you realize that the company has already ordered a three month’s supply of that supplement, charged you $200, and is currently shipping that supplement directly to your house.
That’s an autoship program, and it’s one of the worst scams on the internet today.
Not All Autoship Programs Are Bad
Just like Anakin Skywalker, autoship programs started with good intentions before going to the dark side.
Auto ship programs are great for genuine products. Let’s say you order a skin care product online, and it works really well. You run out of this skin care product every month, and the company kindly sends a shipment to your doorstep just before you run out. You don’t have to go to the store or miss a day of your skin care regimen.
Magazine subscriptions are like autoship programs: a new one is shipped to your door every month. You don’t have to lift a finger: it just arrives at your door.
Unfortunately, today, auto ship programs are more often associated with scams than legitimate products.
…But Many of Them Are Scams
Here are some of the marketing gimmicks and slogans companies will use to justify their autoship programs:
— “We’ll make sure you can continue enjoying the weight loss benefits of Supplement G after you run out!”
— “We’ll help your skin look 10 years younger by sending you monthly shipments of Supplement T at a reduced price!”
— “We make it convenient to reorder so you never have to stop feeling awesome again!”
Why Autoship Programs are Dangerous
Yes, some companies offer autoship programs that are legitimately helpful. You receive a steep discount on monthly orders of a certain product, and the company conveniently ships that product so you never run out.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of modern auto ship programs are designed to rack up as many charges on your credit card as possible before you realize what’s going on and decide to cancel.
Of course, realizing you’re being scammed is only half the battle: the next problem is actually cancelling your subscription. I’ve never seen an autoship program offer a simple online cancellation form.
Instead, these shady companies make you call a customer service hotline which is often difficult-to-reach and has extremely long wait times.
When you finally do get to talk to a customer service employee, you typically don’t get to cancel your subscription right away. Instead, you’re forced to sit through upsells: the customer service employee will try to sell you on other less-than-genuine products offered by the company.
Ultimately, that customer service employee may cancel your subscription if you ask nicely. But more likely, you’ll be transferred to another customer service employee with a wait time of 2 hours or more. When that wait time is over, you might be transferred again. Or, in rare circumstances, you might actually have your subscription cancelled.
Some of the worst autoship programs don’t even let you cancel. Instead, the only way to cancel is to dispute the charges with your credit card company or even cancel your credit card altogether.
How to Easily Avoid Autoship Programs Using Two Simple Tips
Autoship programs can literally ruin your life. They can destroy your credit rating and leave you with hundreds of dollars of charges you can’t afford to pay.
Here are two simple tips that will help you avoid autoship programs:
Tip #1: Don’t Sign Up for Free Trials
There’s an old rule on the internet: if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. This is almost always the case with “free” trials. Free trials are rarely free. In fact, most things on the internet come with a price, even if they’re advertised as being free.
With free trials, the company may offer a 10 to 15 day introductory supply of a certain supplement. The company won’t charge you anything (except a $10 to $30 shipping and handling fee, of course). All you have to do is enter your credit card number into this convenient form, and you’re good to go.
Your trial begins from the day your order is placed. You might not receive your supplement for another week. By the time your supplement arrives, you might only have 5 days to decide whether or not you like it – or if it works at all.
Immediately after your 10 to 15 day free trial expires, your credit card may be charged with a 30-day supply of that supplement plus shipping and handling. All of a sudden, your free trial has left $100+ in charges on your credit card.
If you see a free trial, avoid it. Most good companies don’t give away free trials on the internet because they know they can sell plenty of it at the regular price.
Tip #2: Know Where to Look for Auto-ship Information
There are plenty of shady companies on the internet, but many of these companies still follow U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations.
Those regulations state that the company a) Must disclose in plain English that your account will be automatically renewed and the process by which this occurs, and b) Must disclose in plain English how to cancel the autoship program, obtain a refund, or dispute a charge.
Surprisingly enough, most online companies follow these regulations. Reputable companies will place this information directly on the front page, letting customers know that their credit cards will be billed every 30 days until they die.
Most companies, however, will bury this information on a certain page. Technically, they’re complying with FTC regulations, although they’re not being very honest about it.
With that in mind, here are two places where you’ll typically find autoship program information:
— Ordering Page: Some companies will place an autoship disclaimer on the ordering page. This is typically found right below the area where you enter your billing information, and it’s usually in very small font.
What To Do If You’re an Autoship Victim
Even the most internet-savvy shoppers can fall victim to autoship programs.
If you’ve fallen victim, then you have a few different options available to you:
Option 1): Contact the company’s customer service department to unsubscribe. Look for a hotline on the product’s website. As mentioned above, this doesn’t always work. Some companies might make unsubscribing as difficult as possible.
Prepare yourself for long wait times, lots of transfers, and poor English language skills. While doing this, log the date of the calls, the length of the calls, and the names of any customer service employees you’re speaking with. If you end up cancelling your subscription using this method, ask to be sent a confirmation email.
Option 2): Contact your credit card company to dispute the charges. Autoship companies fear the wrath of VISA more than they fear the wrath of you.
Contact your credit card company and explain your situation. If you’re lucky, your credit card may refund all money you’ve paid. If you’re unlucky, this won’t work and you’ll be forced to cancel your credit card altogether.
What to do after you’ve unsubscribed
No matter which method you choose, keep checking your credit card for fraudulent purchases. Some of the shadiest companies will sell your credit card information on the black market, while others will sign you up for another autoship program.
Finally, if you’ve fallen victim to an auto-ship program, one of the best things you can do is to share your story online. This helps prevent others from falling victim to the same scams.
It also hits the autoship company where it hurts – online reviews.