Recently, a friend of mine told me a horror story about a certain natural supplement. The story did not revolve around any ill-health effects of this particular supplement rather it revolved around the bad business practices of the company selling the product. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago my friend “Toni” surfed the Web reading all kinds of articles and reviews about a certain supplement that I’ll refer to as “S-RU.” Prominent people on television endorsed this product giving Toni the added confidence to order it. When she went on the company’s Website it read: WHERE SHOULD WE SEND YOUR FREE TRIAL? Enter your contact information here and we will send you a free trial of S-RU and charge you $3.95 for shipping and handling.

Toni entered her contact information and her Visa credit card number. She was charged the $3.95 that she agreed to. A few days later she received S-RU in the mail. (So far the exchange appears to be based on an honest transaction but there is more to the story.)

Every morning Toni checks her bank account online, just because. One morning when she checked her Visa online she noticed that the company that sold her S-RU charged her card $3.95 and $87.13. She did not authorize the latter charge, at least not to her knowledge. It’s a good thing Toni was computer literate because had she waited for her bank statement to arrive in the mail she would have likely missed her window of opportunity to reverse this charge.

Toni called her Visa and told them of the charge. Since the charge was still pending she could not yet dispute it. The customer service fellow at Visa gave her the merchant’s Florida phone numbers to call so as to clear the charge up.

Toni immediately called one of the 800-numbers for the merchant who sold her the supplement. After she dialed the phone number she heard a pre-recoded greeting before she was prompted to enter a number at the main menu. She entered 3 to speak to a customer service representative. She waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for twenty minutes before she hung up and tried again, using another phone number of theirs. During her second call she again waited twenty minutes before she hung up. Frustrated that she was wasting her phone minutes on this call and yet determined to talk to someone she called the number again and when prompted to press a number at the main menu she pressed 2 to cancel any orders or subscriptions. Then she was asked to key in her credit card number that she used to order the product. She did just that and afterward she heard a pre-recorded message that said: “Your subscription has been cancelled. The conformation number is . . . return to the main menu by pressing 1 or hang up.” She wasn’t given a confirmation number.

Toni needed to get herself to work. A few hours into her job she didn’t feel right about her last phone call to the company. After all, she should have gotten a confirmation number for her cancellation. On her lunch break she called the 800-phone number again and she waited fifteen minutes before a real person finally got on the phone. She explained her story to the customer service representative who then asked for her credit card number that she used when she ordered the free trial. Toni gave the Visa number to him. The representative said that Toni wasn’t in the system so her subscription must have been cancelled. Toni asked the representative to reverse the Visa charge of $87.13. The representative told her to hold while he transferred her. The phone call was disconnected by the representative. Toni’s frustration skyrocketed. In addition, her lunch break was over and she needed to return to the office.

In the evening, after Toni returned home from work, tenacity spurred her to call the 800-number again and when she did she waited fifteen minutes before a customer service representative got on the phone with her. Toni explained her situation and that she wanted the $87.13 to be reversed on her Visa. The representative said he needed to put Toni on hold but before he could do that Toni belted out “NO, do not put me on hold. That’s what the last person did and he disconnected our call.” The representative told Toni that the charges couldn’t be reversed because Toni had to call within the 14-day trial period to cancel the subscription. Toni said she never signed on for any subscription. The representative said those were the Terms and Conditions that were on the company’s Website. “Where, on the Website, are the Terms and Conditions?” Toni asked him.

To make a long story short, the Terms and Conditions link was on the Website in very small font at the end of the company’s main Web page, way below and far away from the big, bold words at the top of the page that read: WHERE SHOULD WE SEND YOUR FREE TRIAL? Enter your contact information here.

Toni kept the representative on the phone as she scrolled on the company’s Website and browsed through the Terms and Conditions to read that after the buyer gets the free trial they have 15-days to call and cancel their subscription to the product. If the customer doesn’t call within the 15-day period their credit card is charged the full amount of the product: $87.13. Toni told the representative that the company charged her Visa on the 14th day and that today was the fourteenth day and that based on the Terms and Conditions she had 15 days to cancel, not 14-days like he had informed her. The representative said he would send in a request to have the charges reversed. “What do you mean you will SEND IN a request?” Toni said. “I am not authorized to reverse credit card charges,” he explained and then he gave her a confirmation number. He explained that she needed to wait at least five days before the reversal would show up.

Before Toni hung up the phone she asked him why the company made it nearly impossible to reverse one’s unintentional order and he shifted the responsibility onto her as per the clearly stated Terms and Conditions. She told him that the company must have many people like her that call in when they catch the additional charge the free trial order triggers and that they needed to be honest with their customers by putting that additional charge right by the free trail wording.

To him she said: “I was not aware that by getting a free trial of your product that I was also signing up for a monthly subscription and authorizing your company to charge my credit card $87.13. That is important consumer information that needs to be fully disclosed at the time of ordering the free trial not hidden on another Web page in fine print. Having that information clearly present at the time of ordering the free trial helps the consumer to make an informed decision. The way your company has set up its Website fools people into believing they are just getting a free trial of the product.”

“Thank you for your business and have a nice evening,” he replied, not at all addressing Toni’s concerns.

. . .When I heard this story, the bottom line for me was: be aware that well-thought-out marketing scams exist even in the natural health business and given that possibility it’s my duty to self to rigorously analyze the details before I offer my money up to a merchant. This story is a classic case of that old saying:

If it sounds too good to be true chances are it is!


Written by: Lana Marconi. For more information on Dr. Lana Marconi’s private therapy practice in the Orange County, California area, and to download her self-help books visit: www.drlana.com.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.