When “Free” is Not Free

Everyone hopes to get something for nothing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that advertisers try their hardest to lure potential customers with the promise of a “free” product. But unless they are merely offering an informational booklet or DVD, the fine print will reveal that “free” can end up costing you a lot.

Here are just some of the tricky ways marketers use to slap the word “free” on their advertisements…

“Free Trial”

The promise of a “Free Trial” offer is that you will get to try out a product for a specified number of days, and if you are not impressed with it you can send it back without it costing you anything. Except that a “free trial” will almost always charge you for shipping immediately and the shipping charge is usually not refundable, even if you send it back. Free trials are frequently offered for large pieces of equipment, such as home gyms, so the shipping charge will be substantial. Furthermore, if you decide to send the product back before the end of your free trial, you will most likely have to pay for shipping the item back to the manufacturer as well. So think hard about the time and money your “free trial” might end up costing you.

“Risk Free”

One term that has become very popular with advertisers is “risk free,” but what does this really mean? When you buy an offer labeled “risk free” you will be charged for both the product and the shipping right away. The manufacturer only promises that you may return the product for a refund (less shipping and handling) during the “risk free” period if you are not satisfied. So “risk free” is just a different way of saying “money back guarantee.” But marketers like this marketing gimmick better because it includes the ever-popular “F” word.

“Buy One, Get One Free”

The most common offer for “As Seen On TV” products is “Buy One, Get One Free.” The “free” item, however, will have its own (often substantial) shipping and handling fee. So you will pay two shipping charges, even if the “free” item arrives in the same box,

Free (When You Buy Something Else)

Many times advertisements will sell a product and then at the end of the ad mention a free bonus available . Some marketers have recently decided to reverse this by playing up the “free” item you can get and then only mentioning in the small print that this item is free only if you buy something else with it. The most common example of the tactic occurs for ads of e-cigarettes on the radio or online. The e-cigarette itself will be free…but you must buy the cartridges in order to get the “free” e-cig.

Free (with Auto-Ship)

Another example of sneaky terms hidden in small print is when an item is promoted as “free” but when you order the “free” item you are automatically enrolled in a program that will send you a shipment of the product each month, charged to your credit card. Even worse is that the cost for these product is usually a lot higher than what the same type of product would cost you elsewhere. These types of deceptive offers are common with certain types of health supplements such as resveratrol, hoodia, a├žai berry, and colon cleansers. They are also seen in ads that offer a “free” CD that helps you find sources of free government money, but then charge you every month for online access to listings of grants.

Every time you hear the word “free” tossed around in an ad—whether on TV, radio, print, or the Internet—that is your clue to pay extra close attention to the terms…which will almost always end up not being free at all!

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