MANY Irish consumers will be familiar with that sinking feeling when you spot an unfamiliar charge on your credit card, writes Gráinne McGuinness.
Initially convinced it must be an error, you then take a second look at the business name and a bell rings in the back of your mind. That free trial you signed up for online ages ago and then promptly forgot about has come back to cost you financially.
Businesses will do everything they can to get you signed up for subscription offers. With more and more of us heading online for everything from music to the latest TV show, what should you do to make sure you don’t get roped into unwanted and costly subscriptions?
Fergal O’Leary, Head of Communications and Consumer Help with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), has advice on how to avoid signing up and what to do if you find yourself paying a monthly subscription to something you didn’t want.
The first piece of advice is obvious, but is something many of us don’t do, particularly online - always read the small print.
“Whether the offer is for a ‘free’ trial of a product or cashback on your next purchase, don’t commit without reading the full terms and conditions,” O’Leary recommends. “Otherwise you may miss an important term that means you are signing up to an ongoing subscription.
“If you sign up for a trial, make sure you know what happens after the trial period ends. In many cases, you have to cancel the subscription yourself or the free trial may automatically rollover to a subscription where you pay a monthly fee.”
You should also double-check who exactly you are signing up with. When browsing online it is easy to jump from site to site without being fully aware of it. Even if you started on a website you know and trust, clicking an ad there could bring you to the site of a different company. The CCPC advise that you “always stay alert or you could end up signing up for something different than you thought and pay a monthly fee”.
Once you have established the company you are dealing with do some research before providing them with your credit card details. If it isn’t a major international name like Netflix, Amazon or Spotify search online to see if there are any negative reviews of the business. Bear in mind that even if a website has an .ie web address, this doesn’t necessarily mean the company is based in Ireland. Check the site for contact details such as a physical address or a landline and if you have any doubts don’t submit financial information.
Online subscriptions are usually not direct debits; instead the company presents a recurring charge to the credit card provider each month. What this means is the consumer cannot cancel it with their bank as they would a direct debit or standing order. Instead they have to cancel with the company. So find out what is required to cancel before signing up, so you know what steps you need to take. If you cancel a subscription alert your bank and they will normally ask you to send them a copy of the cancellation.
If you are having problems with online subscriptions go to the CCPC website consumerhelp.ie for more information. Consumers can also get caught out with unexpected subscriptions to their mobile phones.
Premium rate services (PRS) are goods and services that you buy by charging the cost to your phone, either adding to your bill or using up credit if you use a prepaid phone. Examples include sports alerts, chatline services and donations to charities. To unsubscribe from a PRS text the word STOP to the to the short code (five digit) number for the service and you should be unsubscribed within 24 to 48 hours. Do not text any other words.
ComReg (the Commission for Communications Regulation) is the independent regulator of phone-paid/premium rate services in Ireland. If you have any issues with mobile phone subscription services ComReg have advice at phonesmart.ie and can be contacted there if you need further help.
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