All too often, 'free' offer turns into a fee

All too often, 'free' offer turns into a fee »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Everybody likes to get something for free, but all too often, "free" turns into a fee.

The ads are everywhere, for everything from diet pills to memory enhancers. They offer a free sample if you pay the shipping and handling.

That seems fair, but beware! You could be in for a nasty surprise.

One of those caught with a nasty surprise was Sherry Marshall, who saw an ad online for a free-trial of Acai Berry weight loss pills.

"And I thought, 'Well I'll give it a whirl. It's only $4 for a shipping charge,' " she said. "And as long as there's no obligation to buy any more, it was worth giving it a try."

The sample bottle came in a few weeks, followed by another bottle.

"And then a few days after that I got a third one. And that's when I got suspicious," she said.

Marshall called the company to stop the shipments -- and the $88 per bottle they were charging to her credit card; thecard she had used to cover the shipping of her supposedly free sample.

"At first they were kind of hostile," she said. "And then I got hostile back and said you either stop or I'm going to go to the state attorney general. And they got all nice and said, 'No problem, we'll stop.' "

But the bottles kept coming -- six in all. She contacted her credit card company and they reversed the bogus charges totaling $440.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna says his office is getting flooded with complaints about free-trial offers.

"It's another way to get people to sign up for something by catching them unaware," he said.

Many of the ads for Acai Berry and another purported weight-loss product called Resveratol, boast endorsements from Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz of the "Dr. Oz" show.

But that's a lie, which is why Dr. Oz and Oprah sued dozens of supplement companies.

"So all of this finally frustrated both Oprah and I enough that we agreed to litigate," Oz said.

Dr. Oz said he has a message for everyone: "If you see my face endorsing a product, I can guarantee you it's fallacious. I don't support any products, even if I like what they have in them. I just don't want to ruin the credibility I have with America by getting behind one product versus another."

Good advice is to steer clear of any free trial offer from an unknown company where you have to pay for shipping. But if you can't resist, at least use a credit card -- not a debit card. It's a lot easier to deal with fraud when the charge is on a credit card.

Finally, if you've been burned by one of these offers, file a complaint with the attorney general's office.

For More Information:

Oprah, Dr. Oz Sue Over 'Hurtful' Acai Berry Claims

File a complaint with Washington State Attorney General

File a complaint with Federal Trade Commission