"Free Plus Shipping" Offers
The "free plus shipping" business model has been around forever, but has really become popular online in the past few years as online marketers have become more aggressive.
Before taking advantage of one of these offers it's important to know what you're getting yourself into otherwise you'll find that you're the one being taken advantage of.
The "free plus shipping" business model normally involves a "free trial" which converts into some type of a monthly membership if you don't cancel during the trial period.
While not automatically a "scam" just because something is sold this way, many of these types of offers online are either extremely deceptive or outright scams.
Normally the way these offers are presented is that you are offered a product or service for "free" for a trial period of between 7-30 days. You just have to pay for "shipping and handling" - usually between $5-10 at the most.
Legitimate offers will make it very clear however that by accepting the "free trial" you are agreeing to pay some kind of monthly fee, which will be automatically charged to your credit card every month if you don't cancel.
(This is why you'll always have to pay some kind of "processing" or other fee even if the product or service is a downloadable or digital product. The merchant wants your credit card number so they can start billing you every month after the trial period!)
Unfortunately the majority of these types of offers - especially when it comes to weight loss and "make money online" products - do not make the terms of the offer clear.
They bury the details in fine print or "terms and conditions" that many people don't even read. More often than not the consumer thinks they are simply getting a free product just for paying the shipping and handling, which in reality is never the case.
Some of these offers go beyond deception and are outright scams. Some of them don't even mention anywhere that you will be billed a monthly fee if you don't cancel during the trial period, they make it very difficult if not possible to cancel during the trial period, and/or they simply continue billing you even after you cancel.
Many consumers end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in monthly fees before they notice what is happening, then have to try to fight with their credit card company to get their money back. All because they took a "free trial."
Things really started getting bad online in 2008, and many of these types of "forced continuity programs" have come under fire recently by state attorney generals, the FTC, and other federal agencies for their extremely deceptive practices.
Unfortunately, because these kinds of offers are so profitable for the advertisers and merchants, they will be around for the foreseable future. It often takes a year or longer before the feds take action against even the most egregious offenders, and even then they will often just set-up shop a few months later under a different company name.
The bottom line when it comes to free trials and "free plus shipping" offers is this - 99.9% of the time by accepting one of these offers you are agreeing to allow the merchant to charge your credit card some kind of monthly fee until you cancel.
Make sure you read the fine print before doing any "free trials."