Price of a 'free' magazine: Be careful of free trial offers

By Gray Hall - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Many of us have seen those free trial offers, from free books to CDs, to magazines -- but if you are not careful what you thought was free could end up costing you.

Experts say before you accept a free trial offer make sure you know what the obligations are. We talked to one woman who says she got more than what she bargained for when she signed up for a free magazine.

Elizabeth Baker is pregnant with her first child and -- she wants everything perfect for the baby's arrival. She says, "I was really excited to get my fist pair of maternity pants and be fat and have an excuse for it."

Baker says things were going great with the pregnancy -- that's until she went shopping for maternity clothes at the Motherhood Maternity store in Chesterfield Towne Center. She was offered a free copy of Parenting Magazine.

She says, "Everything was so new and exciting that I was like yeah, I can get Parenting Magazine now -- I am going to be a parent so I was like yeah whatever you guys offer, I will take a free magazine. Two and a half months after I shopped there I checked my bank account and there was a $20 dollar charge from Parenting Magazine taken out -- which completely shocked me."

Elizabeth says after seeing the charge she didn't agree to -- she went to the computer and discovered blogs with other parents complaining about the same problem -- being charged for Parenting Magazine when they thought it was free. She says, I was so mad and I was like how can I let people know -- what is the fastest way to let people know, Facebook, tweeter, can like call the news, so that's what I did."

Motherhood Maternity wouldn't comment on camera. Their parent company, Destination Maternity, sent a statement apologizing for Baker's negative experience.

The statement, in part reads, "We have safeguards in place to help ensure that our customers understand the parenting promotion prior to signing up." The Better Business Bureau says this could happen to you.

The organization says when it comes to any free trial offer -- make sure you fully understand the promotion.

Tom Gallagher with the BBB says, "If somebody lies to you that is a scam but if they sale you something and you are a willing participant then you have buyer's remorse that is not a scam, that's you don't pay attention."

Motherhood Maternity also says the customer is made aware when they sign their receipt -- that if they don't cancel the magazine they will be charged.

Baker was credited back her $20 and her subscription was canceled. She says, "I wouldn't say don't shop at the store or anything like that but just be careful what they offer you and make sure you get all the details."

We attempted to reach Parenting Magazine for a comment but they did not return our emails or phone calls.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.


Below is the complete email we received form Destination Maternity: 

We were very sorry to hear about our customers' negative experience with the Parenting magazine promotion.  We take this issue very seriously and will investigate this matter immediately.  It is very important to us that our customers understand this promotion before signing up.

Through this promotion, we offer customers the opportunity to sign up for Parenting magazine in our stores.  The subscription is risk-free in that the customer will be sent one preview issue of Parenting magazine to try.  If the customer decides that she does not want the subscription she can cancel at any time, for any reason, and get her money back.

We have safeguards in place to help ensure that our customers understand the Parenting promotion prior to signing up:

(1)     First, our sales associate explains the promotion to the customer clearly indicating that, if she elects to sign up, the customer will receive one preview issue of Parenting Magazine.  If the customer does not cancel the subscription, her credit card will be charged $20 and she will receive 19 more issues of the magazine.

(2)     Second, our sales associate hands the customer a brochure that details the offer, which includes a toll-free phone number the customer may call to cancel the subscription at any time, for any reason.  This same information prints out on the bottom of the customer receipt.

(3)     Third, the customer manually signs our signature pad and/or sales receipt agreeing to the promotion.

(4)     Finally, Parenting magazine sends an acknowledgement notice directly to the customer regarding her subscription.  The notice also includes the toll-free phone number the customer may call to cancel the magazine at any time, for any reason.

If a customer decides she does not want the subscription, it is our policy to cause Parenting magazine to issue the customer a full refund, no questions asked.

We take all customer inquiries very seriously and welcome anyone concerned about this issue to contact us.

Stefanie Weiner
Associate Publicity Manager