What am I signing up for? Don’t fall into the trap

Are you locked into a subscription for an offering you didn’t sign up for or that you have tried to cancel? It’s National Consumer Week and Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading standards is supporting a campaign to make people aware of subscription issues and traps called: “Not what you signed up for”

In subscription traps, consumers are tricked into agreeing to a subscription through the advertising of a “free trial” or reduced price offer for a product or service. If the consumer doesn’t cancel the trial within a set amount of time they are transferred onto a costly subscription payment plan. It’s a deliberate misleading practice, where the company involved uses deceptive language and ambiguous or confusing terms and conditions.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat Deputy Leader of the Oxfordshire County Council and Cabinet Member for Trading Standards said: “The problem is that many people are paying for membership plans they aren't aware they've agreed to and can end up seriously out of pocket. Many thought they were in a free or low-cost trial period and find that they have been locked into costly repeat payments. It can be gym memberships, health and weight loss advice, beauty products or TV packages. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds”.

Subscription traps exploit a ‘continuous payment authority’, normally by requesting your payment card details as proof of identity and age, then retaining those details to draw monthly payments from your account. Details of this ongoing commitment are generally buried in the terms & conditions and are missed by many people, eager instead to take advantage of the offers advertised.

These payments work differently to direct debits which people are more familiar with so consumers should be very cautious about giving out their bank account details online for what they think is a one-off payment. Our Trading Standards team is keen to inform consumers, businesses and financial institutions to ensure residents in Oxfordshire are protected from subscription issues. Continued payment can cause serious debt problems for consumers when left unmonitored, and we hope businesses ensure their terms and conditions are clear and transparent,” said Jody Kerman, Head of Operation at Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP) are also reaching out to businesses who offer subscriptions to their customers. The campaign aims to make banks more aware of their responsibilities to customers struggling with subscription issues.

An estimated two million people across the UK have tried to cancel unwanted subscriptions.

For more information on National Consumer Week, visit www.tradingstandards.uk/ncw17. Follow National Consumer Week updates on Twitter using #BeforeYouSign and #NCW17