Subscription Traps

Subscription traps take place when you sign up online or on the phone for free or low-cost trials of products, only to find that you have been unwittingly locked into costly repeat payments. Typically, these products are slimming pills, health foods, pharmaceuticals and anti-aging products but, increasingly, attractive consumer durable products such as the latest mobile phone are being featured.

The perpetrators of 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 ‘fantastic offer’ being advertised.

The risks

  • Taking advantage of a free or low-cost offer, only to find that it ends up costing you hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
  • Not being able to cancel an agreement or stop payments being taken from your account.

Avoiding subscription traps

  • Read the small print (terms & conditions) carefully before entering into any agreement or making a purchase, however long this may take.
  • Make sure the terms & conditions box has not been pre-ticked.
  • If you make a purchase of this kind that gives you a limited timescale to cancel the agreement, make sure you do so before the due date if you want to cancel it.
  • Never provide bank details to companies without doing some prior research beforehand.
  • Keep a copy of any advertisement (print it or take a screenshot) that you reply to, and to keep a note of the webpage.
  • Remember that you will have more chance of cancelling agreements or obtaining a refund if the company is UK-based. Even those with UK addresses are often just fulfilment companies who are contracted to send out the goods. The companies themselves often have no physical presence in the UK.
  • Check your bank/payment card statements regularly for unexpected payments.

If you are the victim of a subscription trap

  • Make every effort to contact the company concerned to cancel the agreement.
  • Contact your bank to cancel future payments.
  • Ascertain with your bank whether a new card is needed.
  • Request reimbursement from the supplier if the advertisement did not explain the charges, but be aware that without a copy, your claim may fail. If the website has changed in the meantime, try accessing your internet browser’s cache or the internet archive.
  • Refer a complaint about the bank to the Financial Ombudsman Service If the bank refuses to stop the charges or reimburse charges that have been made, consider referring the issue to the Financial Ombudsman
  • Contact your local Trading Standards.
  • Report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.ukIf you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.

Action Fraud LogoIf you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information.

This page has been compiled with the kind assistance of National Trading Standards eCrime Team

In partnership with