‘Free Sample’? How To Deal With Internet Beauty Scams
‘Free Sample’? How To Deal With Internet Beauty Scams
Today at 8 am, I received a phone call from a friend: ‘I urgently need to pick your legal brain! I just got a letter from a debt collector asking for £100 for some free skincare samples that I ordered online through a Facebook ad…’ After calming her down I asked her to explain what happened and forward the letter to me. It turns out she’d fallen victim to an internet beauty scam.
As you’ve probably guessed, this article isn’t about beauty per se, but how to shop safely for your beauty products online; and how to deal with the ‘free sample’ scams. Perhaps, I’m writing it because the lawyer in me seeks justice for those of you who’ve been tricked!
Over the past few months, there’s been a Facebook post circulating with this tag-line. “Did Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt Get A Divorce Because Of A Fight Over Their Multi-million Dollar Anti-Aging Wrinkle Cream Company?” In case you’re wondering, the answer is NO! Angelina Jolie doesn’t own a cosmetic company and I’m pretty sure their divorce was for different reasons. But the mysterious ‘Goldman Reeves Ltd’ and the Cypriot registered ‘Equinox’, do!
I can see how some of you would be interested to read about the divorce of two high profile beautiful people. Especially, one that claims to reveal a ‘long kept celebrity anti-ageing beauty secret’.
The article starts by describing Brad and Angelina’s custody battle over their children. So it seems legitimate. But then it goes on to talk about a miracle anti-ageing cream that Angelina has apparently been researching for two years. According to the article, until now this cream has been one of ‘Hollywood’s Best Kept Secrets’ as it has a magical ability to remove 98.9% of your wrinkles. Ha!?! I’ll take a life time supply please!
The article includes dermatology related symbols, which look credible, but in fact mean nothing. It also features an unrelated GMA video that has nothing to do with the product or Angelina; and of course, links that redirect you to a website for purchasing your ‘free’ product sample for £4.95 (postage fee). £4.95 doesn’t seem a lot to pay, after all you’re getting a free sample of the magical Angelina Jolie cream! And that’s where the small print comes in. Once you purchase your ‘free’ sample, you automatically agree to a ‘refill’ membership and your card is charged £69.87 every 30 days until you cancel. Guess what happens next? You can’t get through to the company to cancel. Moreover, you receive your free sample with a letter that says if you don’t return the product within 15 days to Cyprus, they will charge the full amount to your card.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: how can this be legal? Well, this type of arrangement is completely legal. It’s most commonly used to bill customers for regular subscriptions such as gym membership or magazines subscriptions. By handing over your debit card/bank details and ticking the terms and conditions box, you unwittingly authorize regular payments.
So if you need to purchase beauty products online from a company you’re not familiar with, I suggest you do the following:
If you’re lucky after the zillionth try, you may be able to reach the company and demand a refund. Most people are not so lucky. If you finally manage to get through, the likely outcome will be that the customer service representative asks you to send the unopened product back; trick you into another scam; or simply refuse the refund.
You can try to get your money back from the bank. However, by law, you can only get your money back, by proving that you didn’t authorize the payment, or if you have paid for services you haven’t received or something you haven’t agreed to. And since you agreed to the terms and conditions when you signed-up, and then willingly handed over your credit card details, you can say goodbye to your money.
Thankfully, right after purchasing the product, my friend realized she had been scammed and quickly cancelled her credit card. However, the fraudsters decided to take it a step further by threatening her with legal action if she didn’t pay-up in full, straight away. Hence, she received the debt collection letter. They even used the scales of justice symbol next to the company name, to make it look more official and convincing.
Most people tend to panic when they see the words ‘debt collection’ and will pay straight away to avoid further legal fees. And that is exactly what fraudsters want you to do.
In the UK, the FCA regulates all consumer credit services. This means that firms needs prior FCA authorization to act as a debt collector. You can check if a firm has this authorization on the FCA website or by calling their consumer helpline. When my friend called me, I went straight to the FCA webste. I searched for culprit company’s name ‘Goldman Reeves.’ Success! What came up was ‘We believe that Goldman Reeves Ltd has been providing financial services or products in the UK without our authorization…” – Case closed!
This is just one example of ‘free’ skincare product samples fraud. You might have come across other companies doing the same. And Hampton Naturals, Derma Hydrate, Pristine, Nuvalift, Absolute Rejuven and Absolute Derma are just a few other examples – there are too many to list them all!
As the anti-aging beauty market continues to explode with unprecedented growth, these scams snare thousands of women every year. So, please be sensible and AVOID FREE TRIALS – nothing great in life comes free. Purchase beauty products from reputable distributors. At the end of the day, it’s not just about money, it’s also about the quality of the product.