I recently discovered a charge of about $60 on our credit card from Apple’s app store and asked every family member if they had bought something from there. My wife and kids all said, “No,” and my dog, Lulu, scratched herself, as if to say, “I have better things to do than shop online.”
Worried that a scam artist was charging our credit card, I investigated further and found that someone had purchased an annual subscription for a photo and video editing app. As soon as my 17-year-old daughter heard the name of the app, she remembered her recent purchase: “Sorry, it was me. I needed it for a school project and signed up for a 7-day free trial. But I forgot to cancel.”
“Forgot to cancel.” Those three words have made millions of dollars, crores of rupees, trillions of pesos, for entrepreneurs everywhere. Many companies are betting not on your love of their product but the failings of your memory.
Instead of being thrilled that you signed up for their product, they’re hoping that you’ll forget that you ever signed up.
Yes, it’s the year 2025 and a retired woman named Maria finally scans the monthly credit card bill that her husband, Bob, has been paying diligently. That’s when she notices a charge for pet health insurance.
Maria: “Pet insurance? Why are we paying this?”
Bob (scratching head): “I’m not sure … oh yeah, I got it for Goldie, right after we brought her home.”
“Goldie died five years ago, Bob!”
“I know that. What’s your point?”
“We’ve been paying for pet insurance without owning a pet!”
“I thought it would automatically cancel.”
“There’s no such thing as automatic cancellation, you idiot, only automatic renewal. Not only did you forget to cancel, you should have never got it in the first place. Have you ever heard of anybody buying pet insurance for a goldfish?”
It’s very important to scan your credit card bill to make sure there are no unusual charges. Fortunately, I was able to call Apple and get them to refund the subscription fee. They agreed to do this because my daughter is still a minor, too young to be legally taken advantage of.
Free trials are quite common these days, a marketing tactic that entices consumers with the word “free,” before putting their memory on “trial.” Almost every movie-streaming company offers free trials, as do a host of other companies, including those offering gym memberships, dating apps, educational products, and diet pills. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get a “free trial” from your local courthouse.
Sometimes you can get three free trials at once: “Get a free one-month trial to our matchmaking site ConnectMe, and while you’re here, sign up for a free one-week trial relationship with a random stranger. We’ll even throw in a free trial of a morning-after pill.”
Free trials are great when they come with no strings attached (except when you’re getting a free trial of a tennis racket, of course). But when you need to provide your credit card info for the free trial, you are setting yourself up for trouble. Remembering to cancel is like remembering your password, except that your web browser will not do any remembering for you. Nor will the company’s website display a message that says, “If you forgot to cancel, just enter your email address and we will send you a link, so you can reset your faulty memory.”
It’s important to read the fine print when you agree to a free trial. It might say something like this: “By clicking on the link above, I agree to download a free 30-day trial of Dr. Ramesh’s Astrological Forecast, guaranteed to bring me daily and hourly clarity, as well as minute-by-minute pop-up ads. If I do not cancel my subscription within 30 days, I agree to have $200 charged to my credit card for an annual subscription, and $50 for a retainer fee, so that Dr. Ramesh can retain his Lamborghini. Dr. Ramesh’s Astrological Forecast promises to bring me mind and body renewal, not to mention automatic renewal. Cancel anytime. **Cancellations accepted between 1 p.m. and 1:01 p.m. Indian Standard Time. If an operator is not available to take your call, please try again in 2029. We hope to hire more staff by then.”