'Free trial' costs some customers more than they expect

March 30, 2011 3:44:22 PM PDT
A trial offer for electronic cigarettes has ended up costing consumers hundreds of dollars. The company based out of Florida is the subject of complaints from across the country, including some from right here in Houston. The complaints say basically the same thing -- a consumer signed up for a trial offer and the bills started coming. People we spoke with add that getting a refund is not easy.

Electronic cigarettes are billed as a way to help smokers quit for good. Mark Lara says he decided to give it a try after seeing a trial offer from Direct E-Cig, but there were problems from the start.

He said, "Never worked, they never worked."

Lara tells us he agreed to pay $9.99 for the shipping involved in the trial offer, but shortly after he got a bill for $63. Lara says getting a refund has been difficult.

"They hung up on me a bunch of times on me and then they say they are not going to give me my money back and all that stuff," Lara said. "I said I need my money back, because that was a trial and they never did."

Lara is not alone. According to the Better Business Bureau, 360 similar complaints have come in against Direct E-Cig from across the country.

Monica Russo with the Houston BBB said, "Consumers had signed up for they thought was a free trial and then ended up getting charged $100, $200 or more."

In response to the complaints, Direct E-Cig told the Better Business Bureau their website notes consumers must cancel within 15 days to get a refund to avoid being billed the full price of the $109 kit and future monthly payments.

Officials with the BBB say this is not the first time they have seen consumers getting bills after trying a trial offer.

"If you are surfing the Internet, for example, you'll see a pop-up for a free trial and people who click on it will think they can sign up for something for just a few dollars," Russo explained. "They will give the company their credit card information and find they have been charged for much more."

We contacted Direct E-Cig by phone and was told we had to send an email to the company. We did that and have not heard back from the company.

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