Dear ABC News Fixer: I have been trying to stop smoking for some time. I stop, start, stop and start again. I recently saw a TV show about electronic cigarettes and decided to purchase one.
The company selling them online offered a free trial. The initial charge to my credit card was only $4.95 for shipping and handling.
After I got the product, I was supposed to charge it by plugging it into my computer or into a wall outlet with an adapter – but I was not sent an adapter. I tried charging the e-cigarette and it never worked, and it still does not to this date.
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I contacted customer service and was told they would send me the adapter plug as long as I continued the trial. Then I found out I was charged an additional $109 to my credit card and would be charged more money each month for replacement cartridges. I immediately had them cancel my order.
Now I'm being told that since I did not cancel within the trial period, I cannot get a full refund. Their terms and conditions state that you can receive a refund, but only if the kit is received with an authorization number within 30 days. The rep refused to give me an authorization number, and my 30 days will be up soon. I would just like a refund for something that did not work. Help!
- Cassandra Faulkner, Omaha, Neb.
Dear Cassandra: These "free trial" offers can be a bit tricky – more on that in a sec – but you had a different problem: The product apparently was defective from the start.
That seemed like a pretty good reason to ask for your money back. We emailed No Flame E-Cigarette and heard back from Sasha Dyroff, quality assurance representative. After we explained your troubles, Dyroff offered a full refund and said you don't have to send back the broken item. (You've since received the full $109.67.)
But you aren't the only consumer who's annoyed with No Flame E-Cigarette's sales plan. The Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean recently posted a consumer alert about the business, and gave it an "F" rating after getting 324 complaints about the business over the past year.
In its alert, the BBB says consumers complained about being surprised when their accounts were automatically charged after the free trial. In its response to the BBB, the company pointed to its terms and conditions, which allow the company to start billing for the e-cigarette as well as for monthly refill cartridges (which cost $59.67 plus $9.95 for shipping and handling every month) immediately after the 14-day trial period ends. (A heads-up: The 14 days includes the time it takes to deliver the starter kit.)
The BBB says that in November, the company offered to post the terms more clearly on its order page to try to eliminate consumer complaints. We checked, and the info is there.
Moshe Berman, a manager at No Flame E-Cigarette, told the ABC News Fixer that the company has worked to address each complaint by offering free products or refunds when warranted. "We do our 100 percent best," he said.
The ABC News Fixer has seen similar set-ups with other "free trials" online, for everything from diet pills to shampoo. Our advice: Be wary, and read every word of fine print. Don't forget that they've got your credit card for the shipping and handling – and that's what they'll use to bill you later.
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.