You got a phone call from a company promising to sell you a magazine or other type of subscription at a discounted price.
Or, maybe a friendly seeing salesman knocked on your door with a similar offer.
It seemed like a good deal...
After a month or two, you get your credit card bill or bank statement and notice huge charges on your statement.
You realize that the charges were for the "cheap" subscriptions.
You try to cancel the subscription, but instead get the runaround from the company.
If this sounds like something that’s happened to you, you might have been the victim of a subscription scam.
Find out how they work and what you should do with the debit card, credit card, or bank account information that you provided voluntarily.
How These Scams Work
Subscription scams rely on tricking people into signing up for subscription services.
While they might not, strictly speaking, be scams, because many legitimate businesses operate on a subscription model, these scams rely on predatory tactics and unsuspecting customers to dupe people out of their money.
The first step in a subscription scam is finding someone who might fall prey to the scam.
These scammers rely on predatory tactics to find people that they can target.
They might specifically target the elderly or people who are not good with their money, relying on the fact that those people won’t notice what is going on, or won’t be equipped to deal with the results.
Another hallmark of subscription scams is their pressure sales tactics.
You might get a phone call with an “amazing, one-time offer” but only if you agree to buy right then.
The deal might sound absolutely fantastic, and by making it sound like you won’t have a chance to call back later, the scammer might be able to pressure you into signing up.
Similarly, door-to-door scammers might use tactics to pressure or scare you into signing up for the subscription.
These salesmen might use veiled threats, intimidation, or outright lies to trick or bully you into buying.
The "fine print"
Once you’ve signed up for the subscription, you’ll usually receive the service you signed up for.
The catch is hidden in the fine print.
Where the subscription was advertised as being just $50 for five years, it was really $50 per issue for five years, or something similar.
The scam might deliver on its promise in a way, for example by giving you the first few issues for free, but the cost will quickly skyrocket, and you’ll be left with a massive bill.
Tough to cancel
Scammers hope that you don’t notice what they’ve done and that the charges stay hidden in on your bank or card statement.
If you do notice, the scammer will do everything in its power to make it difficult to cancel the subscription.
They make it difficult to find any clearly displayed contact information on the company’s website or bills.
If you do find contact information, you might not get any reply.
And even if you are able to reach the company, you might be told that cancellations are impossible as your agreement doesn’t include any way to cancel.
Threat to credit
If you do manage to contact the scammer and find that you cannot cancel, the scammer will use various strongarm tactics to try to scare you into continuing to pay.
They may also threaten you with a recording of your agreement to the terms over the phone, or by showing you a written agreement of some sort.
What Many People Do
Falling prey to one of these scams can be a huge source of stress.
The scammer has your payment information and there’s seemingly nothing that you can do to stop them from continuing to charge you for the subscription.
In this kind of stressful situation, these are the things that many people do.
Report the charges as fraud
Many people who fall for these scams contact their card issuer or bank to report these charges as
This can be a good first step, as you might be able to get a refund for the charges, but it might not stop the scammer from continuing to charge you for the subscription.
Close your card or bank account
Many people don’t know what to do once the scammer has their payment details.
It seems like there’s nothing that they can do to stop the scammer from continuing to charge them.
Their response is to completely close their credit card or bank account and open a new one.
The scammer can’t charge them if the account isn’t open, right?
The issue with this plan:
The bank or card issuer might reopen the account or otherwise come to you to find out why charges are continuing to arrive against your account after it was closed.
This could result in charges being sent to collection.
Often the easiest thing to do for people is to simply ignore the charges and hope that they go away.
This isn’t a good idea, as the costs will pile up and the scammers won’t stop charging you on their own.
The longer you wait to take action, the harder it will be to get your money back.
What You Should Do
If you’ve fallen prey to a subscription scam, there are a few things that you can do.
Call your bank
If you gave the scammer your debit card or bank information to make payments, the first thing that you should do is contact your bank.
Banks have dealt with this type of situation many times before and most have a specialized anti-fraud department that is equipped to help you handle things.
The bank may be able to refund you for any charges that have already been made.
They can also issue a new debit card with a different number or change your account numbers to help prevent additional charges from being made.
The bank should place a fraud alert on the account, and possibly for the specific merchant making the charges, which will also help prevent additional charges from being made.
The sooner that you notify your bank of what is going on, the better the chances of preventing additional charges are.
Request a chargeback
If you used your credit card to pay for the subscription, you can contact your card issuer to request a chargeback.
The card issuer will review the transaction and request that the merchant provide proof that you did, in fact, make the purchase and that the charge is for the correct amount.
The issuer will also ask you to explain why you’re requesting the chargeback.
If you explain that you’re requesting the chargeback because of fraud and provide all the details that you can, there is a good chance that the card issuer will side with you.
You can also ask that the card issuer block all future transactions initiated by the scammer.
If a merchant has too many chargebacks requested for charges they make on people’s credit cards, their ability o accept card payments may be rescinded, so requesting a chargeback might help others avoid falling prey to the same scammer.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
If you are the victim of any type of financial scam, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC is a government agency tasked with tracking and fighting fraud, identity theft, and unscrupulous business practices.
You can file a report online by filling out a simple form, which includes:
- Your contact information
- The product or service purchases
- Information about the seller
- Details about the transaction
The FTC can’t get your money back, but they can help stop the scammers from scamming anyone else.
An FTC complaint can also be a useful thing to bring to your card issuer or bank when you ask for help in stopping charges and getting a refund.
Keep an eye on your credit reports
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your credit reports.
Scammers might resort to sending your bills to collections in an effort to get you to pay up.
If you notice a bill in collections on your credit report, contact the company that’s claiming the debt and request that they provide proof that you owe money and that they own the right to pursue payment.
Often, these companies won’t be able to produce this proof, so the account will be removed from your credit report, which will help you avoid damage to your credit score.
Subscription scams are an unfortunately common strategy for duping people out of their money.
If you fall victim to one, act quickly to prevent additional charges and try to recover your money.