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St. Paul, MN — The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning consumers to be wary of free trial offers for electronic cigarettes.
Customers who tried to take advantage of ‘free’ Internet offers for smokeless cigarettes say they were burned by unexpected charges that totaled $100 or more. Ubiquitous and deceptive online websites for said “free trials” are even deceptively referencing news organizations like ABC and CBS in the promotion of their products.
Nationally, the BBB has received 360 complaints, including six from Minnesota consumers, against a Naples, Florida company called Direct E-Cig. The company calls its product a ‘revolutionary electronic smoking device designed as a great alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.’ They have failed to respond to 170 of the complaints and have an “F” rating with the BBB.
“Customer complaints against Direct E-Cig show a clear pattern of misrepresentation,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “In many cases, consumers were unpleasantly surprised to find their credit cards were billed for $100 – or more – after ordering what they thought was a free starter kit.”
In response to some of the complaints, Direct E-Cig told the BBB its website notes that consumers must go through a cancellation process within 15 days “to avoid being billed the full price of the kit of $109.95 and future monthly shipments.” Several consumers said they received direct email solicitations from the company and never saw the cancellation policy.
Even if consumers are dissatisfied with the product and follow the return policy exactly, it appears that the so-called free trial offer will end up costing them money. The website notes that Direct E-Cig charges $7.50 for each opened or missing cartridge and a $10 restocking fee on all returns.
A warning in small print on the Direct E-Cig website notes that “This product contains nicotine, a highly addictive substance. It has not been approved by the FDA as a smoke cessation device.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes. The FDA has said the products can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead them to try other tobacco products including conventional cigarettes.
The BBB offers the following advice for consumers who are considering taking advantage of free or low-cost trial offers for smokeless cigarettes or other products:
• Is the free trial offer related to a membership, subscription or extended service contract?
• Do I have to contact the company to avoid receiving more merchandise or services?
• Who do I contact to cancel?
• Will I receive other products with the free item? If so, will I have to pay for them or send them back if I do not want them? How long do I have to decide before incurring a charge?
• Is there a membership fee? If so, is it refundable?
• Will you automatically bill my credit card for anything?
• Who is offering the trial – you or another company? What is the name and address of the company?
Additional advice on signing up for free trial offers is available at www.bbb.org/us/article/free-trial-offers–are-they-good-deals-425. Consumers who believe they have been misled by a free trial offer can file a complaint online with the BBB at http://www.bbb.org.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public. BBB hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at http://www.bbb.org or 651-699-111, toll free at 1-800-646-6222.
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