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David Knight: Beware introductory offers that leave you paying far more than you bargained for

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It was 2.45am in Las Vegas and I was talking to a mysterious woman in Sin City about a drug deal which had gone bad.

I wanted out.

But I feared a shipment sanctioned from the other side of the Atlantic to Aberdeen would be on its way in days.

And it had to be paid for by me because they had my credit card on file.

David Knight.

I was phoning from Aberdeen to stop it.

How on Earth had I got myself into this situation?

I thought I was phoning Essex to cancel my order, but ended up being forwarded to Nevada.

Maybe I was under the influence after watching Breaking Bad in the past, and now with my new drugs-crime drama addiction: The excellent Ozark on Netflix.

But just like these fictional characters I was becoming paranoid.

You can’t trust anyone these days; the isolation and loneliness of lockdown seems to have made us more vulnerable to unwise financial decisions.

I feared the worst, but the woman in Las Vegas caught me completely off-guard.

“Certainly, sir,” she said cheerily. “I’ve done that for you and here is your cancellation number confirming it.

“There will be no further deliveries or payments taken from the credit card. Have a great day.”

It was only a bottle of raspberry and green tea-flavoured diet pills we were talking about, but it was a big deal for me.

I had unwittingly blundered into an expensive agreement for a continuous supply of them.

What made it worse was that I was supposed to be a hard-bitten, sceptical journalist who should have known better.

I paid £3 for a cut-price 14-day trial thinking that would be it; no strings attached.

I was wrong. A few weeks later a payment for $128 was taken from my credit card by the US diet-pill company, which amounted to £105 at the prevailing conversion rate. It was the full non-discounted price.

Quicker than gulping down a pill, it dawned on me that I was tied into a full-blown agreement to renew automatically every month, which would be around £105 each time for a bottle of 60 pills. Or £1,260 a year.

Sure enough, I discovered from Las Vegas that a second payment was due in a few days for the next batch.

Someone could grow fat on this profit.

These “miracle” diet pills were getting rave reviews from celebrities, but it’s a miracle ordinary people can afford them.

I remember when ordering that I stared intently at the pages on screen looking for a catch, but couldn’t see anything.

It really did seem as though it was a cut-price bargain – until my credit-card bill appeared a month later.

I can only assume I missed the small print about terms and costs, which the best companies are normally very clear about up front.

The shock prompted me to scrutinise the back of the trial bottle and call a UK distributor listed in rural Essex. It was in a sleepy sounding small place called Brickwall and the irony of the name filled me with foreboding.

Imagine my surprise when a woman in the Las Vegas nerve centre picked up my call after it was forwarded across the Atlantic.

After the niceties of telling me she was in Las Vegas and it was 2.45am, she explained politely that with this promotion the onus was on the buyer to cancel before the end of the 14-day cut-price trial or it kicked in at full price for what I had received.

And indefinite monthly deliveries would start popping through the letter box.

So there we have it.

There was a lot of controversy over US-based diet-pill offers with a hidden sting in the tail a few years ago. British consumers complained they were falling into camouflaged traps and being fleeced.

There was also criticism in the media of UK banks for not doing more to protect customers.

But, following my experience, it appears there are still issues around some of these products for the unwary.

Some banks do not seem to have changed, either.

I was left feeling more vulnerable and alone when I asked my credit-card company to ensure no further payments were taken, despite the firm’s assurances, just in case.

They only offered to raise it with the bank’s “disputes team”, who would be in contact in 48 hours.

But when they did contact me by text it was only to advise that due to Covid-19 they would not be looking at my problem for two months.

If the US people are not true to their word about cancelling, I could part with more than £300 by then.

Eventually a nice woman from the bank’s complaints department rang me to promise she would monitor my account every day for a week and call me. I have been waiting in vain for three weeks.

I might have been saved further expense by pure chance; the card used in the transaction was replaced soon afterwards for an unconnected reason, and I hope this means they could not take further payments even if they tried.

I hope my story is a warning for others who might risk being cast adrift in the Atlantic.

I did not try the trial pills in the end because I shed a few pounds just worrying about them.

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