DETROIT – With her 78th birthday on the horizon, Plymouth resident Elaine Attridge thought Encante Skim Serum and Eye Cream sounded like a miracle in a bottle.
"Anti-aging serum, eye wrinkle reduction, who doesn't want that? I do. I wanted it and they said it was free," recalled Attridge to Help me Hank.
The product, offered online, is compared to botox on the Encante website. When an advertisement popped up online, Attridge thought the free trial, with about $12 in shipping, sounded great. Attridge barely had time to try the product when she noticed something surprising.
"Pretty soon I got a second box and I thought, what? They must have send me two by mistake. Then I got a third box and realized I was taken." she said.
Fine Print Reminder
After the third shipment, Attridge realized this was not a shipping mistake. Her "free" anti-aging serum came with strings attached. "It's because I didn't call and say I didn't want it. So, then they charged me for the first, what was supposed to be free" Attridge said.
Because she didn't cancel within fourteen days, Attridge was charged nearly $200 for the products she thought were free. That's in addition to a $200 charge in February and another $200 charge in March for additional shipments.
Help Me Hank checked with the Better Business Bureau and found Encante has an F rating and 65 complaints in 12 months. Several of those complaints
dealt with the "free offer" and the company billing practices. In each case, the company responded that the 14 day cancellation policy is clearly stated in the "terms and conditions" of the free trial.
Attridge says she missed those important details. "What I've learned is to totally make myself aware of the small print. However small it is!" she told Help Me Hank, hoping other consumers will learn from her mistake.
Attridge says the company won't take returns and they denied her request for a full refund.
She's currently disputing the charges with her bank. However, situations like this can be difficult to reverse because Encante says their policies are in fact stated in its term and conditions.
Looking for Encante
Help Me Hank tried tracking down the company behind Encante. We found several numbers for customer service and left several messages for someone in corporate. No one returned our calls.
Melanie Duquesnel of the local Better Business Bureau says never rush into buying something online, especially if you see an "free offer" pop onto your screen. "The difficulty that most people don't see is that the business on the other side of that transaction needs to make money. In order for them to do that, they eventually have to charge you something."
Other tips you can take to avoid getting caught in a similar situation include:
1) Read all the fine print on free offers.
2) Always understand the return policies before you order a product.
3) Find out if there's a time limit attached to any cancellation.
4) Also, make sure you understand how you will need to cancel: in writing, be email, by phone. If you don't follow the exact procedures required, that could delay the cancellation process.
5) Look for reviews on any product before you buy, no matter how tempting the offer may be!
6) If you're ordering from a company for the first time, avoid using a debit card. If you lose money on a debit card, that's your money. You should have a separate credit card for all your online shopping.
7) Before you make a purchase, make sure the company has a customer service address and a real physical address. If the mailing address seems suspicious, you should be very leery of doing business with that company.
Attridge hopes sharing her story will prevent other shoppers from making the same mistakes she did. So far, Elaine's bank has agreed to refund less than $50 of the nearly $600 she spent with Encante, she plans to file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
"Go with your eyes open further than mine were. And read the small small tiny little print that you're agreeing to," she advised.