AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine became the first state in the nation Wednesday to enact a law to safeguard consumers from deceptive free trial offers, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
The bill was suggested after Attorney General Janet Mills’ office received hundreds of complaints from consumers who accepted a free trial offer and unknowingly committed to monthly or annual credit card charges.
The new law will require that consumers give their billing information to the seller in order to accept the free trial period, according to a press release from Mills’ office.
She attended a ceremonial signing of the bill Wednesday by Gov. John Baldacci.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Hunt, D-Buxton, received unanimous support from the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee, according to Mills.
“During these tough economic times, Maine people deserve the right to choose exactly what to spend their hard-earned money on,” she said in the press release. “Consumers have a right to know who is charging them and for how much. This bill will provide more transparency in free trial offers and will prevent consumers from being charged for services that they do not need or want.”
For example, the press release said, a consumer who rented a car might later receive a check in the mail from the car rental company.
Believing that the check was a rebate, the consumer cashed it. By cashing the check, according to Mills, the consumer enrolled in a membership club for a “free” trial period. After the trial period ended, the consumer’s credit card would be charged for the service on a monthly or annual basis until the consumer realized he or she was being charged and tried to cancel the charge.
Under the new law, companies offering free trial periods of goods or services must confirm billing information directly from the consumer at the time the consumer accepts the offer.