A full-page ad that appeared in a South Florida newspaper in May has caught the attention of the Better Business Bureau, which warns consumers that just because someone claims a product is free doesn’t mean it is free.
The ad, according to the consumer advocacy organization, offered “easy-to-use senior mobile cell phones free” for senior citizens. The advertiser is a company that has earned an F-rating with the BBB because of its lengthy negative advertising and complaint industry.
According to the ad, for a one-time activation fee of $97 plus shipping, those who had beat a 48-hour deadline would receive a free cell phone, get nationwide coverage with no long-distance charges, would not have to sign any contracts, make no deposits, or pay no monthly bills. The bill also repeatedly expresses that senior citizens are risking their safety by not having a cell phone, and that the government urges them to carry one, the BBB said.
The organization first became aware of this ad in May 2013 in West Virginia, and an investigation there showed that the company inflates the costs of its activation fees to cover and profit from what’s advertised as “free,” BBB officials said.
The offer would charge consumers $97 plus shipping for access to 911 services, which already are provided by all wireless carriers for free. And while there are no monthly bills, consumers must pay for minutes once their first 250 prepaid minutes are used, or after 60 days.
BBB officials say the best way to avoid issues like this is to make sure, as a customer, that all the terms of the offer are read and understood. If something doesn’t make sense, be sure to ask.
Also, customers should always question free offers. The BBB Code of Advertising states that the word “free” can be used whenever the advertiser is offering an unconditional gift. If that free item is conditional on a purchase, the advertiser must make that clear and conspicuous with the free offer — and not simply by placing an asterisk next to the word “free” with a footnote.
Customers can always check out the reliability of a company by visiting BBB.org. The Better Business Bureau Serving West Florida is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America that serves Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.