It sounds like such a deal! Especially when the company says you can use the entire thingand just send back the empty container.

Consumers might think they're pulling a fast one on these companies, or they just think they're being smart with their money. But what seems like a simple transaction turns into a nightmarish web of "membership programs" and policy technicalities that ends up costing the consumer way more than a couple of bucks.

And the problem is, new products spring up every day, snaring well-meaning consumers with the same old shady tactics.

photoTake Celtrixa, for example. The lotion is touted as a powerful aid in reducing the appearance of stretch marks.

A full-size bottle of the lotion costs over a hundred dollars, but consumers who want to try it out can do a "free, 30-day trial." Just pay shipping and handling. What's the harm in that?

As it turns out, plenty.

The "fine" print

Consumers who want to try Celtrixa click the advertisement and are brought to a webpage where they fill in their billing information and credit card number (to pay for the $2 shipping fee).

Near the "send" button, in regular-sized, black type reads a disclaimer:

"We'll send you 2 bottles of Celtrixa to try Risk Free for 30 days (a $120 value). If you like your results and want to continue looking younger, you don't have to do anything else. Your credit card will be billed in two payments of $59.95 each, the first payment 30 days after you receive the shipment and the second 30 days later. To ensure you do not run out of Celtrixa and continue getting improved results, you'll receive a new 60-day supply every 2 months after that as a member of our Celtrixa Beauty Program. Your same credit card provided today will be automatically billed $6.95 shipping and processing for each new shipment plus $59.95 every 30 days. All NJ residents will be charged sales tax. If you're not completely satisfied, simply call Celtrixa® at 866-922-9791 and return your bottles within 30 days of receiving your shipment - even if they are empty - for a full refund of your purchase price less any insurance paid and shipping and processing fees. No hassles. No commitment. The Free MiracleBurn Cream is yours to keep as our gift. As a member of our Celtrixa Beauty Program, you are not obligated to continue. Cancel at any time!!! Please note: The Risk Free is for first time customers only. Customer responsible for return postage."

Did you read all that? If you're like most people, no.

So let's break it down, shall we?

"We'll send you 2 bottles of Celtrixa to try Risk Free for 30 days (a $120 value)."

Okay, great. So far, so good.

"If you like your results and want to continue looking younger, you don't have to do anything else. Your credit card will be billed in two payments of $59.95 each, the first payment 30 days after you receive the shipment and the second 30 days later."

This is where it gets a little sticky.  See, the trial is free, but the lotion is not. So, if you keep it, you have to pay $120 for it.

Consumers who actually read this far might think, "Whatever. I'll just return it before the 30-day trial is up."  But we'll discuss the 30-day trial in a minute. Moving on...

"To ensure you do not run out of Celtrixa and continue getting improved results, you'll receive a new 60-day supply every 2 months after that as a member of our Celtrixa Beauty Program. Your same credit card provided today will be automatically billed $6.95 shipping and processing for each new shipment plus $59.95 every 30 days."

Did you catch that? If you keep the free trial bottle of lotion, you are enrolled in their "beauty program" and are billed $60 to $67 every month and receive a bottle of lotion every other month.

"All NJ residents will be charged sales tax."

Those Garden Staters. Just can't catch a break, can they?

"If you're not completely satisfied, simply call Celtrixa at 866-922-9791 and return your bottles within 30 days of receiving your shipment - even if they are empty - for a full refund of your purchase price less any insurance paid and shipping and processing fees."

Is this in reference to the lotion received for the "free trial" or any subsequent bottles received? Who knows, since it's not specified.

"No hassles. No commitment."

No comment.

"The Free MiracleBurn Cream is yours to keep as our gift."

Thank you?

"As a member of our Celtrixa Beauty Program, you are not obligated to continue."

What?

"Cancel at any time!!! Please note: The Risk Free is for first time customers only."

Huh?

"Customer responsible for return postage."

Of course.

The "free 30-day trial"

Consumers who still feel confident they can avoid ending up in an expensive auto-ship program may still go ahead with the trial.

After all, you have a whole month to try and then return the product, right?

Wrong.

The only way to get a totally accurate idea of how the "30 day trial" works is to visit Celtrixa's official website and wade through the very long, very dense "Customer Service" page.

And even then, they don't say exactly how the trial works. Most troubling, they never say exactly when the 30 day trial starts. Consumers may assume the trial starts once they receive the product in the mail and can, you know, try the product.

But it turns out, the trial starts the day consumers place their order. 

The "free trial" days tick off from there.

According to Celtrixa's website, orders take up to two days to process and ship out. Those two days are included in the "30 day trial."

Celtrixa's website also states regular shipping time ranges from 10 to 14 days. "Rush" shipping ranges from 7 to 10 days. Those shipping days are included in the "30 day trial."

That's as many as 16 days before the consumer receives the product in the mail.  Those 16 days are included in the 30 day trial.

Consumers who want to return the product before the 30 days is up has to figure in how many days it could take for the product to get back to the company, as those shipping days also count towards the trial.

So say it takes five days for the product to ship back to the company. That leaves the consumer about a week to try out the lotion.

Of course, the makers of Celtrixa recommend using the lotion for at least two weeks to see any results.

The "preferred customer beauty program"

If the product is not returned within the 30 days, or it gets lost in the mail, the company automatically charges the consumer full price for the trial bottle ($120), then places the consumer in their "preferred customer beauty program."  That's when the whole process gets really messy.

Most consumers don't even know they've been enrolled into a "program" until they start seeing huge charges on their credit cards and boxes of lotion starts arriving at their door.

Getting out of the "program" involves calling the company and making a special request. That is, if you can get a human being on the phone.

Preying on human nature

Gone are the days of teeny-tiny fine print. Companies like the one selling Celtrixa put the terms and conditions right in front of your face, in regular-sized type.

But usually, the details are vague, the sentences are densely written, and the whole thing is formatted in such a way that it's unappealing to the eye.

Perhaps someone hopes consumers will skim the first couple sentences and then be so busy submitting their credit card information, they'll gloss over the important details (which are usually near the end of the disclaimer for this very reason).

So are these "free trial" deals actually "scams"? Technically, no.  But the companies that offer them have made it so complicated to adhere to the rules of the trial, it's easier to just stay away.