Buying products online is a lot easier than fighting a crowd at the mall, but consumers need to be careful about "free" or "trial" offers that are often part of any transaction.

"After making an online purchase, the company offers you a $10 coupon," Robert, of West Deptford, N.J., told "At which time, consumers are not given notice that you are enrolling for a discount program from Shopper Discounts that automatically debits your account $12 per month."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that these kinds of offers carry "clear and conspicuous" notice that the consumer is being enrolled in an ongoing membership program. For the record, Robert should contact Shopper Discounts here if he wants to cancel. In the future, it's a good idea to ignore offers of discounts or free item. They almost always come with strings attached.

Costly conversation

With almost everyone carrying a cell phone these days, "collect" calls from a landline have almost become a thing of the past. But believe it or not, not everyone has a cell phone.

"My husband was traveling from North Carolina to Atlanta one night and called me collect, as his calling card would not work and he does not have a cell phone," Elizabeth, of Graham, N.C. said. "I accepted the call when I heard his name and by doing so immediately, apparently bypassed the recorded message telling me of the exorbitant rate we would be charged for the call! Wouldn't you do the same if it was your spouse or child on the road far from home and you got a collect call?"

Elizabeth said she was shocked when she got her phone bill and there was a $55 charge from Zero Plus Dialing for the six-minute call. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the varying levels of collect call expense. It seems to depend on the third-party provider. Keep in mind that the bulk of collect calls these days are made from prison. When a provider has a "captive" audience, so to speak, they can charge whatever they want.

Dissatisfied customer

Flooring and installation can be a major purchase, so when things don't turn out quite right, consumers understandably get upset.

"My mother purchased laminate floors from Empire Today for my home," Sheri, of Wellington, Fla., said. "The floors were installed improperly and subsequently are coming up at the seams and buckling. I have had 2 inspectors look at the floors that will attest to this. Empire insists since I have a dog the damage was caused by urine, which is not true."

Sheri should be able to find someone at Empire Today who can resolve this issue, but she will need those two inspectors she mentioned to provide written statements. Companies need things in writing. From the sound of it, the installers did not leave enough of a gap between the flooring and the wall. Laminate flooring expands and contracts, so a small gap between it and the wall is necessary.

Still looking for peace of mind

Nereyda, of Killeen, Tex., is the wife of a U.S. serviceman who is upset after receiving a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that they underpaid last year's taxes by $1,400. Since she and her husband had purchased "Peace of Mind" insurance from H&R Block, she assumed they would take care of it.

"I immediately contacted the local office where I live, and I was accused of failing to include a W2 form, because they hadn't stapled it to the folder like the others," she said.  "H&R Block declined my claim after four weeks."

Nereyda may not have much recourse. She says H&R Block has a form she and her husband signed listing the tax documents they provided and the missing W2 is not on it. The insurance policy covers mistakes H&R makes. If they didn't have all the needed information, the company says, it is not at fault.

It appears that H&R Block heavily marketed the "Peace of Mind" contracts to U.S. service personnel on active duty. Nereyda, at least, clearly didn't understand what exactly she was buying.