Mastercard Zaps Free Trials That Turn Into Sneaky Subscriptions

By Holly Brockwell on at

If there's one thing that unites all humans, it's a burning hatred of companies that reel you in with free trials, then sneakily start charging your card while insisting you can only cancel if you call on an actual phone between the hours of 14.01 and 14.05 on the third Tuesday of the month.

The unlikely hero to save us from this vexing situation appears to be Mastercard, who've announced new rules for anyone offering free trials who wants to be able to accept Mastercard payments -- which is going to be quite a lot of them.

They're being pretty strict about it:

The rule change will require merchants to gain cardholder approval at the conclusion of the trial before they start billing. To help cardholders with that decision, merchants will be required to send the cardholder – either by email or text – the transaction amount, payment date, merchant name along with explicit instructions on how to cancel a trial.

For each payment thereafter, the merchant will have to send a receipt to the cardholder for each transaction by email or text message with clear instructions on how to cancel the service if the consumer so desires. In addition, all charges that appear on the cardholder’s statement must now include the merchant website URL or the phone number of the store where the cardholder made the purchase.

While obviously not everyone's going to use a credit card to pay for their free trial, and not everyone has a Mastercard, the fact that one of the biggest payment providers is enforcing these rules means we're likely to see them enacted across the board -- because merchants who don't conform won't be able to accept Mastercard at all, and that's a pretty big deal.

It's not clear whether merchants will be able to get around the new rules by taking PayPal instead, which would allow them to accept Mastercard payments by proxy -- but PayPal has its own recurring subscription system that allows you to cancel directly with them, so that wouldn't be too much of an issue.

Big finance standing up for the little guy? More of this, please.

Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash