Food delivery services can be a convenience for people with busy lives. Free trial offers and online reviews can help people decide which service they want to use. But when reviews are deliberately skewed and subscription terms are hidden, that’s not just unhelpful. It’s against the law.
Today, the FTC announced a settlement with UrthBox, Inc., a California-based food delivery service, and its owner, Behnam Behrouzi. According to the FTC, UrthBox offered customers incentives, including free snack boxes, to post positive reviews online. But the company didn’t clearly tell people that customers who posted those reviews were rewarded. The FTC says these reviews were deceptive because they appeared to be independent reviews when, in fact, they were not.
The FTC also says UrthBox didn’t adequately disclose key terms of its “free” snack box offer. A key term left hidden? When the free trial expired, UrthBox would automatically enroll customers in a subscription plan. And charge them the total amount for six months of shipments, sometimes as much as $269.
The settlement bars UrthBox and Behrouzi from engaging in similar conduct and requires them to pay $100,000 to customers deceived by the trial offers.
The next time you plan to buy anything based on an online review:
Think about the source of the review. Where is it coming from? Is it from an expert organization or individual customers?
Do the reviews sound legitimate, like they’re from real people who used the product or service? Sometimes, awkward language or reviews that all sound alike are a tip-off that the reviews may be fake.
If you’re thinking about a free trial offer or subscription service:
Compare online reviews from a wide variety of websites. While you’d want to read critically, user reviews on various retail or comparison sites give you a good idea about what’s going on. Complaints from other customers can tip you off to "catches" that might come with the trial.
Check the terms and conditions for the offer. If you can't find them or can't understand exactly what you're agreeing to, don't sign up.
Find out how to cancel. If you don't want it, do you have to pay? Do you have a limited time to respond?