Several years ago it wasn’t as easy to get your credit score as it is now. Today you have guaranteed access to your score every 12 months per the Federal Trade Commission. (Here’s how to get that with no strings attached: Get My Free Credit Report) Most credit card companies provide you with your score on a monthly basis for free now; but not 10 years ago, which leads us to this story.
It was a rough time in my life. I had just lost a business and things were sort of in free fall. I quickly realized I had amassed way too many liabilities, while my main asset, the business, no longer produced revenue. Long story short, some things did not get paid and my credit score suffered.
As I worked to pull myself back together I needed to know what my current credit score was. I went to a website where they would give you a copy of your credit report for free. There was of course, a catch. You had to give them your credit card info to “verify” you were who you said you were. But really, the only reason they wanted your credit card was because they were signing you up for a $49 per month credit monitoring service in the fine print, which you would need to cancel immediately if you didn’t want. Let me be clear,,, it was BURIED in the fine print,,, and it was so buried, and quite literally small print, that it would be considered fraudulent by today’s laws. When a company does business in such a way so that you “inadvertently” sign up for things you didn’t know you were signing up for… That business is likely being deceptive according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Information that is significant to the advertised offer should not be buried at the end of a long web page that requires consumers to scroll past unrelated information. Consumers should not have to wander through an electronic maze to discover important conditions or limitations of an offer.” – Federal Trade Commission
There I was, at an all time low in my life, just trying to recover from a major life setback. Then on top of everything, I realized I had been getting charged $49 a month for several months for something I didn’t knowingly sign up for? I felt taken advantage of, kicked while I was down, and I never forgot. I have been leery of anything that requires my credit card on the internet since. I have a constant fear that any small purchase I make is just a scam to get my card numbers and drain my account. Until now!
So I am sitting at my computer a decade later when I stumble upon a picture of my best childhood friend who passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2000. He of course had no internet trail, no Facebook page, no Twitter account, and digital cameras weren’t even a thing yet.
So as you can imagine, I was overjoyed to see these pictures of him from a local newspaper where he lived. But something looked a little familiar; they only wanted $1. Then I read the fine print, and by purchasing this image I would be signing up for a monthly service that would let me download so many images a month from their site every month until I canceled the program. I really didn’t need that; I just wanted to pay the $1.
My spidey sense went berserk,,, What if I cancel but they keep charging me anyway… what if this turns into a $100 picture? Normally I would just say forget it and move on… but this was important. I looked up in the air with my hand on my chin as I pondered what to do, and I just happened to stare at a stack of 2 or 3 prepaid visa gift cards that I didn’t know what to do with. (Light-Bulb)
These cards were at least a couple years old and I had actually written in Sharpie the amounts that were left on them. One had about 30 cents, one $5, and the other had $2. I just thought to myself… “huh,,, these are basically credit cards right?”
So I took the card with $2 on it and requested the images I wanted from the website, which means by default I also signed up for that monthly service as well. I hit the submit button and hoped…. hour-glass…… and wouldn’t you know… IT WORKED! I got the image I wanted and there was zero chance of that company charging me every month for anything. I canceled the subscription right away and never had to worry about being fraudulently charged.
I have since done this for pretty much anything that involves a free trial or a small charge from an unknown website. In regards to free trials, if you like the product and decide you do want to pay the monthly fee, I assure you whatever company you are dealing with will gladly take your REAL credit card information later on.
I have done this for other things as well. I bought a $3 PDF e-book from a website that I wasn’t quite sure about with a gift card that had $5 left. I needed a stock image for this blog that was $1, and having never worked with the site offering it, I just stuck it on a gift card. I have even used a Visa gift that only had 3 cents on it to kickoff a free 30-day trial to a well known business that helps track your ancestry. Again, I canceled the trial before my 30 days was up and didn’t have to worry.
When that Gift Card might save you hundreds:
Remember: the only thing more important than saving money, or making money, is not losing the money you already have.
- Free Trials: You can probably sign up for just about any free trial on the internet that requires a credit card by using a Visa gift card with as little as 1 cent on it. This means no risk of finding out a year later you have been charged $30 every month for something on your personal credit card. Do go ahead and cancel the subscription though, no need to get collections involved unnecessarily.
- You can make small purchases from websites you have never heard of with no risk of losing more than what is on the gift card. This includes purchases from sketchy websites, or websites without HTTPS security, where using your debit card could be risky business.
I wouldn’t do this for anything greater than $50 or so. Small one-off products, trials, e-books, services, etc. might not have another place that offers what you want, so using a gift card reduces your risk of loss… but more expensive items typically have well known companies providing them. If you pay for a washing machine with a $500 gift card from a too-good-to-be-true website, then you may very well be out $500 with no recourse. But if you buy a Washing machine from Best Buy with your personal credit card you probably aren’t going to lose any money. Also, make sure you go ahead and cancel any free trials before they expire, just in case they try to collect.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: How to get out of Credit Card Debt and Pay Off 113 Goats.