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Free TV – but what’s the catch?

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You’ve seen the attention-grabbing ads. Get DIRECTV’s satellite TV packages for as little as $19.99 a month for a year! Throw in HBO and Showtime – “free for 3 months.” It’s enough to make you “ditch cable now” and head straight into orbit with satellite TV. But before you pop the corn and head to the couch, listen to this. The FTC says DIRECTV didn’t give consumers the whole scoop and their viewers got stuck with charges they didn’t know about or approve.

The FTC has charged DIRECTV with deceptive advertising for claiming consumers could sign up for a discounted 12-month service contract but never revealing some key conditions: DIRECTV required consumers to commit to a two-year contract – and during the second year, they hiked up the monthly fee. If you wanted to cancel before the end of the contract, you faced some pretty big cancellation fees, up to $480.                                               

Adding insult to injury, that “free for 3 months” offer for HBO or other premium channels was really a negative option. If you didn’t remember to cancel before the end of the trial period, DIRECTV signed you up and billed you for the premium channels – which cost around $48 per month. According to the FTC, DIRECTV typically enrolled consumers into the promotion without clearly telling them that they needed to cancel before the end of the trial to avoid being charged. 

Whether or not you ditch cable now, you should check out the details of any deal. When it comes to free offers, do some research.

  • What’s the buzz? See what other people are saying about a company's free trials — and its service. Complaints from other customers can tip you off to "catches" that might come with the trial. Search the name of the company and “complaint” or “review.”
  • What are you getting? Find the terms and conditions. If you can’t find them, or if you can’t understand exactly what you're agreeing to, don't sign up.
  • Watch out for pre-checked boxes. If you sign up for a free trial online, look for already-checked boxes. That checkmark may give the company the green light to continue the offer past the free trial or sign you up for more products — only this time you have to pay.
  • Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit. Once it passes without you telling the company to cancel your "order," you may be on the hook for more products.
  • What’s your exit strategy? Look for info on how you can cancel future shipments or services. If you don't want them, do you have to pay? Do you have a limited time to respond?
  • Read your credit and debit card statements. That way you'll know right away if you're being charged for something you didn't order.


Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


I signed up for one of their "free trials" for a channel package and marked my calendar. I called that date to cancel and only received a partial credit because it was in the middle of the billing cycle. The free trials to not align with the billing cycles so it will never be "free".

Everyone (not just you) needs to know that there's no reason to mark your calendar to cancel sometime near the end of the deal. Call back the next day and cancel (give it a day for their systems to be caught up).

The agreement is for X days of free whatever. Canceling early doesn't negate that agreement. There's no advantage to you for waiting to cancel. There's always an advantage for the company.

It's a game. They are out for themselves and we, the consumer, are out for ourselves. But they've played it so long they are the experts. I've encountered the first-year discounted offer but it clearly was with the understanding (and the store rep made sure I understood) that it would be higher the 2nd year. The free channels, NFL SUnday ticket, etc. all have to be accounted for. I'd just say listen, listen, listen and read the things they ask you to sign. It's all there......somewhere :)

This is the biggest rip off Co. I have been involved in in my life. They lie to you about everything. I never signed any agreement because the installer tore up our TV cabinet ripping out the old box and cords . He was so rude and careless. He left trash all over the house. When he gave me something to sign when he was done I refused ! He then called his supervisor. Then a little while later he tried to hand me another r thing to sign and I also refused to sign that one too. He again called his supervisor. I told him to hit the road and take all his trash with him. It was the worst service I have ever had from any Co.

IF YOU LOOK AT YOUR ORDER IT GIVES DETAILS BEFORE YOU HAVE SERVICE INSTALLED with complete information and you can't just pick the parts you want to see.

My order only asked that someone be there that is over 18.

Happened to me

Great. Now how about putting an end to a 35 year FRAUD called Herbalife?

So much for the gullible Rob Lowes out there!

Please also add to the charges that Directv arbitrarily increase programming package price during the promotion period, and equipment lease charge wherein the terms and condition do not specify that they can do so.

I agree with Thang Luu because it has happened to me as well. They increase the bills without prior notification and nothing that I can remember reading says that they can do that. Also, I've been stuck in a two year contract with no knowledge beforehand. So now I ask when I make changes if its going to extend my contract because I don't want to be committed to one company like that. I should be allowed to price match and go where it's cheaper for me. And By the way, please do something to stop these companies from charging so much to people who have limited fixed incomes. If I could get a picture on free TV I wouldn't have to pay!

If you are on a fixed income why dont you get internet and use Hulu or something. Cable and satellite are both luxuries not necessities.

That implies that Internet services in your area are even fast enough to do internet streaming and also implies that Hulu would even have the programs you want to see.

A luxury? Not if you live where there is no television service without it. If I had my cable disconnected I could not even watch my local news to find out when and where tornadoes are hitting in my area. Things I need to know to stay alive, especially since I live in a mobile home that has to be evacuated in these situations.

Same thing here, Thang Luu. I have to call every month because my bill is never the same. We have no movie channels at all and every bill is different. And, they also raised prices during the 1st year. I called and called, always some different excuse and they would credit me and add it back the next month. We are out in the country so we don't have many choices.

The exact thing happened to me. I was with DirecTV for 2 years and I had at least 18 different amounts billed in the 24 months. They will not credit bogus charges if they are over one billing period old while you are still under contract, but once you are past 24 months, they will give credit for past 6 months. I just "served" my 24 months and called them, got credit for a lot of them and next day called them and cancelled.

I agree with you directv billed me double of what I was supposed to. I found a legal way to cancel services. Now I just hope the ftc can get some of my money back.

We just signed up with directv not even 30 days ago. The bill already came and the charges were about $ 100.00 more then expected for only about 3 weeks of service. But that's not even the only reason we want out. The 1st remote didn't work and we had to wait days to get a new one. There's still problems with the new one. Every other time I turn on the TV, it tells me I've lost connection, and to try to reboot. When it rains or is windy, we lose the picture totally or the picture scrambles. I shudder to think what would happen in an ice or snow storm! There was no way for us to know this in a 24 hour period. After this happened a few times, we tried to cancel because the picture is so bad, we couldn't imagine paying for this for 2 years. Of course, they said too bad. Would you mind sharing how you got out legally?

I just had the same problem yesterday AND today - the picture froze then stopped & was in a continual cycle of "connecting" & "failed to find server"
The tech was out today & replaced the box in my bedroom & tested the one in the living room & said all was well. The main box won't even turn on so naturally, all TV's are out ....Twice in 24 hours ....Im definitely ready to cancel them

Please tell me how you got out i got direct tv for my 68 year old mom she's only has had third service for two weeks and they already sent her a bill for a whole month and it was almost double so please tell me how you got out so I can get her out thank you

I agree Direct TV just assumes I feel you won't notice. Told them from day 1 no Sunday NFL what do I get charges for NFL Sunday Football. Seems charges are always adding up on the bill. My contract expires and then they are gone. They are 100 times worse than DISH TV, They know how to get your money and they just keep on going,

Direct TV was bought by AT&T after my husband unexpectedly passed. They didn't want to honor "his" Acct & required me to apply for a new Acct, buut continued to bill his AMX credit card which I could not cancel since he had died. AMX told me to apply for my own Acct, same with my AT&T phone when they refused to owner our Family Plan rates since 2001; yet all would Aceppt Payment from me on his Accts! I switched to Verizon, but they continued to be billed by AT&T . I started my own Direct TV via a mailer "2yr contract speacial Sept 2016. $31.99 month. They tagged on extra fees, maintenance contract thatI refused, etc. and continued billing my dead husband's card which was in collections, so I got billed late fees when Pmnt was denied! After 5 months of hours of disputing the bills every month for added fees with foreign bill Depts the bill iOS better but still >$50! They clearly have false advertising with clever bait & switch during installation & billing. NEVER authorize an AUTO pay credit card for Pmnt because they will add service, rental & rate increases with deceptive billing & Ad Offers. FCC & FTC needs to put a stop to this since prior complains have not changeged & its unfair biz practice w/AT&T new schemes. They tell you one thing but the fine print is cleverly worded to mislead!

This is happening to me now. I hope something can be done about these deceptive practices of directv.
They are horrible.

I totally agree with all this about Direct Tv especially since they merged with AT&T. They got me hook, line, & sinker! Now im stuck with hidden charges going on my excellent credit record i didnt even know about the $480.00 and then some with a total of $607.57 they still can't explain to me what the charges are for!!!!! I even sent their reciever back and they did take off a pitiful $45.00 . Direct Tv i use to think you guys wasda bomb now you blow!!!! Sweetcherrypie

That's a fact! My DirecTV bill has doubled since AT&T took over. Before that DirecTV had friendly, helpful customer service reps that would always have a promotional credit, or credits to apply to my account. March's DirectTV bill is my last.

Yes, I believe that direc rips customers off you should look into them charging us customers like me for not sending equipment back an being charged $ 300 when I sent it threw our local post office because ups doesn't do that anymore I even went back to talk to our post office people an they told me we send these back all the time put in cage an send back so I told directv... so what are you saying the us post office is lie ing an I hung up with them I hear this happen to a lot of people an friends all the time .. concerned consumer please look into this matter , Thank you

Their billing system is questionable to say the least.

Try signing up for consumer cellular for $10 a month and see what you get charged even if you don't use your phone for the whole month.

TracPhone, no shenanegans, ever.

I've been hit by Directv's deceptive advertising so many times I am ready to give them up for good. On top of all that, we are also paying good money for shop at home tv we NEVER watch or even like, same with Spanish tv, ethnic programming and the many many music channels we have no interest in.

I agree, I was on the phone with these idiots for two hours about this crap. I signed up about seven months ago and am now paying twice as much than I agreed to. Told them, if I want to shop I will go to the mall. If I want to listen to music, I will play a CD. If I want the word of God, I know where my church is. And please don't even get me started on all the sports channels. I was told that I get the football package for free just because I signed up. It's funny how I have a charge on my bill for it. Direct TV calls it a service charge.

I have experienced similar scenarios with Direct TV's hidden charges! It's about time FTC stopped this company from denying a consumer's right of cancelation without penalty, when a consumer's rights are violated!

I appreciate the FTC looking out for consumers but as far as I'm concerned this one is 100% in the consumers' court. DirecTV's ads and brochures contain all the information about what the charges will be. The $19.99 says "with 24 month commitment" and the $19.99 specifies it's only for 12 months. How is it the fault or responsibility of DirecTV if consumers don't bother to read the terms of the offer? Presumably these are adults we're talking about. Again, I'm all for consumer protection which I believe is a very necessary safeguard, but I also believe that if adults want to participate in the marketplace and purchase goods and services, they need to acknowledge their RESPONSIBILITIES as well as their rights. It's not that much to ask that they simply READ the offer, nor is it that difficult either to read or understand.

Well congratulations, Marcie. I will refer to someone like you next time I need to grab a cup of coffee and lunch, and a half hour that I could waste somewhere else, to read through 18 pages of small print to make sure I know every detail pertaining to the contract I'm about to sign.
We're all people, we have our faults, and of millions of Americans we have only a few people like myself that have fallen into the "I don't have to time to read all this" trap.
Next time I download an app, "agree to the following terms" or some such thing, I'll make sure and remember to send it to you because you have the time to do so.

do you often sign contracts without reading them?

You should always read every contract you sign. That's called being an adult 101.

That's kind of a silly over-exaggeration. The phrases are right there in short, plain english. Even on the graphic attached to this article. "[price] for 12 mo." and "All directv offers require 24-month agreement."  Forget your ridiculous "18 page" nonsense drama. It's right there on the ad.

Even though I have a contract that specifies that months 13-24 will be billed the same as months 1-12, DTV and ATT refuse to honor it, and have started billing me an additional $56/month. I read every word of my contract, have the original in hand, and have had numerous conversations with the ATT "we can't do anything" reps. They have lied to me, and cannot seem to understand that a specifically-worded contract is valid and unimpeachable. I filed an FCC complaint, but it seems that the FTC handles this crap. I the meantime I will have to pay their overcharging it seems. Small claims court might be the best route for these liars.

So Boilermaker, if you buy a house i guess you won't be reading the 100's of paper you'll be signing either?...

Marcie, Direct TV should not offer good deals that are not deals at all once you look at the fine print. Some older people and less educated people are unable to read or understand the fine print. Long story short, Direct TV is praying on these individuals, talk about UNFAIR!

some speak about agreements in writing, my deal was offered on the phone. I told the International rep if he was telling me things that weren't true I'd track him down since I'm tired of scammers. He gave me what is said to be an employee number. He told me I got HBO and movie channels, no mention about 3 mos. He told me I'd receive a $300 visa card to use on the bill or for shopping but when I finally saw my online set up it is for $100. I asked him specifically if this was for 12 mos and he said yes so I said that sounds fair since I'd be getting the visa, he never said anything about 24 mos. Promises and more but when the time comes I believe they say anything to get a person to sign up. So then when I call AT&T the lady is all about taking care of me and will get the $200 credit towards my bill. I also explained to her that I received a letter from Direct TV explaining the various charges and services, however it came AFTER the instal. This also included the equipment for two rooms which wasn't told to me, I was given an exact amount per month. I said to a lady at Direct TV so this is how it goes, the Direct TV rep tells people anything they choose to get a person to sign up and then you try to "fix" things if someone catches it? I told her I would be reporting to the Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. Why AT&T who is supposed to be a reputable company would buy out Direct TV and allow this is beyond me! I've not gotten my first bill but I've had Internet problems and when wanting to start at the beginning of the program it says my speed isn't good enough. I had Uverse prior but it was time for a new contract and although I enjoy the tv choices I believe I was scammed when initially signing up. Oh yes one rep told me I could continue on with HBO for $5 a month, truly? It all seems like a scam to me and again I had no brochure or ad to read, this was all done on the phone with a guy who said he's in the Philippines. Seems to me too many companies are relying on overseas resources such as Petco, Sears, and others.

I agree with BoilerMaker, and that would be when it's in writing. There are times when DirecTV calls us to our home phone to inform us that we are eligible for a free 3-month trial of HBO, Starz and Encore (or whatever) and when I get the bill, I've been charged. I immediately call them to complain, but then they explain it in a totally different way. I insist that it is not the way it was offered to me and that I want it cancelled and the charge removed from my bill. In all fairness, I will say that they do make the correction every time I've had an issue. Now, the one major issue I have with DirecTV, is that they want to charge for service on their equipment when we call with a problem, unless we enroll in their Protection Plan for $10.00 per month! I refuse to pay for service or a protection plan for equipment that is not ours. If we pay for usage of a company's equipment on a monthly basis for whatever length of time that we have, then the service to fix THEIR FAULTY equipment should be fixed at NO CHARGE. I have not purchased the equipment; they rent it. When we moved to Georgia, DirecTV installed faulty equipment, so we had problems since day one and it took over a year before the problem was finally corrected. Why should we pay for a protection plan or for them to fix THEIR faulty equipment? I actually had Cingular for my cell phone, but unfortunately they got bought out by AT&T. I never had an issue with Cingular.

Unfortunately, I do have to say that DirecTV is not the only company with unfair issues; I used to have cable TV with Comcast and cancelled them because of issues with them too, but they just didn't care! My sister tried Dish because they offered her a "good deal", but they lied. She quickly switched back to DirecTV.

I also have had my share of problems with AT&T with the Cellphone Division. I order a particular family plan that fits our needs at a reasonable rate, but then someone at their office changes our plan to a much more expensive plan that we don't even need, without our knowledge! This has happened moe than once, including just recently. I used to call the local customer service and they would fix it within one or two calls. For this most recent issue, I had to call their corporate office to complain and threaten to go with another company because the manager of the local office would not budge and would only give me a $25.00 credit for an approximate $250.00 mistake on my bill!!! I also filed a consumer complaint with the FTC.

i totally agree with u,this is one the consumer,i get ads/pamphlets/letters from dtv at leas 3 times a week in my mail,unlike most people i dont just jump at something because it is a good deal,like the old saying goes if it sounds too good to be true it probably isnt,i bother to take the extra few minutes to read the fine print and terms and conditions,the ads clearly state what you get and how you will be penalized if you dont keep up your end of the contract,if a consumer doesnt bother reading all the information then they have no one to blame but themselves.having said that i would never subscribe to their(or any other companys)services when you can get the exact same content on the web for free

"It's a bedrock principle that the key terms of an offer to a consumer must be clear and conspicuous, not hidden in fine print."

That's the catch -- the terms weren't clear and/or conspicuous.

I agree with Marcie, Although I do believe Directv along with all other Cable/TV/Internet providers, will come up with as many excuses as possible to get your money. People have to READ... The responsibility is yours not the provider to READ... At no time ever did I not realize before signing up that 1. It was a two year contract. 2. That my rates would go up after the first 12 months. 3. That after nine months HBO and other movie channels would cost extra. 4. That if I decided to break my contract with them that I would be charged an extraordinary price for doing so. The majority of that information is not in the "fine print" at the bottom of the add it is within the add with and * next to the promotional price. Take responsibility for your own actions, its not the governments job to protect you from yourself.

Marcie, what happens if you call to sign up, without even seeing an advertisement, and the rep says, hey, we have this special going on right now? Then what would you say to that? Eh, probably still in the consumers court, is what you're most likely thinking, lets see what happens if you don't read the fine print on your cell phone contract, and get hit with an extra charges that you never authorized. Take care.

I agree With you. People have to look at what they are getting into. I love directv

I agree with Marcie. I don't condone the practice, however, I agree that it is the consumer's responsibility to read the fine print of all contracts. It is not a new marketing concept, I believe it has been used since the early 1950's.

According to merriam-webster: "Full Definition of FINE PRINT: something thoroughly and often deliberately obscure; especially : a part of an agreement or document spelling out restrictions and limitations often in small type or obscure language"

It appears as though you may be making an overarching assumption. Not everyone who signs up with any service provider, whether it be cable, satellite, internet, mobile, etc, does so based on a print ad.

Amen Marcie!! I love the people that stated.... I should not have to read the contract I am signing.... grow up.. a contract is legal and binding - if you did not read it... how is that their fault....??? YOUR fault! Now grow up and learn from your mistakes.


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