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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 agree with Marcie. If you don't have time to read the fine print, don't sign up. If you are "old or uneducated" like another commenter said, have someone who isn't "old or uneducated" read it for you. There's nothing wrong with being old or uneducated, but there is something wrong with blaming your mistake on being old and uneducated. No excuses, read the fine print. If you choose to believe the ads (yes, it is a conscious choice), you inherit consequences, good and bad. "Poor me, I'm old and uneducated and they tricked me" is a statement for those who shun responsibility. Don't want to risk getting tricked? Don't put yourself in a position to get tricked. TV isn't necessity.

Time Warner Cable is offering the same promotion, for free Showtime for a year. I have a subscription to HBO for the last six years. I will heed your warning, and make sure to cancel Showtime before the one year offer expires.


Dish is doing the same thing. But they tell you the channel that don't get.

they did the same thing to me, and they have wreck my credit

It wouldn't surprise me if all the cable carriers offer free HBO, and other premiums channels at no cost for the first 3 months. The key is that after the 3 months are up, they don't stop showing those stations automatically. You have call to cancel. I found that out when my parents switched over to DISH a couple of years ago, and you can bet that when the 2 year contract was up they left DISH.

The thing is, you are told up front, with the cable companies, that if you don't want the movie and/or premium channels, you need to call up before the end of the free period. According to the article, it does not say that in the advertisements, and when you call, the Reps are not advising it, like the Cable Comapnies do.

This is true of TWC as well. I cannot imagine that any of the cable providers who terminate that service automatically. These companies are "for profit" so they will exploit any human weaknesses to generate money.


yes and we (my wife and i) gotted stuck in more than one promotionsand it is about time someone done something about these companys that do this

YEP! Exactly what happened to us. In short, where our monthly bill was around $75/month, now 14 months or so into the 1 year contract (that somehow turned into 2 years) we're paying $144/month with basic channels and no frills TV. When this is over, I'm sending them back everything that belongs to them and going elsewhere, even if it's just antenna tv.
How can anyone in their right mind, just raise the monthly payment but give up nothing else in return?

Dish does the same thing are you also looking into it?

Comcast does the same thing. I will not comment to a contact no more. My contact run out in October of last year. Directv said I owned 275.00 and I didn't they nicely took it out of my checking account so beware.

I too sent back my room receiver and was told they never received it...still have not credited back my $45 either. So, what is the FCC going to do?

The FTC filed a complaint in court against DIRECTV, asking for a court order that permanently bars DIRECTV from engaging in the allegedly illegal conduct, and for a monetary judgment that could be used to provide refunds to people who were affected. Find out more in the DIRECTV press release.

At&t also charge if u cancel a contract before time u pay $450.00 or more ?

They sent me a bill. I asked them "What period was that for?" She couldn't answer. And hung up on me.

We had got the diect TV NFL promo. Which called to stop by the next season. They said they would tkae it off but didn't we called back & was told the season had strated & they could not do it. Finally after we complianed more they removed it.Other family member had same problem & switched carriers because they refused to take the NFL off.Glad FTC got them.

Marcie's right on Wake up consumers and quit blaming someone else for your mistakes ...Direct is not alone Dish did it to me Cable One jack their prices sky high after losing ViaComm... You have to read everything. Ask questions... Recommend getting a local independent provider you can walk up and talk to ..

DirecTV did this to me- my bill increased by more than $45 a month suddenly and when I called to complain, they said all my discounts had "expired" and I was locked in to that higher price for another year. This was despite them telling me when I signed up that I was only signed up for a year and that at the end of the year I could sign up for any discount programs they had going as a "new" customer. Hopefully this ruling by the FCC will "unlock" me from this mess.

We got a package deal directv,Verizon phone and internet in the first 2 months we were getting bills from Verizon and directv they each said we had to call the other one. Finally we got fed and cancelled they went into our checking account and took $600 I tried but never got it back, apparently in their small print it said they could do this. NEVER AGAIN!!!!

Direct Tv AND Dishlatino they do The same THING The costumer...I'm passed tru this companies ...I'M cancel. The services before the 24 months and they charge me over $804..36 , because Im cancela contract before time..FOR me no dishlatino , no DirectTv and also no cómcast ...everything is the same...(donot trust this companys ) .

Direct TV was great in the past, but since AT&T took it over, we have had several problems with them. We have started calling them the AOL of Satellite TV.
We are switching to Dish when our time is up.

I actually used their box and shipping label and they say they never received it. So there is a bad report on the credit report.

why cant we just pay for the channels we want to watch?

I thought this was standard practice. They all seem to have vicious terms. If you're in an area with no options, it borders on extortion.

I was a customer for 13 kids grew up and moved out...after the last one left ,I sent the unused boxes back...a week later my son was flooded out of his apartment by a hurricane and had to move I called and wanted one of my boxes back...they wanted a 2 year commitment from me!...I told them my house was on the market and I may be moving ...when that happened they wanted to charge me 400 dollars!.....I'll use an antenna before I ever use their service again....

Direct Tv tells you the terms ,that will charge more the 2nd year and keep movie channels on if you dont call and cancel.Comcast does the same thing but charges more.

The main reason I am using Directv is NFL Sunday for a team that is not local. However, last year my team was on broadcast, or ESPN 9 times during the regular season and I am not paying an entire season rate for 7 games.

I moved after 4 months and was transferring my service, however i was then told that the city i was moving to there were no local channels available, then the "local channel" (Casper, Wyoming) would not give a waiver, so i was unable to get CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox, told them without the major channels i really didn't need the service, cost me 480.00 to cancel the service because they could not give me the channels i wanted

Amazing that so many customers are unable to understand the new customer process used by all major television providers: Little to no cost up front for equipment and installation. Two year agreements from the date of activation, with the first year discounted more heavily than the second. (It's not hidden in fine print...the basic information is included in all advertising, it's explained during the sales process, and you receive a copy of the agreement in advance of the installation.)

And, if those portions of the agreement are so well "hidden" from consumers, how is it that so many customers play a rotating game of changing providers every two years to accept more, new customer offers? In many cases, the drill is no different than how the cell phone companies get customers to sign up for "free" smart phones. Low cost equipment in exchange for two years of service.

Are you really buying any of what you just laid on us kurt? I was one of those ppl. A.sub contractor came by with an offer of for $20 cash today, we would get the first month of a 2 year contract with Directv for the $20, thereafter,$24.99 a month, after the 2 years, it would become full price. I even called directv when it had been 11 months, because now all of a sudden, the discount portion on my bill said 'for first 12 months. Do you kow what I was told? Oh, don't worry about that, Ms. N- it will just.start all over again next, when I next bill, it didn't reflect the discount, at which time they told me there was no discount after the first 12 months! If any paperwork had stated that, I sure didn't have it because I went through all the papers I got from the subcontractor, and the installation guy (also a sub contractor).Nada.Now, my nice $24.99 a month directv bill is 32.99, and little by little, they kept jacking my bill, I complained, they told me they notified me on my previous months bill, etc..... These corporate fat cats need to have to give us a refund ,but WITH AN APOLOGY! THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES!

Shame on them because that's another strike against them added to two others. 1. Some local channels, but not all, blocked out on only one receiver and 2. an extra charge they say has always been included but is now beginning to list it separated and two workers said it's a tax or a charge from the FCC. A quick phone call to the FCC and they have no fees to satellite companies at all. But thankfully after four phone calls they are crediting us $10 a month for a year and changed our box at no charge so we now receive all local channels. They ended by making it right.

I have a charge of $5.64 Regional Sport Fee which I didn't order...I renewed my package for 2 years and this charge appeared. They will not remove it either. I don't watch college basketball or local baseball games. They said I would have to go to a smaller package and lose most channels that I currently watch...nothing I can do..

This is not new. They have been doing this type of promo for years. Read the fine print! There's always fine print with stuff that sounds too good to be true!

when this contract is up, I am going back to Comcast...

They also charge for HD when you have an older TV that doesn't have that capability. I argued for months and finally canceled only to have them continue to bill me.

After signing up for ATT Uverse and getting DirecTV, I tried getting straight answers about what I was being charged and was told ask ATT and vice versa. And what about DirecTV dropping our local Lexington, KY station the very day of the NFL playoffs on network TV after having spent hundreds of dollars paying for NFL Sunday ticket to ensure I could watch games???? And what about that dispute going on for weeks with no automatic compensation?

They make the disclaimers 20 miles long in fine print so that the consumer will cave and sign up. People sign up for things every day all willy nilly thinking that the term "The customer is always right" will hold water. Wake up and smell your stack of bills dummys

What about the dish they leave on your house when you cancel? They just leave it there! I am going to invest in my own Satellite dish and never pay another cable or dish company again!

Sorry folks, I check my statement each month. I was upset that when I got My first tv with HDR in only one room, I had to pay for the full house. BUT a I have been with them 7 years. When I find the price goes up or just for no reason, I call talk about canceling. I get money off for 6-12 months. Sometimes they throw in a free premium channel for 3-4 months. They always tell me if it will automatically drop off or If I have to call in. If I call in a day late they just prorate for the time. Every consumer company has customer complaints. It is all how you talk to the rep on the phone OR say " can I speak to a manage?!

I've had DTV for 15yrs now and never had a problem. I have upgraded to the genie and still only pay $78 a month and that's a choice package. People need to read before they sign on the dotted line. Seriously if you can't read and understand then don't complain after you've signed!

I love my Directv programming however, I do think a class action law suit should be filed against them because they offer better deals to "NEW" customers than the customers who have been loyal to them for YEARS!!!!!

And did you not get great deals when you were a new customer ?

Abstinence from any TV is the solution! We have had no TV for 2.5 yrs now - it's liberating and think how much you would save in dollars and irritation!

We've had direct for years now,with no issues or problems. But I'm one to read the small print, and I don't mind to ask questions instead of just assuming I have a good deal. Wake up people, pay attention to what you are responsible for!

They also did this with their moving deal.

I was a customer for two years ... after the first 18 months I added a box for a TV in my office; that was a enough to retrigger the contract time, so when I cancelled I had to pay a fee to get out of the contract. To add insult to injury, they didn't even want the box I added back with the rest of the equipment returns

I guess they use the money they get from all these hidden charges to pay Rob Lowe.

I was told that if I called directv at the end of the one year they would give me a promotion and this ended up being a lie. When my bill jumped from $45 to $90 all they could tell me was sorry we cannot give you any offers right now call again next month. I guess you can't trust anything you don't get in writing.


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