Hey there! Have you ever been tempted to sign up for multiple free trials to get extra free access to a service? If so, you‘re not alone – but is it actually illegal?
Many of us love taking advantage of free trial offers to test out new products and services. However, some try to game the system by signing up for multiple trials to extend their free access as long as possible. Let‘s take an in-depth look at whether this is legal or not.
The Short Answer
The short answer is it depends on the circumstances.
Simply signing up for multiple free trials under your real identity is not necessarily illegal in itself. However, it does violate most companies‘ terms of service. If taken too far through fraud or false identities, it can cross into illegal territory.
While minor trial extensions within terms may be ethically grey areas, outright deception and identity fraud are always illegal. So tread carefully if trying to maximize free trials!
Violating Terms of Service
To access any free trial, you have to agree to the company‘s terms of service. These terms almost always prohibit accessing more than one trial per person.
For example, popular streaming services like Netflix make their free trial policy clear:
"The Netflix Free Trial offer is limited to one per subscriber and account, and is available for new subscribers only. Netflix reserves the right to revoke the Free Trial and put your account on hold in the event that we determine you are not eligible."
By signing up for a second trial through a different email or account, you are violating the terms you agreed to. This gives companies full legal grounds to cancel your account or pursue civil damages.
According to legal experts, breaching terms of service alone does not constitute fraud or make an action outright illegal. However, it does allow companies to take punitive action against violating accounts.
So while you may not face criminal charges just for an extra trial, you certainly risk getting accounts terminated and blacklisted. Tread carefully!
When It Crosses into Fraud
Now, if you take free trial abuse to extremes by using fraudulent methods, you can certainly cross legal lines.
- Providing fake identity and payment information
- Using hacked or unauthorized payment methods
- Reselling trial credentials online
- Automating signups using bots or scripts
These behaviors constitute fraud and identity theft under the law. If caught and prosecuted, you could face felony criminal charges for trial abuse schemes like:
- Wire fraud
- Identity fraud
- Credit card fraud
- Computer fraud
- Theft of services
Free trial fraud has led to legal charges and even jail time in multiple cases. So while violating terms of service might just get accounts closed, outright fraud can land you in prison!
Type of Free Trial Matters
It also depends on the type of free trial being offered. According to Gary Rivlin, author of The Godfather of Streaming, different rules apply:
“Signing up for multiple free Netflix or HBO Max accounts would be seen as stealing from a provider. But multiple free magazine subscriptions are unlikely to trigger legal action."
This comes down to:
Limited resources – Streaming services have limited server capacity making abuse more detrimental. Magazines have unlimited digital distribution.
Loss potential – Digital subscriptions cost providers more per user making trial abuse more costly. Print magazines have minimal marginal cost.
Tracking technology – Streaming platforms can more easily detect and deter trial fraud through device tracking and account monitoring. Print signup tracking is more fragmented.
So while abusing streaming trials risks civil and criminal charges, magazine signup abuse has fewer legal risks (but may still violate policy).
Free Trial Subscription Abuse Statistics
How common is free trial abuse exactly? According to a 2020 survey by PYMNTS.com:
- 63% of consumers admit to signing up for extra free trials by using alternate emails and identities.
- 15% have created 10 or more identities to get free trials.
- The average subscriber uses 5 or more identities to get extra free trials.
Additionally, a 2021 Zuora study found:
- 80% of subscription retailers experience significant free trial abuse.
- Trial abuse causes average revenue losses of 4-8% for subscription companies.
This data shows that getting multiple trials is extremely common. However, prevalence certainly doesn‘t make it legal or ethical. Companies are ramping up abuse detection and taking legal action where major fraud exists.
Another common free trial scheme is repeatedly creating accounts to claim new customer promotions and discounts. For example:
- Signing up for a sports streaming trial with one email to get a 50% off first month promotion.
- Cancelling the trial then signing up again with a new email to get another first month 50% off.
- Repeating this process indefinitely to always get the first month for half price.
Many streaming and subscription services explicitly prohibit these types of promotions abuses in their terms. And "extreme couponing" type behaviors can open you up to civil or criminal fraud charges if taken too far.
But generally speaking, moderately gaming promotional offers is more of a policy violation than outright fraud – albeit still unethical. Use your best judgment here!
Sharing one free trial login between multiple people is another abuse of terms. Most platforms restrict trials to a single designated account holder.
However, casually sharing an account with family members is generally overlooked both legally and by companies.
But recent cracking down on widespread credential sharing by Netflix and others shows that large-scale trial credential trafficking could potentially face legal risks around anti-hacking and identity theft laws.
Use common sense and caution when sharing access.
Can You Actually Get Away With It?
With the myriad civil, criminal and ethical risks involved, you may be wondering if you can realistically get away with free trial abuse long term.
The answer is…maybe, but it‘s becoming increasingly difficult.
Sophisticated AI and data analytics allow companies to detect and deter serial trial abusers through methods like:
- Device fingerprinting
- IP address tracking
- Location data monitoring
- Payment method blacklisting
- Account linkage analysis
And many major platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have moved to combat abuse by eliminating free trial options altogether in favor of discounted intro offers that require payment details.
While it may be possible to slip through the cracks initially, don‘t expect free trial abuse tactics to work forever. Continued policy violations will likely lead to service termination at best – or potential fraud charges at worst.
Even if you determine getting multiple trials doesn‘t quite cross the line into fraud, there are still some ethical issues to reflect on:
You are violating the spirit and intent of free trial policies by companies who spend significant time and money creating these offers in good faith.
Widespread abuse could hurt other honest consumers by causing companies to eliminate trials or implement more burdensome identity verifications that make it harder for everyone to sign up.
For services with limited capacity like event tickets or giveaways, trial abuse prevents others from accessing their fair share.
Accessing services for free through deception, even if not outright illegal theft, still harms content creators who rely on subscription revenue.
So before chasing that next free trial high, consider whether the short term gain is worth the ethical cost. Our actions collectively impact the broader communities we share.
The Bottom Line
Let‘s recap the key points to keep in mind:
Accessing multiple trials under your real identity likely violates terms of service but is not explicitly illegal in itself in most cases.
Fraudulent behavior like fake identities or payment methods does clearly cross legal lines into crime territory and may be prosecuted.
Not all trials are equal – abuse of limited resources like streaming may be riskier legally than print subscriptions.
Promotion gaming occupies more of a gray area between policy violation and outright fraud depending on severity.
Sharing credentials casually with family likely flies under the radar, but larger scale access trafficking could raise legal issues.
Sophisticated fraud analytics are making trial abuse increasingly difficult to get away with over the long run.
Ethical and reputation risks exist even if avoiding outright fraud charges.
The bottom line – you probably want to avoid blatantly illegal fraud, seriously consider the ethics, and use common sense moderation in trying to maximize any free trial opportunities.
Hope this guide helps provide some clarity on what is legal and what crosses the line. Stay smart out there and happy (responsible) free trialing!