Six hacks to escape the subscription trap


What is subscription trap? (Part 1), We have seen several dark patterns used by brands and service providers (“Merchants”) to make it difficult for us to cancel subscriptions, such as

  • Social network e.g. LinkedIn Premium
  • Digital media e.g. Wall Street Journal
  • Streaming video service / OTT e.g. Netflix
  • Hosting service e.g. Hostgator
  • SAAS software e.g. Salesforce

In this post, we examine best practices for escaping the subscription trap.


The easiest way to escape the subscription trap is of course not to sign up for subscriptions at all.

You are not wrong if you think this sounds like “throw out the baby with the bathwater” platitudes:

  • The easiest way to get zero Days of Sales Outstanding (DSO) is to stop selling
  • The best way to prevent credit card fraud is to stop credit card transactions (see Regulator Guidelines on Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) / Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) for Online Payments)
  • The easiest way to avoid accidents is to ban driving (see regulatory authority does not allow structured financial products like MBS and CDO and then brags that it saved the country from the Great Financial Crisis)
  • The safest airplane is the one that doesn’t fly
  • A ship is safest in port.

Just as a company can’t survive without a sale, or a ship isn’t built to stay in port, we can’t turn off all subscriptions and become a digital recluse. In the real world, we’ll buy subscriptions.

However, since the charges on our credit card can add up quickly by the time we cancel them, we also have to escape subscription traps.

Over time, I’ve come across the following “best practices” to help escape the subscription trap:


Sign up for subscriptions through third party websites / apps like App Store, Play Store or PayPal. They allow you to cancel the subscription at any time without visiting the merchant’s website.

Using the example of the App Store, you can find the command to cancel as follows: Settings> Apple ID> Subscriptions> Cancel. (This screen shows you all current and expired subscriptions that have been purchased through the AppStore. However, it will not show any subscriptions that were ordered directly from the provider’s website / app.)

While this has worked fine on my iPad in the past, I found a dark pattern on my last visit to the App Store. The subscription area is now buried under three levels: Settings> Apple ID (LHS)> iTunes & Apple Stores> Apple ID (RHS)> View Apple ID> Subscriptions> Cancel.

They’re all tough, WSJ, Bloomberg, etc. I will only subscribe if PayPal is an option now as PP allows you to cancel recurring payment from their portal


As an aside, brands are complaining that Apple and Google charge a 30% fee for purchases made through the popular app stores. I tell them if they haven’t set subscription traps on their own websites / apps, I would like to buy and cancel subscriptions directly from them. The 30% is yours to lose.

Apps in the first world have been paying the standard commission for the AppStore & Play Store for years. If these people want first-world treatment they should stop whining and start paying the 30% Play Store commission.
#PayTM #Apple #Google .



Twitter user @mohaammud suggests using a virtual card to sign up for subscriptions. Now that he’s restricted his tweets to just his approved followers, I can’t tell you the virtual card brand he referred to in his original tweet. But that doesn’t matter as I’m not too convinced of this hack. As I mentioned in
my answer
“Virtual cards have been around for years (in India at least). While they work well for one-time payments, many merchants don’t accept virtual cards – or even debit cards – for recurring payments.”


@DaleJStephens recommends the use of
Twitter, “I changed my credit card to a $ 0 number to cancel”. I think this is similar to a virtual map, but I haven’t dived too deeply into this best practice.


@rshevlin recommends canceling the credit card on file: “For every magazine I subscribe to, I open a new credit card and load the subscription onto this card. At the end of the trial period, I will cancel the credit card. ”If you cancel the credit card on file, the merchant’s request for payment will be rejected. You are no longer burdened.

I applied for a new credit card and received it in 3 minutes. While it took me nearly 45 minutes to cancel my WSJ subscription, including that at international phone rates. Yes, I would say it is worth both my time and money to try this tactic to beat it
#AboTrap set by pubs and others.



Buy the subscription with a debit card instead of a credit card. If you want to cancel the subscription, empty the funds in the linked bank account. The merchant’s request for payment will be rejected if there is insufficient credit. You are no longer burdened.

According to a former banker, NSFs are not reported to credit bureaus against electronic mandates, so you can be sure they won’t affect your creditworthiness. (NSF against paper mandates with wet ink signatures are indeed reported to credit bureaus.) But, as the same ex-banker admitted, most traders have adopted this ruse. Because of this, very few of them allow the purchase of subscriptions against a debit card.

(This hack is just hearsay because for reasons outlined in Credit card versus debit card, I never use a debit card to shop.)


Under the recently passed law (CCPA), merchants selling subscriptions online to California residents must allow subscriptions to be canceled online. If you are registering with an address in that state, you should be able to see the CANCEL button on the website where you purchased the subscription.

In What is a subscription trap? (Part 1) we saw a reference to Roach Motel, the dark pattern found in virtually all subscription traps, and the origin of that phrase on the iconic line “You can check in anytime, but not check out” in the classic rock number hotel California from the rock band Eagles.

Ironically, the state that is linked to setting subscription traps is also linked to allowing them to escape!


There are many best practices for escaping the subscription trap. But as we saw above, none of them are guaranteed to work 100%.

While this blog doesn’t provide legal (or investment) advice, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that using some of the above hacks to escape the subscription trap could result in legal action by traders. Consider yourself forewarned.

Is Regulation Necessary? Will it help clear the subscription trap?

That will be the subject of a subsequent blog post.

Watch this room!


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