The February edition of SmartMoney magazine included an eye-opening article about fine print and U.S. consumers entitled “Attack of the 6.5-point Typeface.” The article raises a lot of interesting points from the growing length of consumer contracts, agreements, warnings and disclaimers. Among the important takeaways from the article:
- A lot of consumer documents are intentionally designed to mislead or hide important information;
- Many consumers do not fully read these materials when purchasing products or services;
- Not reading these documents carefully can impact your legal rights. According to consumer protection group Public Citizen – at least 75% of companies in seven major industries include mandatory binding-arbitration provisions in their contracts; and
- These documents are costing Americans a lot of money. According to estimates cited in the article, hidden fees, exclusions and waivers cost Americans a total of $250 billion annually.
So what should a consumer do? First, read all of the documents related to any purchase carefully. We realize this can be a daunting task considering the massive amount of material often presented at the point of transaction with little time for review. You may be surprised what you find.
Second, beware of companies claiming that a fee or exclusion is allowed under their contract and pointing to some vaguely worded fine print. If you believe you are being charged a deceptive, inappropriate or unfair fee or have been told you’ve waived recovery for a wrong, contact an attorney to review your case. Gray, Ritter & Graham has extensive experience in consumer protection matters. For example, we have recently been involved in a number of cases against banks for their deceptive and unfair practices of re-ordering debit card transactions in order to increase overdraft fees – actions that the banks have claimed were perfectly legal under their checking account disclosures.