By Timothy Burlee- Senior Content Writer at Secure Data Recovery
Does this sound familiar? You sign up for a new app or service and scroll through what seems like an endless marathon of policies and “Terms and Conditions,” only to end up clicking “Accept” without reading the fine print.
It’s something many of us do all the time—who has time to read all that text? But every time we agree to fine print we haven’t read, we’re putting ourselves at risk.
Given its average word count of 10,835, you might be wondering how someone can actually stop to read the fine print, let alone decipher all the complicated legalese it usually contains. As a recent study by Secure Data Recovery suggests, many companies make their fine print long-winded and confusing, next to impossible for the average consumer to understand.
But there are ways to protect yourself. Here are five things to look out for in the fine print before you click “Accept.”
1. Hidden Fees
Companies sometimes put important financial information in their fine print without making it totally explicit in their advertising. A company webpage or a product description might offer free returns, while the fine print says there’s a 20% restocking fee for any returned merchandise—so while “returns” are technically free, restocking isn’t.
Always check for potential hidden fees, including cancellation fees, automatic renewal, restocking, rebates, interest rate changes, and other charges or penalties, when you read through the fine print.
2. Data Privacy
In an increasingly digital world, data privacy is becoming a bigger concern than ever. If you don’t read them carefully, the terms you agree to can sometimes give companies permission to use your data however they want, up to and including selling it to other companies.
Phrases like “our affiliates,” “our partners,” or “third party” usually refer to data-sharing, allowing the company to sell personal data it collects from you to any willing buyer. It also might cause you to get bombarded with emails, texts, and other solicitations from those companies, since they now have your contact information.
Look for an “Opt out” option if you need to use the product or service but want to keep your data safe.
3. Introductory Offers
Similar to hidden fees, companies will sometimes advertise a promotion, like an introductory interest rate or discount for their product or service, while tucking away the true financial terms in the fine print.
For example, a credit card company might offer a very low promotional interest rate for a fixed period, but put the exact terms of that rate in the fine print. If you don’t read the fine print, you might sign up for the card thinking you’ve locked in a certain rate—and get blindsided when, months down the line, it suddenly skyrockets.
Another one to look out for is deferred interest vs. no interest. These agreements may sound similar, but they have radically different terms.
Imagine you’re paying for a sofa in installments. If you agree to a promotion of no interest for the first two years, that means that, even if you don’t pay down the principal in that time, you never have to pay those first two years of interest. But if you’re dealing with deferred interest, you’re on the hook for all of it, including those first two “interest-free” years, if you don’t pay down the principal in that time.
4. What Voids the Agreement
As part of the terms and conditions, the fine print will usually state what makes the agreement or certain policies void, even if the company doesn’t explicitly tell you otherwise.
You might face this dealing with warranty coverage for a product. The fine print might list conditions that automatically void your warranty, or specifics your warranty won’t cover. For example, if your smartphone breaks and you try to fix it yourself, the manufacturer may no longer honor your phone’s warranty, even if you’re seeking help for a different issue.
5. Legal Liabilities
The fine print of a contract usually contains provisions or exceptions that outline your legal rights. In some cases, companies can limit your ability to take legal action if something goes wrong, like if they fail to provide quality service or you’re injured by their product.
Terms like “class-action waiver” and “mandatory arbitration” limit the legal options you can use. The first waives your right to a class-action lawsuit, while the second waives your right to sue, forcing you to work things out with the company in arbitration.
It’s hard to imagine taking the time to sit down and read through every word of the fine print each time that “Terms and Conditions” window pops up. But a contract is a contract—the “Terms and Conditions” we click “Accept” on are binding, even if it’s for something as silly or harmless as the newest version of Candy Crush.
When you can’t read through all the fine print, looking for the five key things we call out in this post can help you protect yourself.
About the author
Timothy Burlee is a content writer for Secure Data Recovery Services. He specializes in various topics in the data industry, including data recovery technology, storage devices, and digital forensics. Throughout his career, he has covered complex concepts and provided accessible solutions for users. Before joining Secure Data, he worked as a freelance technical writer.
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