Farmers State Bank

Cybersecurity Awareness Month - Free Isn't Free

We've all been there. You must accept the ‘Terms and Conditions’ to continue. 

These ‘Terms and Conditions’ are full of fine print that can cost you big bucks. Buried within the language are many legal words and phrases that should serve as a red flag to potential hassles or rip-offs. Here's a list of common phrases in contracts and service agreements that should cause you to proceed with caution.

Before you buy

  1. “Free” 

Nothing is free. If you aren't paying for the product, then YOU are the product — your personal information is likely being sold to advertisers who will barrage you with online solicitations. Or maybe it is “free” now, but you are committing to pay later. 

  1. “Free trial” 

It's often accompanied by phrases like “We will not charge your credit card [until 30 days from now].” This enters you into a game of “Will you remember to cancel on the 29th day?” That's a game corporation often win.

  1. “For 6 months” 

Along with the similar “introductory price,” this is a variation of the free trial game. Maybe $39 a month for cable TV sounds good to you in January, but if it's $137 by August, is that really a good deal? Will you remember to cancel in July?

  1. “Automatic renewal” 

The zombies of the consumer universe; such clauses mean you keep paying even if you don't realize it or want the service anymore. Sure, if you want the convenience, sign up. But beware if such an arrangement is tucked in the fine print.

  1. “Fees” 

Consumers rarely compare late payment fees and other penalty charges when shopping, but they should. If you screw up, the cost of such a mistake shouldn't be unreasonable.

Paying with your privacy

  1. “Opt out” 

The phrase means companies can use your data however they wish unless you take a step — you “opt out” — to stop it. Their lawyers know most people just accept the default “opt in” setting. If you go with the product or service, opt out if you don't want them to share or sell your information.

  1. “Third party” 

This can mean you and your data could be sold to other companies for marketing purposes and you'll ultimately receive unsolicited mail, email, and other sales materials. Many free offers are just bait for third-party marketing tricks.

  1. “Learning more about your interests” 

This phrase suggests the company is augmenting what you are telling it with outside data to know more about you. It might “onboard” real-world data like grocery store loyalty card purchases with your stated “likes,” then target you with precise advertising.

'I wish I hadn't'

  1. "Restocking fee” 

Sales folks will talk you into taking a product home to try it and promise that you can bring it back for a refund. But restocking fees can be steep — 15 percent for electronics, for example.

  1. “Extended warranty” 

Consumers can find extended warranty costs snuck into monthly payments. The value of such warranties is debatable, but consumers should always be fully informed about the cost.

  1. “Not covered” 

Many warranties are full of exclusions that can lead to disappointment. In cars, “wear” parts like brake pads usually aren't covered, for example.

  1. “Void the warranty” 

Sometimes, warranties become useless if consumers break terms that make them “void,” such as getting an electronic gadget wet.

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