The high cost of hidden fees: According to a 2006 study by the Ponemon Institute, you’re paying at least $942 a year in hidden fees, if you’re an average American adult. Let’s take a look at some of the culprits:
• Banks: We’ve all been slapped with unexpected charges from our bank. (Does it strike you as strange that, unlike almost every other business, there are no prices posted anywhere in a bank?) Common non-disclosed fees at banks involve overdraft charges.
• Phone companies: The BBB also sees many complaints from people whose phone company has allowed a third party company to attach mystery costs to their bills by “cramming.” (If you haven’t already, call your phone service provider and tell them to “turn off third party billing,” that you do not authorize it.)
• Food manufacturers: I recently noticed that my Grape Nuts box has gotten thinner. According to the website Alternet and Consumer Reports, companies have reduced their package sizes by as much as 20 percent while keeping the price the same. Buy in bulk when possible and always read the “per unit” price.
• Cable and satellite TV companies: They’re notorious for luring people in with “$25 per month” plans that turn out to be for a limited time only, with lots of fees in the small print. This is another large complaint category at the BBB.
• Airlines: They charge for checking bags, for “memberships,” for rebooking a flight – even for in-flight snacks. Geez, I remember when you got meals, free booze and even filet mignon (on a leg from Frankfurt to Budapest). Those days are long gone.
What you can do: Always read the fine print. Lobby for change, including more consumer-friendly legislation. Complain to the BBB about bad service or products and give customer reviews at our website on stellar companies. Remember, knowledge is power.
More info or to report scams: Visit the BBB website at www.bbb.org. Call (509) 455-4200 or (800) 356-1007. Or sign up to receive our Scam Alerts at www.bbb.org/scam.
Holly Doering, BBB editor