Stop! Don’t click that “Pay” button!

Surprise!  That $100 concert ticket you bought your son online for his birthday actually cost $123.  If that almost 25 percent extra shocked you, you’re not alone.  At least 85 percent of those polled had a similar experience with extra or hidden fees on many purchases in the past two years, according to a recent national Consumer Reports (CR) survey.

Tacking on extra charges seems to be a growing trend. Two-thirds of the 2,000 Americans surveyed by CR responded that these unexpected, hidden fees are larger now than they were five years ago. Sadly, only 14 percent took the next step to file a complaint with the company, a government agency, or the Better Business Bureau. 

Where hidden charges lurk

Extra fees add up to billions in profits to the industries, while causing a whopping 59 percent of respondents to spend more than they had budgeted. According to CR, these are the top offenders: 

  • telecommunication providers (69 percent) 
  • live entertainment and sporting events (44 percent)
  • gas and electric bills (41 percent)
  • personal banking (37 percent)
  • credit cards (36 percent)
  • car purchases (34 percent)
  • hotel (34 percent)
  • air travel (31 percent)
  • car rental (31 percent)
  • investment services (24 percent)

Sidestepping the extra fees

Want to avoid getting slammed with a budget-busting surprise?  Try these steps:

  1. Be aware. The bottom-line advice from Consumer Reports is “consumers need to be vigilant.” If you, like half of Americans, pay your bills electronically – check your bills carefully every month. At the very least review your bills from periodically.  Don’t be caught napping!
  2. Watch out for “drip pricing.” The hotel room that you thought was such a bargain may not be when you add on the extra fees.  (The Federal Trade Commission has warned hotel-booking sites to disclose resort fees.) Read about one person’s experience with this sneaky strategy.
  3. Don’t get frustrated! Take a deep breath before you click “purchase” when you discover extra charges. Comparison shop!
  4. Complain and negotiate.  By challenging the surprise costs, two-thirds of people in the CR survey got a refund! 

Want more info?  Check “Protect Yourself From Hidden Fees” in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

 

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