The Devil is in the Details

In unwanted credit card charges, the details are the fine print—and the fine print often results in devilish “grey charges.”Grey charges are those credit card charges that appear on your statement from out of the blue, charging us small or large fees—or sometimes a single charge—monthly or annually.

The fine print can sometimes be expensive. And with unwanted credit cards, charges happen when we think we are paying attention or a sleight-of-hand action by a scammy retailer hooks us.

Boldface lies.The fine print may begin with lies. A website might look professionally done, complete with a believable story based on a plausible scenario andphotos representing real people with genuine-sounding comments. But in reality, it’s smoke and mirrors meant to deceive you.

Bogus trial periods.Trial periods with 30-day money-back guarantees are often rife with lies ending in grey charges. The fine print might read, “Delivery time is subtracted from your trial period”—in other words, if the package takes two weeks to get to you, you only have two weeks to try the product. But the clock starts ticking from the moment the package leaves the facility. After thinking you have 30 days from the delivery date, you decide to return the unwanted item—and you learn too late that you are out of time and out of luck.

Twice-bought scams. You buy a product in January, and when you receive it the product is damaged or of poor quality, so you immediately return it and get your money back. Then six months goes by and you see the same ad. You still want the product and figure you’ll give the company a second try; perhapsthey’ll have their act together by now. But when you get the product a second time, it’s just as bad as the first—and in the fine print it says, “We do not honor refunds to customers who have purchased the same product in the past.”

Free trials. Like Mom said, “There is no free lunch” and “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” This applies to free trial periods as well. Often, the upfront cost of the item is just a few dollars. You make the purchase,and the free trial begins the same day you purchased the product—not when you receive it—so themerchant weaves in the bogus trial period. Then, after the free trial period expires, you learn the actual cost of the item might be 10 to 20 times the initial charge.

Outwit the devil by paying attention to the details:

  • Pay attention to the fine print, as hard as that may be
  • Ask as many questions as you need to before laying down your credit card number
  • Use a credit card and not a debit card
  • Watch your statements closely
  • Get BillGuard to watch the grey charges for you

Robert Siciliano is a personal security expert & advisor to BillGuard and is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

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