Don't Check That Box: What the 'Terms and Conditions' May Be Hiding

December 17, 2014

Shopping online can be a great convenience, especially during the holidays. You simply select your items, put them in the virtual shopping cart and enter your card number. Check the box agreeing to the Terms and Conditions of your purchase and your package is on its way. But what did you just agree to?

Let’s face it. When shopping online, we all check the box. Very few people actually read the Terms and Conditions, even when the website forces us to scroll down to the bottom of the page. We just check the box and keep on shopping.  Be cautious—some merchants may only include the full detail in their Terms and Conditions.

A skin care line offers a “risk free trial” and it sounds great! The website gives the impression that if you are not happy with the product, you can send it back and there will be no cost to you. If you were to actually read the Terms and Conditions you would find two important pieces of information. You have 12 days; including shipping time to determine if you like the product. So if it takes two weeks to get to your house, you are already liable for the product and cannot return it. You are also agreeing to pay for any product shipped to you if you do not cancel in 12 days. Each shipment will cost $99.15 and they can essentially ship you as many as they like until you cancel the service.

A hair care line offers a great introductory package, $39.95 and free shipping to try the products for 60 days. The Terms and Conditions tell a different story. The price on the website is not guaranteed to be correct so you may be charged a different amount entirely and only shipments of $100 or more have free shipping. You are also automatically enrolled in a monthly replenishment program paid in advance for around $100 as well. In addition, if you send the product back and the package is lost, you agree to pay for it.

Antivirus software offers a one year subscription for a reduced price. Read the Terms and Conditions and you’ll find that you are also agreeing to automatic yearly renewals and whatever the price may be at that time.

It sounds like fraud and you would expect that your financial institution could help you get a refund.

Unfortunately, they cannot. By checking the box, you agreed to everything.

Most credit card disputes fall into two main categories.

Lost/Stolen/Fraud: There is a charge on your statement that you did not authorize.

Merchant Dispute:  You made a purchase for $200 but it appears on your statement for $300 or you are double billed. You ordered something that never arrived or you returned something but the merchant did not give you credit.

In the online shopping examples above, none of these apply. Failing to actually read the Terms and Conditions of your purchase is not an acceptable reason for a dispute.  Think of it as signing a contract without reading it. The credit card processor will not be able to remove the charges and you are basically at the mercy of the merchant.

To protect yourself, research the vendor online; look for both product and merchant reviews. Make sure the site is legitimate. Look for a closed padlock symbol on the web browser bar and read the Terms and Conditions before making your purchase.

For more tips and techniques to protect your finances, go to westerracu.com/security-center.

This post was written by Chris Hardenberger, a branch manager at Westerra Credit Union. If you'd like to submit a guest post, email us at dimecontact@copera.org.