Companies aren’t known for having the little guy in mind. The United States has a number of consumer regulations, guidelines and safety protocols in place to protect customers from being taken advantage of by major corporations. Unfortunately, many of these regulations are poorly enforced, not widely known and difficult to prove.
Large companies will frequently take cost-cutting measurements to save on profits and try to sneak it past the consumers, charging a similar price for less or lower quality products. Some of the biggest culprits, in fact, are companies that provide critical and necessary services. Here are five ways big companies have ripped you off you may not have noticed.
Putting unjustified fees in your bills
Some companies are notorious for inserting unjustified, inapplicable or unsolicited fees into customer bills, relying on customers to either not notice or not care about a small additional charge and supplying significant profits to the company. Internet provider Time Warner admitted to overcharging its customers approximately $2 million in 2016, according to a report drafted by a U.S. senate investigation into the cable industry. The report concluded that multiple cable companies overcharged for equipment, overcharged for services, added unnecessary fees or intentionally failed to reimburse overcharges. “Time Warner Cable and Charter made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to and did not provide notice or refunds to customers,” the Senate report said.
Customers looking to protect themselves from this should be diligent about examining fees on their bills, comparing offered prices with charged prices and following up with companies about an overcharge. Don’t assume a company will charge you an agreed upon price without checking your bill first.
Lying about the lowest priced option
Companies are also fond of lying to customers about the cheapest options available. Cable companies are once again top offenders in this scam, often hiding or entirely failing to include the cheapest plan from customers until they believe a customer may cancel their service entirely. Other companies do this in smaller ways—for example, all Starbucks stores have an 8 oz ‘short’ size cup available behind the counter for hot drinks that is unlisted on the store’s website and menu options.
Keeping this information from customers forces them to choose from the offered, more expensive options, believing that they have no cheaper option even if it meets their needs.
Giving you less than you think you’re getting
Companies will shortchange customers in creative and inventive ways. Many bars have begun using thicker beer glasses that carry 14.5 oz of beer or less, rather than the full 16 oz of a pint, but without alerting customers to the quantity change. Other tactics include making ‘ice cream’ airier and more whipped, relabeling the carton ‘frozen dairy dessert’ (because it fails to meet the minimum fat content required by the Food and Drug Administration to be classified as ice cream) and selling it to customers without announcement. Breyer’s ice cream has been notorious in recent years for decreasing the size of their pints as well as the fat content of their ice creams.
Even Starbucks perpetuates this scam, admitting that their cups are not even realistically capable of carrying the amount of liquid claimed without filling it to the brim. Many of these companies have been successfully sued in court for fraud claims, but new scams pop up regularly.
Ignoring customer requests
Many companies, with cable companies once again topping the list of notoriety, will flat out ignore customer requests to cancel a service, remove a charge or offer a clear final price they will be charged. Using intro rates with unclear terms, relying on customers failing to double check a bill or bank account, or purposefully training customer service to redirect or ignore customer requests, all top the list of ways companies will attempt to dismiss customer requests for information or service changes.
Using insurance negotiations to lie about pricing
Health insurance companies are notorious for arranging misleading prices within the healthcare industry. Frequently, insurance companies will negotiate a unique contract for cost per pill, per dosage or per product for customers insured under them, but the contract cost doesn’t have to have anything to do with the cost of creating the pill, and your co-pay may be higher than a medication would cost if you paid for it out of pocket instead. In addition, different pharmacies will have similar deals, which means medication that can cost less than $50 in one store can cost over $200 in another.
Many of these scams have been outed by whistleblowers and are no longer in operation. However, you can do your part by vigorously price comparison shopping, calling a medical service provider and asking for an itemized list of charges and closely examining your medical bills and insurance plan information.
Customers must be vigilant to avoid being ripped off by major corporations. All the regulation in the world won’t stop a company if no one offers a serious enough punishment, which means it frequently comes down to the consumer to protect their money or take the initiative to identify a problem.
Featured photo credit: Mainstream via flickr.com