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3 On Your Side: Consumers Ignore Fine Print

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jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - It’s been said that the devil is in the details, and when it comes to fine print, it seems the devil may be getting the upper hand!

These days, it seems everything comes with warranties, disclaimers and special clauses. There are more pages than ever, in fine print, that you need to try to decipher. As 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan finds, what you don’t read, could cost you.

You may have eagle eyes, but with some font so tiny it measures a sixteenth of an inch, how could anyone actually read it?

Well don’t expect changes anytime soon. Companies say they need to include more and more information each day. Attorney Alan Kaplinsky says, “The amount of disclosure that banks and other companies that deal with consumers need to provide to them is just overwhelming.”

These days your phone may have a 216-page users guide, or a 32-page information booklet covering everything from the fact that “use of a phone while riding a bicycle may be distracting”, to “turn off when in any area with potentially explosive atmosphere.”

Everyone wants a shorter agreement, but according to Kaplinsky, “You’ve got this competing demand to comply with all these laws and to do things to make sure you don’t become a target of the next class action lawsuit and you can’t do both.”

While some banking and financial institutions face legal font size requirements most other industries don’t. Richard Cleland of the Federal Trade Commission says, “Disclosures can affect consumer’s rights and so it’s important that they be readable.”

While the Federal Trade Commission keeps a close watch, and experts argue about regulations, what it comes down to is people aren’t reading them the way they are now. In fact one U.S. company found less than one in ten-thousand Americans actually reads the fine print and it costs the average household up to three thousand dollars a year in fees and charges.

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