The Lost Art of Reading the Fine Print

Everyday millions of contracts are signed and dated. There is an increasingly amount of online contracts that are also electronically signed.

If you read the Fox News article “7,500 Online Shoppers Unknowingly Sold Their Souls“, you will see that it is estimated that “88 percent of people do not read the terms and conditions of a Web site before they make a purchase“.

In that situation 7,500 people accepted a contract that sold their souls to the game company. The company did it to make a point and does not plan on acting on the contractual terms.

This is a perfect example of a growing issue in our society. People are not reading the fine print!

There are many factors that contribute to this problem. I have narrowed the causes down to 3:

    Lengthy Contracts

    This is the most frustrating cause because there is nothing we can do about it as consumers. There were less than 2,000 words in The Declaration of Independence. I think you will find it very rare to find a 20th or 21st century contract that has a terms and agreement section of less than 2,000 words. Because of the sue-happy society that we live in today corporate lawyers try to cover every possible loophole that one may find within a contract. This is a contractual reality that we’ll just have to learn to live with – sorry.

    Internet Attention Deficit

    The internet has so much to offer – and people are offering things everywhere you look. Because of this, it is very hard to keep a user’s attention for an extended period of time. Users have so many links that they can click, emails to check, Facebook statuses to update, news blogs to monitor and so much more that they obviously don’t have time to read a contract from a company that they will be giving all of their credit information to – or do they have time?

    Without dwelling on the facts for too long I can honestly say that whether I have time or not, if I am giving out my credit card information, I make time to read the darn contract – and I think every consumer should. If you don’t, don’t be upset if you get scammed.

    Too Much Trust

    I remember when the internet first starting gaining acceptance, before the dot-com bubble, consumers were very cautious about online purchasing and online contracts. That time has ended completely. I am even a victim to this. As long as the company seems to be legitimate and has the proper security measures in place I am usually comfortable giving them my credit card number –that doesn’t mean you should try to scam me! Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of legitimate online companies out there that one does not need to worry about. Just make sure you are doing your research before purchasing from an unknown seller.

The issue of not reading fine print does not only apply to online purchasing, it applies to situations in our everyday life- both online and offline. As a professional, I am in the technology field and although I enjoy every question that my friends, coworkers and acquaintances ask me, most of them can be answered by reading the fine print.

If you are on a website and want to know how to create an account or how to contact the company, more times than not, all you have to do is read the fine print. There is so much information available to us because of the communication advances we have made that all anyone has to do to know something is to read.

Our brains are moving faster than ever and, at times, that is a good thing. At other times, it is not so good. Next time you encounter an error message online you should try to read what it says. Next time you sign a contract- try reading it. You may even find something that benefits you that you didn’t know about.

It is okay to take a breath once in a while and think about something. You don’t always have to make a decision in 5 seconds flat. I am a victim of doing these things as well (how else would have I been inspired to write this?).

As a society and as a online community I believe we owe it to ourselves and to each other to take some time and be thorough and smart about our online business and agreements.

READ WHAT YOU ARE SIGNING!!

I hope this helps a few people avoid a situation that they would later regret.

If anyone has examples or comments I would love to hear them!

Anson Alexander

Anson Alexander is a blogger, author, SEO expert, teacher, and tech geek. As the founder of AnsonAlex.com, Anson works full time writing, editing, and producing content for his site and providing technical and business services to clients. He has a BS in international business and information systems from the University of Tampa. In his free time, Anson plays video games, enjoys nature, spends time at the beach, and loves to travel.

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