Friday, June 17, 2011

Read the fine print, please!

I was on the phone with a customer and his wife today. The wife, who speaks no English, signed for the loan for her daughter so that she could go to school. This raised some red flags for me, but I continue with listening to his concerns.

After getting more information about the situation, the customer stated that his wife should not be held accountable for the loan and the interest accrued because she did not understand or read what she was signing.

... Wait, what?

You're wife signed something that she could not understand? The promissory note could've asked for your first born as payment!

I know this may sound crazy, but if you don't understand what you are signing, you can ask for clarification or just not sign the document until satisfactory clarification is given. I wish this were an isolated case, but it is not. I've seen a lot of people ask for money, sign a promissory note, and assume that it's either free money or that they can't be held responsible for it because they either did not receive a billing statement or did not read (or understand) the fine print about how the loan works.

Let's consider a scenario:
  1. You tell a company that you want something (money)
  2. The company puts a paper in front of you and says these are the "terms" that are involved with giving you the thing that you want
  3. You sign the paper
  4. You get what you want (but at a price)

Would you just blindly sign the paper without looking through the document for anything that may raise concern? Anything - and I stress - anything that involves your signature should be read and understood fully before you sign it.

I found it interesting that South Park actually made a parody of this behavior in the episode "HumancentiPad". To give a brief overview, one of the main characters (Kyle) keeps agreeing to Apple's terms and conditions without reading the fine print, and it causes him a lot more trouble than what he bargained for (becoming part of the HumancentiPad project). Despite being snowballed by the scenario, he keeps repeating the same mistake over and over again. Eventually, his father finds a loophole in the terms and conditions so that Kyle can regain his livelihood back.

While this is an unlikely case, it's common for companies to slip in information within the clauses of a legal document that may attach unwanted circumstances along with desired outcome as part of the arrangement, or make backing out of the agreement difficult or impossible - just to name a few examples.

>> Please... read the fine print. <<

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