Top 10 ‘Most Annoying and Unjustified’ Consumer Ripoffs

March 16, 2009

Airline surcharges, shrinking packaging disguised as a “better deal,” stealth fees on event tickets, and disappearing cable channels are just some of the biggest consumer ripoffs in America, according to Kevin Demarrais, a consumer advocacy columnist for NorthJersey.com.

Demarrais, who acknowledges that rising prices are a fact of life, compiled his list to highlight instances he deems the most “annoying and unjustified” situations that – while not necessarily the ones that cost consumers the most money – are, in his opinion, the most egregious, especially in tough economic times.

Demarrais’ countdown list of top 10 consumer ripoffs:

10. “The Great Shrinking OJ Jug:” Though consumers have grown accustomed to package downsizing while prices remain steady, Demarrais said recent efforts by a top orange-juice manufacturer to launch an “easy-pour” container – and shink package size from 96 to 89 ounces – added insult to injury by trying to position itself as? doing consumers a service.

9. Disappearing Cable Channels: Though analog TV will soon give way to digital, Demarrais asserts this doesn’t justify some cable operators attempts to slowly “erode” programming on basic and family service packages as they drop channels from analog tiers and move them to digital-only platforms. Even worse, the digital service requires consumers to rent converter boxes at an extra charge, just to get channels they already had.

8. Women “Taken to the Cleaners:” Women, at least in the New York metropolitan area, commonly pay more than men to have their shirts laundered, often with the excuse that the smaller shirts don’t fit on the cleaners’ pressing machine. A recent (and unscientific) survey of 50 dry cleaners in Manhattan showed that women paid an average of 73% more than men for laundered shirts, while 16% percent of the cleaners didn’t even offer the service for women, leaving them to pay even more for dry cleaning. The additional cost averages $10.45 more per week.

7. Hidden Hotel Fees: Many hotels charge for extras that consumers don’t want or need, Demarrais said, such as internet access, gym memberships or surcharges for making toll-free telephone calls. These charges are often imposed whether consumers use the services or not.

6. Outrageous Popcorn Prices:? Though most consumers are accustomed to overpaying for refreshments and souvenirs at entertainment events and ball games, a recent event attended by Demarrais charged $6 for 6 ounces of unbuttered popcorn. Prices continue to rise at movie theaters as well, where “no outside food and drink” rules force consumers to pay the price or go hungry.

5. Unreasonable Shipping Charges: Basing shipping charges on the total price of an order is a common practice in online shopping but it is not consistent with shipping companies’ pricing models, which are based on weight.

“There is no logical reason to pay $18 to have Bloomingdale’s ship a lightweight gold bead bracelet, but only $8 for a bulky 2 1/2 quart ceramic lasagna dish,” Demarrais said. “And why should the shipping cost increase from $7.95 to $9.95 when a Lands End dress shirt on sale for $39 goes back to its regular $55 price?”

4. Credit-Card Interest Rates & Fees: Though the government is trying to help open the credit markets and make it easier for Americans to get credit, card issuers are hitting consumers with more fees and charges than ever.? A recent survey for Credit.com shows that a third of consumers say their card company raised rates, lowered credit lines, increased minimum payments or cut the time in which to pay the bill, Demarrais said.

3. Ticketmaster/Telecharge Service Fees: The prices of tickets to Broadway shows and big-name concerts are already sky-high, but ticket-sales organizations often charge $7 or more per ticket on telephone or Internet orders, even when consumers have no other way to buy the tickets, Demarrais said.? Billed as “convenience charges,” such fees are also tacked onto relatively low-priced $20 tickets.

2. Usurious “Refund” Loans: Though some states have ceilings on interest rates lenders can charge for loans, many tax preparers and banks with which they work still manage to find loopholes and other ways to charge triple-digit interest on what are known as tax-refund anticipation loans, marketed as “instant refunds.” Demarrais suggests that consumers can get their money almost as quickly by filing electronically.

1. Airline Surcharges:? Though consumers reluctantly accepted? surcharges the airlines imposed last summer when fuel prices were sky-high,? there have been no reductions in the so-called “fuel surcharges” even though crude oil prices have fallen. Though there are some exceptions, most of the major airlines still impose baggage fees and other add-on fees for taking suitcases on trips.

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