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Want to buy something? We'll need your immortal soul

Computer firm returned the souls and confessed to an April Fool's prank. But much of life's fine print isn't as amusing.

By Teresa Mears Apr 19, 2010 12:52PM

You know it’s dangerous to skip all the fine print you’re asked to read when you sign up at a website, but there’s so much of it.

 

An April Fool’s Day prank by a British online game seller demonstrated how few people really do read the fine print: 88% of the site’s customers agreed to give up their immortal souls in order to buy goods from GameStation, according to a report by Fox News.

By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions.

It’s not as if the company didn’t give customers a way out, either:

If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction.

How many opted out? Just 12%.

 

For the record, the company did return the souls. With a credit card company, you may not be so lucky.

All consumer advice (ours included ) includes instructions to read the fine print, whether you are taking out a mortgage, buying computer games or taking Facebook quizzes. J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly discovered a minimum $5 fee for using an ATM when he read the entire 63-page credit card agreement. Most cardholders probably knew nothing about the fee until it appeared on their bills.

 

But the reality is that there is an awful lot of fine print, some of it is hard to understand, and most people are not willing to read pages of tiny type in order to buy a game.

When we consumers are nabbed by the fine print, we take responsibility, and we should. But a whole culture of fine print -- what MSNBC columnist Bob Sullivan calls “gotcha capitalism,” a conscious attempt by businesses to sneak more money out of us -- is to blame, too.

 

As he wrote at The Huffington Post:

My overriding premise is simple, and rarely challenged -- hidden fees, the death of the price tag, confusion marketing, fine-print fraud, all these things are daily nightmares for average Americans. But together, they are something even worse: They threaten to bring about the end of our market economy, which is transitioning into something I call "Gotcha Capitalism." Companies sign you up, set you up, then lie in wait until you screw up and they can jump you with all manner of out-sized punishment.

Sullivan, author of “Stop Getting Ripped Off: Why Consumers Get Screwed, and How You Can Always Get a Fair Deal and “Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day -- and What You Can Do About It,” helps people navigate bureaucracy at the Red Tape Chronicles.

 

Edgar Dowsky, a lawyer and consumer advocate who used to work for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, chronicles consumer outrages hidden in the small print, which he calls Mouse Print, the name of his blog. (He also publishes Consumer World and Deal Alerter.)

 

This is what he says about fine print:

”Mouse print” is the fine print in advertising, in a contract, or on a product label, often buried out of easy sight. In the worst cases, the mouse print changes the meaning of, or contradicts the primary claims or promises being made. Sometimes, the catch is not even disclosed. In other cases, the fine print is merely an unexpected surprise for the reader. Fine print is not inherently illegal. But, advertisers are not safe from false advertising claims merely because an ad discloses the truth in some minimal manner.

Just consider this another reminder that, yes, you do need to read the fine print.

 

That feeling you have that you’re selling your soul every time you sign something? Be careful. You might be.

 

Related reading:

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