Consumer IQ

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Consumer Advocate

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Becoming a Consumer Advocate :: Mint.com/blog

The “lowest” price isn’t always the lowest price. Rules are made to be broken. And customers don’t always tell the truth.

Those are just a few of the things I wish they’d told me before I was handed a one-way ticket to Consumerland.

Before I became a consumer advocate, I naively thought that most pricetags and labels were truthful, that everyone played by the same rules and that generally speaking, customers told the truth about their experiences.

Not necessarily. Last week I shared a few of the secrets I’d learned about saving money for the Memorial Day holiday, but today let’s cut right to the chase.

What don’t you know about yourself, as a customer?

It’s not just stupid people who get scammed.

In fact, the bad guys go after well-educated, otherwise savvy consumers with their schemes.

Every week, it seems, I’m asked to help someone with a “Ph.D” or “M.D.” following their name. The reason?

Some criminals are really smart – at least as smart as the folks with postgraduate degrees that they rip off. Plus, these high-earning victims typically lose lots of money when they’re scammed.

Does the name Bernie Madoff ring a bell?

Labels lie.

Whether it’s the tag on a container of bean dip that promises it’s “fresh” or the sticker price on a new car, the sad fact is, it rarely is entirely truthful.

The deli item is packed with preservatives and may have been “fresh” three days ago. The price on a car is never the price you’ll pay, after taxes, fees and the floor mats that cost extra.

These lyin’ labels have only gotten worse over time.

The rules only apply to customers.

Companies hire clever lawyers to write “adhesion” contracts, or agreements that apply only to you, but not them.

Worse, the attorneys have figured out a way to get you to agree to it simply by using the product, so you probably aren’t even aware that you’ve given up something as basic as a right to sue the company.

Customers don’t always tell the truth.

In an effort to level the playing field against fundamentally unfair contracts, or maybe because their mommas never taught them that lying is wrong, customers bend the truth often.

They insist they didn’t open the package when they did; they make fraudulent insurance claims; they say their beloved aunt died in a horrible car accident in order to get a refund on a plane ticket.

Even the ones who don’t lie often omit important details in order to get you to help them. They’re not difficult to spot – their hyperbole is a dead giveaway.

Even if you think you aren’t, you are being manipulated.

It’s an unfortunate truth. From the moment you step through the front door of a business, they’re adjusting sights, sounds and smells to get you to buy, buy, buy.

And speaking of manipulation, that applies to consumer advocates, too.

If consumers aren’t using you to get what they want, then a business is trying to pull a fast one, trying to persuade you that it’s blameless and being victimized by predatory consumers.

Bottom line.

What you don’t know about yourself and the company you’re doing business with can hurt you. Life in Consumerland isn’t fair, but information is power.

Don’t be naïve like I was when I started fighting for customers. It could cost you.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.