Consumer Alert: Beware of arbitration clauses

Consumers who buy a product or sign up for a service could be signing their rights away, and experts say most do not even know

Consumer experts say people need to be aware when when agreeing to certain terms and conditions.

Consumer experts say people need to be aware when when agreeing to certain terms and conditions. (1/29/16)

EDISON - Consumers who buy a product or sign up for a service could be signing their rights away, and experts say most do not even know it.

Tod Marks with Consumer Reports says that many consumers accept a list of terms and conditions without really knowing what they are agreeing to.

“Basically what you’re doing in many instances is signing your rights away,” he says.

Marks says that a growing number of companies are sneaking clauses into their terms that say that any dispute a person has with the company has to be settled in arbitration. The company usually picks the arbitrator, so Marks says that this puts consumers at a disadvantage.

Consumers are often expected to pay an arbitration fee upfront. The resolution of the dispute is confidential, so if the consumer wins, no one will ever know. Consumers also can’t file class action lawsuits.

Marks says that there is little a person can do about the clauses in the terms and conditions because many companies are implementing similar clauses.

Experts do say that consumers shouldn’t worry too much, because most of the time arbitration clauses are OK. Most companies care about their reputations, so they tend to be reasonable when it comes to returns or refunds. But experts still warn consumers to know what they are signing and what rights they are giving up.

In 2015, two U.S. senators introduced a bill that would ban mandatory arbitration between businesses and consumers, and only allow it in contracts between one business and another, but the bill is stuck in committee.

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