Service of Reading the Fine Print

February 13th, 2014

Categories: Fine Print, Read with Care

Fine Print

I’ve railed against teensy type in photo captions, especially when an art director puts copy on top of an image or colored type against a dark background. Guess he/she figures nobody reads captions so the objective is to make the page look good.

But the fine print I had in mind for this post was more about fees that are easy to miss.

charityI received a request to support a small-town businessman with hefty bills to pay for melanoma treatments. The email came from the upstate car dealer from whom we’ve bought or leased cars for years. He obviously shared his database for the cause.

I followed the link to the website that was collecting the money. Most donated from $10 to $100 [your choices start at $100 but there was an “other” option] and a few gave $1,000.

When I looked they were $2,000 short of the $30,000 goal.

In addition to amount, a donor had other choices. You could post your name or be anonymous; jot a message or not but the donation appeared on the list. In small print next to a box to check [or not] you were asked to agree to cover the $8.20 transaction fee. When I looked in there were 271 donors so the website’s fees were $2,222.

Crowded barI knew a woman who had many friends in NYC police and fire departments and she frequently went to fundraisers at neighborhood bars for life or death causes, education funds for orphaned kids and the like. The bars threw in snacks and made money off the beer they sold. In this context an $8.20 transaction fee may be a legitimate cost, though I think that there should be a ceiling. If a community generates mostly $10 donations to reach a $30,000 goal, the fee would be outrageous–$24,600–and if the family had to pay it, they’d be only $5,400 ahead.

Have you heard of ways a community can help someone in time of financial crisis?

What are your thoughts about the online method of gathering such support?

 Doctor bills


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8 Responses to “Service of Reading the Fine Print”

  1. Kathleen Said:

    This is a slightly different slant to your e-mail, Jeanne. When I recently went on-line to file a forwarding address to the US Post Office, I thought I was going directly to the USPS, but went to another site which had forms looking identical to the USPS forms. At the end of the transaction, I noticed they were charging $19.99 to handle the forwarding transaction. I quickly left that website and found the USPS site, which I knew only charged $1.00 to complete the transaction online. I did find a spam e-mail from the other site inviting me back at a discount rate. The moral, I guess, is that one has to be very careful about what sites one goes to.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your example is spot-on!

    I downloaded what I thought was the free AVG anti-virus program to one of my computers and instead I’d imported a polluted copycat that caused me to pay my IT wonder person to clean out my computer. As a result of my falling for the wrong program I got so much spam at every keystroke it took me minutes instead of seconds to finish the smallest online chore. Now I bother him to make sure I have the correct email address before downloading even the simplest program!

  3. Hester Craddock Said:

    I was talking with an old friend about this very subject not long ago. I’m innocent of anything but the most basic understanding of how computers and the internet function. He isn’t.

    He told me that the early inventors of computer systems, like many inventors are, were innocent, naïve, often idealistic men, who simply did not focus on how corrupt many, if not most, human beings really are. This is why the internet and the computer systems we all use seem so vulnerable to attack. Apparently, even the most sophisticated ones, like our intelligence and defence systems, have “backdoors” in them that men like Edward Snowden can enter and do what they please.

    In my experience, the people who service good causes are almost as likely as those who service bad causes to be out to “make a buck.” This was obviously the case in your example. I would have thought that your philanthropic car dealer might have volunteered his staff to do the donation collecting for free?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I get the idea that the online setup was in motion when the car dealer got wind of it. I think the dealer’s family donated $500 and $8.20 isn’t pertinent to him and those in his income bracket so it may not have occurred.

    Nevertheless you and I had a similar idea. I would prefer to send a check to the car dealer made out to the man who is ill or to the title of the fund. In the cover note the dealer should have suggested another option and the reasons for it ranging from the fee to the fact that some people don’t want their credit card information floating around with owners of a website they don’t know to something I just thought of: They don’t want to be dogged by such a website requesting money for umpteen additional causes involving strangers.

    As Target and Neiman Marcus customers know, it’s not just the Internet that’s beset by scofflaws. In fact I think that Target’s Internet customers are fine. It’s the ones who used a credit card in a Target store who have a problem.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I view with suspicion anyone collecting money for any reason unless I am sure of the site and the person or people behind it. I know of someone currently on Facebook looking for funds for a legitimate cause, but that’s one in millions.

    Nothing illegal about the small print. It’s there to discourage scrutiny, so as the illustration suggests, take out the magnifying glass!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    While I checked out the names of some of the donors on the website and they were familiar to me, this means nothing about the legitimacy of the site, which the former clients of Bernie Madoff can now attest!

    I hope to goodness for the sake of the family that is already traumatized enough by their husband/father/brother/child’s illness and suffering that they see the $30,000 in the end and that they get no unhappy surprises [such as you owe us $20,000 because nobody wanted to pay the transaction fee].

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am confused, annoyed and even intimidated by the endless online requests I get for contributions, medical political or social.

    No one really has time to read all this unsolicited literature and the small print is usually the last thing to catch your attention. I tend to not respond to such solicitations because of multiple concerns about veracity, disinterest, disbelief and a sense of invasion of privacy. However, it had never occurred to me that there was profit to be made conducting these “do-good” efforts. It just reenforces any cynicism and mistrust that influence my caution.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You made the point I was trying to make in a few well-chosen words. Scary situation preying on sick, frightened and well-meaning people.

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