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The 5 Most Outrageous Examples of Hidden Charges Companies Pass Off on Consumers -- And How to Fight Back

Americans pay hundreds of dollars each year in hidden fees. Here are the most egregious examples that every consumer should be aware of, plus ideas for fighting back.

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Hidden airline fees were always obnoxious, but airlines became much more flagrant about them after the recent financial crisis wreaked havoc on the industry. Fees for things like rebooking a flight have gone up, and it’s become more common not only to charge for checked bags but also for in-flight snacks. (As anyone who’s flown in recent years knows, long gone are the days on in-flight meals, except on the longest excursions.)

However, there is some good news to report on this front: it was just announced that the government is forcing airlines to disclose more of the taxes and fees that go along with each ticket, so customers will get a clearly idea upfront of what they’ll have to pay to fly.

Now that your blood is probably boiling over all these fees, here are a few practical ways that consumers can fight back.

1. Lobby for more consumer-friendly legislation. Anytime you hear about policy groups that are pushing legislation to hold companies accountable and protect consumers, call or write your local and federal lawmakers and support that legislation. Without strong regulation, corporations will continue to do what they want – and what they want to do is make money, consumers be damned.

2. Start a petition. I’m of the mind that to see real progress, we have to push for system-wide change. But sometimes, a petition targeting one bad practice at one company can be extremely effective. Take for instance the Change.org petition that recent college graduate Molly Katchpole launched this past fall targeting Bank of America’s proposed $5 monthly debit card fee. The petition garnered more than 300,000 signatures in mere weeks, and the effort is widely cited as having influenced Bank of America’s decision to drop the fee. (Full disclosure: this author is a former freelance writer for Change.org.)

3. Harness the power of user-review websites. The rise of user-review websites like Yelp has been great for consumers, because such sites democratize consumer information. Maybe you noticed that the value of your favorite local service has gone down the toilet; you can now let others in your community know, and find out similar information yourself. A business’s marketing strategy can only take it so far if it has a one-star Yelp rating, so companies have more of an incentive now to do right by customers.

4. Join a protest. If you haven’t already, consider lending your voice to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has sparked an invaluable national dialogue on corporate greed and the rights of the 99%. Help that conversation continue to grow.

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.

 
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