5 ways you don’t realize you’re being taken advantage of

Are you aware of these ways that you might be taken advantage of?

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  • Consumers these days are more educated than ever when it comes to savvy shopping, both online and offline. But there are still tricks many people don't know about that could be costing them savings and rewards dollars. Find out how you can make sure you're getting the most value for your money.

  • You might be getting taken advantage of if ...

  • You click the first option your search engine returns

  • A major way search engines earn their money is by click-through marketing and well-placed advertisements. A discerning consumer can tell the difference between a true search result and an ad by reading the fine print in the result description. If it's an ad, and not a true search result, it will usually have a label designating it as such. Common click-bait sites that will pop up at the top of search lists are those selling tickets to events, airfare or hotels. These sites often charge higher prices than if you'd purchased your tickets directly from the vendors themselves.

  • You allow companies to benefit off you without reaping your rewards

  • No one likes to miss out on free money, but people don't always take advantage of rewards programs offered by the businesses they shop at. Some companies offer rewards points for loyal customers who shop at their stores frequently and encourage their friends and family to do the same. One example is ZipHub, an online central location for purchasing goods, gifts and services. It donates 10 percent of its revenue to the nonprofit organizations of your choice, besides offering a referral rewards program to those who refer other members, businesses and nonprofits to the network.

  • You don't read the fine print at your banking institution

  • Banks are notorious for hitting customers with hidden fees, so it's important you're aware of when and how those fees might be applied. For instance, debt.org says some banks will charge you extra for making transactions via human beings rather than using their online services. You'll also get charged plenty if you choose to have a replacement debit card "rushed" to you, with a $5 charge for the card alone plus $20 to $25 for "rushing" it. Some banks are even charging to send a print copy of your monthly statement to you, giving you another reason to save some trees and go paperless.

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  • You don't do your research into advertising claims

  • If the advertising claims you hear on TV or see in ads sound unbelievably good, you might want to reconsider believing them. The Huffington Post has reported the results of recent lawsuits against companies that stretched the truth when it came to how good their products actually were.

  • For example, Skechers paid a $40 million settlement in 2012 to the Federal Trade Commission for "making scientifically unfounded claims" about its Shape-Ups sneakers. There was no scientific evidence supporting their claim that it could "burn calories and firm thighs with each step." And in 2009, Olay withdrew an ad run in the U.K. that featured a visual of former model Twiggy, age 59, who's impossibly smooth face was being used to advertise Definity eye cream. It turned out the image had been retouched and the ad was banned because it could give consumers a "misleading impression of the effect the product could achieve."

  • You use cloud storage offered by large corporations

  • It's true, online cloud storage offers a safety net to those who would like to back up their important documents and images. However, not all cloud storage locations were created equally. Consumers who take advantage of "free" cloud storage options may be unintentionally allowing companies to access their private data.

  • "One of the concerns with using storage clouds is corporate data profiteering," according to Inc.com. "Forgetting for a moment the risk of hacks that large cloud providers are vulnerable to, the providers themselves can utilize the data that consumers host on their cloud accounts to target them with ads and promotions," the site went on.

  • A better idea is to look into private cloud storage. It probably won't be free, but it will keep your data and your private information safe.

  • Visit ZipHub.com today to find out how you can earn money and donate to your favorite charity just by doing your shopping online.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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