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A world full of trickery

Oct 30, 2012
Not everything is as clear as it seems. By David Jordan.
When I was a lad back in the 1950s I remember dad saying to me, “never sign anything son until you’ve read it first.” Good advice, and I bet your dad said the same thing to you. The trouble is, in this ever more litigious and complex world, it’s almost impossible to do.  Here are a couple of examples.

I got off a plane the other day after a 10 hour flight and went to the Hertz desk to pick up my hire car. After trying his best to upgrade me to a car twice the size of the one I’d booked, the man behind the desk presented me with a form which he quickly marked with crosses showing me where to sign.  I think there were seven crosses, all presumably relating to the faint small print on the back, covering every possible misfortune that could befall me during my time with their precious car and, no doubt, making sure I’d be the one to pay if it all went pear shaped. Did I read the form before I signed it? No, of course not, and even if I was feeling in better shape I wouldn’t have either.  I’m not a lawyer for a start and anyway after spending 10 hours in cattle class I was in no mood to start reading 5,000 words of legal drivel. 

A few weeks earlier when I booked the flight on BA’s website I had to tick a box confirming I’d read and agreed their terms and conditions. Like everyone else I ticked the box without reading their Ts&Cs, there’s no option, if you don’t agree with their terms you don’t fly, it’s as simple as that. So what about dad’s advice? Well, it all depends on whose form you’re signing and whether or not you trust them. I trust Hertz and BA enough to sign their contract in the belief that companies of their standing and reputation wouldn’t try and stitch me up. But when it comes to companies I don’t know so well, or maybe don’t have so much to lose, that’s a different story.

Those familiar with Max Ehrmann’s philosophical poem Desiderata will remember the line, “exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery.”  As well as being a poet Ehrmann made his living as a lawyer and his wise words should echo loud and clear whenever you’re about to sign a legal document. Don’t become a victim, remember what your dad told you and read everything carefully before you sign.  Better still, get a reputable lawyer to read it for you, it could save you thousands in the log run.

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