10 Commandments for Consumers

The greatest consumer protection is information. Learn these 10 consumer commandments and never get bamboozled again.

10. Thou shall read the fine print

When it comes to contracts, it isn't the large print you need to worry about. Potential surprises are usually obscured in the fine print. That's why you should always read every word before signing. If you're caught off guard by an unexpected charge, "I didn't know" won't get you off the hook if the charge is noted in the fine print.

9. Thou shall not give financial information to strangers

It doesn't matter if a request for personal information comes by phone, e-mail or another method: If you didn't initiate the contact and you aren't confident in the legitimacy of the company or person, don't share information such as Social Security or bank account numbers.

8. Thou shall not sign anything you don't understand

If you don't understand a contract's terms, study up before you sign. If the contract's language is over your head, hire a lawyer who's knowledgeable about the subject and make sure you're getting exactly what you want.

7. Thou shall always get promises in writing

A salesman trying to sell a product might make offers that aren't spelled out in the contract. Instead of taking his word, ask him to put the pledge in writing. A verbal agreement is useless if it's not backed up in writing.

6. Thou shall remember "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is"

Approach every unusually good offer with skepticism. Research the merchant and find out if other customers had positive experiences before you buy. It will save you a lot of money, stress and regret later.

5. Thou shall not use easy passwords

As consumers make more electronic transactions, they must work harder to protect their accounts. While you might want your passwords and pin numbers to be easy to remember, don't make them simple for thieves to figure out. Stay away from birthdays or common words, and change them regularly.

4. Thou shall shred all documents

There are lots of ways for people to access your financial information, especially when you leave it on the street in your trash. Not shredding your bills and statements makes it easy for thieves to get the information they want. If you don't have a shredder, buy one.

3. Thou shall protect your computer

If you keep financial information on your computer or use it to make transactions, protect yourself with firewalls and antivirus software. Consider adding spyware and adware, which prevents outsiders from accessing your computer without your knowledge.

2. Thou shall question advertising

When you see "sale" signs in a store, remind yourself that these words are used liberally and the offers might not be bargains. To find out if you're getting a deal, look at the product's regular price and find out what similar items cost elsewhere. Advertising almost always makes prices seem better than they are.

1. Thou shall request a copy of the Consumer Action Handbook

The Federal Trade Commission provides this book for free. It offers information about managing your credit and filing complaints, and tips to help you prevent identity theft.