by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | May 01, 2006

Upon returning from vacation, I found mounds of mail and e-mail confronting me. Some of the more interesting missives were those pertaining to changes to my (and other consumers’) contracts and agreements with credit card companies, car rental firms, etc. To say that the noose is being tightened on consumers is an understatement.
    Because the Federal Reserve System may change credit rates or interest rates, credit card companies now reserve the right to increase the rate they charge to customers. Additionally, in the small print is a provision that if you don’t meet your basic payments within a set period of time, the credit company can escalate the amount of interest or fees that it may charge you. Compounding the pain: If you miss your basic payments to one credit provider, all your interest rates now can be escalated by all of your creditors.
    For car rental agreements, there is further liability being placed on the consumer. If you get into an accident or get a ticket for parking or a moving violation -- either as a renter or when driving your own vehicle (rental firms run checks on customers’ drivers’ licenses) -- you will pay a higher rate, providing the rental company opts to do business with you
at the outset.
    What does all this mean to meeting professionals?
    Planners need to be aware of contract changes with all their vendors, including hotels, destination management companies, merchandise and/or information providers, etc., since any of them can change the rules of the game as well. Some points to look out for:

1. Fine print
Be careful; it’s small because they don’t really want you to read it. But you should read it -- very carefully -- and perhaps have your legal department vet it as well.

2. Liability
Do you really want to be liable for what your attendees do to the property or supplier and to pay their bills if their credit cards don’t go through? Items of this nature typically are found in the small print.

3. Privacy notices
Most of us do not know what personal information about our business, our attendees or even ourselves might be disclosed, yet privacy notices are required by law. Pay close attention to these notices, and be aware that companies with which you have accounts might reserve the right, if you do not exclude yourself, to provide information (name, e-mail address, etc.) to other vendors and/or third parties.

4. Subscription lists
If you subscribe to publications or catalogs and do not want your information shared with third parties, be sure to read all the information on the registration material. Many publications and retailers will share their lists with third parties unless you specifically ask them to withhold your information.

5. Scams
In today’s age of rampant identity theft, we see many scams such as e-mails (supposedly) from banks asking recipients to update their credit information. These are best ignored. If you get an e-mail from a vendor asking you to update your profile, call the organization to see if the request is legitimate.

6. Extra charges
Be sure to let attendees know of any “extra” hotel surcharges (energy, resort fees, etc.) that may have been waived in the meeting contract, so they can reject those charges if they appear on their individual room bills.
    In today’s age of electronic and mail communication, we all are somewhat vulnerable. The bottom line: Be very wary.