Australia’s dodgiest rip-offs exposed
Every day, Australians are falling victim to a range of rip-offs that end with their hard-earned cash lining the pockets of greedy banks and corporations.
With trust in our banks and government at an all-time low, Australians are seeking information on how to get on top of their finances and avoid getting slugged extra.
News.com.au has launched its series Rip-off Buster, providing readers with practical cost-of-living advice and hacks on how to help get a better deal - all with the goal of helping you to become financially fit.
Here's a round-up of nine of the country's biggest rorts - and how to avoid them.
Last year, an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report into health insurance found an increase in complaints regarding out-of-pocket costs and unnecessarily complicated policies.
It found rising premiums were a growing concern, and some consumers were coping by either switching to cheaper policies with less cover or higher excesses or even dropping their cover completely.
Sophie Walsh, insurance expert at finder.com.au, said the number of private health care members was stagnating, but the population was growing, making private health insurance more expensive for everyone.
"Many young Aussies are unaware of Lifetime Health Cover Loading and therefore don't realise that the longer you wait to take out health insurance, the more expensive it can get," she said.
"If you feel like you're paying too much, there are plenty of health funds and policies to choose from, so make sure you compare your options before ditching your cover."
Canstar's Steve Mickenbecker told news.com.au Aussies must shop around to avoid paying the "lazy tax".
"The difference in premium for a gold-style product between the high and the low is $200 a month - that's $2400 a year," Mr Mickenbecker said.
"It's absolutely worth shopping and there's plenty of choices. You're mad if you don't."
Last year, the ACCC Airport Monitoring Report revealed Australia's major airports were raking in eye-watering profits from their carparks.
In 2016-17, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth collectively pocketed a staggering $280 million.
"It is not surprising that the airports are so profitable given that they face little competitive pressure and no price regulation," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement at the time.
However, a draft report from the Productivity Commission released in February defended the high cost of airport parking despite a barrage of complaints from consumers.
The report argued the costs were so high because people "value the convenience" of parking close to the terminal, driving up "locational rents".
Finder.com.au recently crunched the numbers to determine travellers' best options when departing from Sydney Airport.
It revealed it was cheaper to park than to take an Uber to and from the airport if you're travelling for 24 hours or less - but once you're parking for five days or more, those coming from the CBD or Bondi are likely better off taking an Uber.
If you're travelling from Mosman, a trip of seven days or less is worth driving for, or 12 days for travellers from Manly.
If you're from suburbs like Penrith, Hornsby, Campbelltown or further, it's worth driving to the airport for trips of any length.
CREDIT CARD SURCHARGES
Most of us have experienced a sneaky minimum spend or a credit card surcharge at a cafe or restaurant, and the vast majority of Aussies agree it's a giant con, especially given more of us now use plastic and not cash for everyday purchases.
In 2017, the RBA banned excessive card surcharges that helped reduce costs, but last year, fuelled by the belief consumers shouldn't have to pay to use a card at all, finder.com.au launched the Fee-Free Shop campaign.
It promotes Aussie businesses that choose not to impose a "tap and go tax" so shoppers can vote with their wallets.
Earlier this month, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission slammed several Aussie banks over "junk" insurance for home-loan customers.
The corporate regulator even threatened legal action over consumer credit insurance - which is often added on when a person takes out a loan or gets a credit card - it says has "consistently failed consumers".
Westpac and NAB no longer sell consumer credit insurance - but the Commonwealth Bank and ANZ said it would continue to offer the product, labelled as home-loan protection.
Aussies spent $181 million on excess data charges in 2018, finder.com.au research reveals, with 15 per cent of us regularly exceeding our data limit.
Most telcos charge $10 per 1GB, but some are charging $12 and even $13 per excess gigabyte.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network says people can use spend management tools to track their data usage.
Telcos must send you usage alerts when you reach 50, 85 and 100 per cent of your data limit, it says.
However, these alerts only need to be sent within 48 hours of hitting the limit, so be wary.
The interest rate on a standard credit card is 19.77 per cent - but the official cash rate is just 1 per cent.
In the past, the credit card rate used to follow the official RBA cash rate more closely, but the gap between them is now wider than it has ever been - and it's costing Australians thousands every year.
But according to finder.com.au, 64 per cent of Aussies don't even know their credit card interest rate, meaning they could be missing out on big savings.
If you were carrying a balance of $3000 on your card, for example, you could save as much as $46 per month by using a lower interest rate card at 7.49 per cent versus a card at 25.99 per cent, which equates to a saving of $555 over a year.
They seem like the perfect present for the person who has everything, but some retailers actually charge customers to buy a gift voucher.
Westfield charges $2.95 for converting your cash to plastic, for example, and Australia Post's gift card by Mastercard will charge an initial purchase fee of $5.95, finder.com.au found.
Parents are forking out hundreds of dollars to get their child's name on the waiting list of Australia's top schools but will never see a dollar back, according to finder.com.au.
Parents pay a one-off fee of anywhere from $75 up to $500 just to put in an application at the most prestigious schools around the country - which is non-refundable and doesn't guarantee their child a place.
And last week, a parent told news.com.au a similar practice was also occurring at some childcare centres, with families being hit by non-refundable fees just to put their children on the waiting list.
Kogan.com founder and CEO Ruslan Kogan made headlines last year after claiming free shipping was little more than a gimmick, and Sydney and Melbourne residents were paying the price by subsidising rural customers.
"We know that sending something to Broome or Cairns costs more than sending something to metro Sydney or Melbourne," he said.
"But on the website, it still says 'free shipping' - so they punish metro customers and make them subsidise those Broome and Cairns customers."
However, finder.com.au research shows that after price, free shipping is what seals the deal for 63 per cent of Aussies when shopping online.
There are at least 300 stores listed on Finder's website with a free shipping deal, which means you could be getting ripped off by not doing your research.
HOW TO AVOID RIP-OFFS
There's one key piece of advice to stop you from shelling out a small fortune unnecessarily: shop around.
"The best ways to avoid getting ripped off? Be proactive and challenge the status quo," said Bessie Hassan, money expert at comparison site finder.com.au.
"Reward is usually worth the risk - there's almost always going to be a better deal or different option that will save you money."