Read the fine print: Companies trying to bar customers from writing bad reviews, expert says

PHOENIX - Today, it is becoming more important than ever to truly read the fine print when it comes to emails, documents and product order forms.

Would you agree to sign something that said this: You agree not to file any complaint, chargeback, claim, dispute or make any public forum post, review, better business bureau complaint, social media post or any public statement regarding the order.

This is an actual excerpt from the terms and conditions of a online retail website. They took it down after some controversy went public. But attorney Scott Michelman says more and more companies want you to keep your mouth shut when it comes to bad service or a bad product.

"If there's a slew of critical reviews online then customers will find them," said Michelman who works for Public Citizen , a consumer advocacy group.

He said companies are trying to censor reviews of its consumers and they're sneaking it within the fine print.

The legal term is a non-disparagement clause.

Michelman recently represented a Utah couple in federal court after they say they were sent a bill from a company for writing a negative review online.

"Because of the review your wife wrote three years ago and now you owe us $3500," said Michelman.

The judge ruled against that company. But that isn't stopping other businesses from following the trend.

Michelman says agreements like these are popping up in lots of places.

"From online retail, to the hospitality industry, to the medical industry," he said.

Protecting yourself from this one means doing something a lot of us don't do--read the fine print, and if you don't agree, don't sign.

Regardless of whether or not a clause is involved, there's always a risk of legal retaliation when posting a negative review online, but sticking to the facts can help you defend yourself.

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