March 16 2010|07.14 AM UTC

Stan Reybern

20 More of the Biggest Ripoffs in America

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , ,

Okay, we’ll admit it: trying to squeeze the biggest ripoffs in America into a single article was a pretty tall order. In fact, it looks like we only scratched the surface. Billshrink readers chimed in with some terrific ripoffs after we published our original biggest ripoffs, so we decided to take another crack at it. Today, we’ll run down 20 more of the biggest ripoffs in America – many of them taken directly from reader comments and suggestions. Who knows? With a topic like this, there may even be a part three!

Bottled Water

Image Source

Several commenters pointed out the irony of paying a dollar (or in some cases more) for bottled water, when it comes essentially free from a tap. Granted, some manufacturers – such as Dasani – claim to bottle only the purest water, and even then, only after it has passed through a rigorous, “reverse-osmosis” filtration process. However, reports that such claims are essentially lies, as “brands from popular soft drink manufacturers Coca-Cola, owner of the Dasani brand, and Pepsi, bottler of Aquafina, both bottle municipal tap water.” LockerGnome goes on to cite another report stating that the water in most bottles that are sold, “bought for about $1.25, can be gotten from the tap at home for $0.0001.” Since the entire allure of bottled water is the vastly “purer” and cleaner lifestyle it enables customers to lead, this ripoff adds insult to injury.

Ink Cartridges

Image Source

Ink cartridges have long been slammed as a ripoff. As Khaze remarked in our comments on the original article, “It’s not uncommon to get an entirely new printer for the same price or less than your refill cartridges.” A blog post sheds some light on why this is so. After Robert Mitchell was puzzled to find only HP branded ink cartridges for sale at the local Staples, he discovered that “allegedly, Staples received a sweet deal from HP in return for quietly dumping its in-house line of generic ink products and selling only HP’s pricier brand.” In other words, the market for ink cartridge replacements is essentially a racket. As of 2007, ComputerWorld noted that ” currently, Staples does $120 million with HP and gets 30 margin points, or $45 million in profit” from its arrangement.

Razor Blades

Image Source

UK-based This Is Money ran a story in June 2009 about the “great razor ripoff”, focusing specifically on Gillette’s 4,750% markup on razor heads. According to “industry sources”, This Is Money says, “products sold by Gillette and other companies cost as little as 5p to make”, but consumers are nevertheless “charged up to £2.43 a piece – a mark-up of more than 4,750%.” Evidently, an investigation was launched by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading into “alleged collusion between the manufacturers and retailers” after it was determined that the UK’s three biggest supermarkets (Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s) were selling Gillette’s Fusion Power razor cartridges at an identical price. Indeed, several Billshrink readers pointed out that razor blades are quite a ripoff here in the states, as well.

Bail Bond Rates

Image Source

One ripoff we were somewhat surprised to see named in the comment section of the original article were bail bond rates. Bill Napier pointed out that (at least in California) bail bond rates “are ursurous, fixed by law and thus non-competitive.” While we don’t suspect many of our readers will find themselves in need of bail bond service in the near future, it’s interesting to note an instance of the government charging rates that would be spell fines or jail time for a private business that engaged in the exact same behavior. Good eye, Bill!

Fountain Soda

Image Source

Another commenter named Zach (who claims to be in the restaurant business) adds fountain drinks to our growing list of the biggest ripoffs. Sure enough, some cursory research reveals that fountain soda is often a raw deal from a consumer’s standpoint., for instance, notes that soft drink fountains “can be a huge source of profits for restaurants, particularly those that don’t use disposable cups.” The reason? A standard glass of Coca-Cola, for example, “often costs just a fraction of the $1 to $2 they charge.” Of course, the ripoff becomes magnified even further by the fact that most restaurants “top off” soft drinks with a generous helping of ice that takes up at least half the glass. In short, it’s likely a safe assumption that you were ripped off anytime you ever bought fountain soda at a restaurant.

Electronics Warranties

Image Source

Another perennial ripoff foisted onto consumers by retailers every single day are extended warranty contracts for electronics. In fact, our readers were introduced to why these warranties are such a poor deal back in December, when Billshrink ran an article on holiday budgeting tips. Here’s the relevant passage for our purposes:

Here’s the rub: Nine times out of ten, the price of these warranties is roughly equivalent to the price of a repair in the event one is needed. Keeping this in mind, it makes little sense to buy now what may in fact never need to be purchased at all.

Now, we realize that the high-pressured salesperson who sold you the laptop or TV – or the clerk who checked you out – probably made these warranties out to be absolute, baseline necessities for owning the product in question. Perhaps you even fell for it and bought a warranty at some point in the past. No shame in that, but now you know the truth: 99% of the time, electronics warranties are an abject waste of money, no matter how you slice it.

French Fries at Fast Food Chains

Image Source

Another interesting ripoff submission from our readers were french fries at fast food restaurants. Chipping in with some insider dirt that would be virtually impossible to pry out of any official source, a commenter named Ryan claims that “my mom has worked for a potato distributor for 15 years. They charge restaurants like Burger King, Jack in the Box, and KFC about 15 cents a pound for regular french fries” – even though we as consumers are charged $2 and up for a box containing less then a half pound of fries. And maybe it’s just us, but haven’t those fry boxes gotten smaller and smaller over the years? As one of the most widely available crops throughout the world, it’s hard to argue that potato prices have skyrocketed over the years.


Image Source

Funerals often get a pass in discussions of America’s biggest ripoffs because of the gravity of the situations which necessitate them. That is to say, the passing of a loved one is seldom the appropriate time to bellyache about how much it costs to bury them. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to ignore the staggering cost – and how relatively little in the way of labor or expense seems to be involved. An MSN article on funeral planning clocks the price of the average funeral at $6,500. But as Billshrink reader James reminds us, it is questionable whether the costs of a funeral are anywhere near that high. Having a hearse drive the body to the cemetery, purchasing a coffin, printing out paper programs for the guests, digging up a grave and perhaps buying a tombstone aren’t cheap, but they rarely add up to the astronomical funeral bills many of us pay.

Oil Changes

Image Source

While not a ripoff per se, taking your car to a garage for an oil change can quickly become costlier than you ever intended or needed it to be. There are a few ways this happens (many of which you will no doubt be painfully familiar with.) The first way is the most unscrupulous – garages that deliberately either use inferior oil or do not fill your tank with the required amount, while still charging as though they had. However, the more frequent ripoffs at auto garages are the questionably valid upsells they so eagerly push onto customers. Many a driver has been pressured into buying “high performance” motor oil when their owners manual neither called for or even mentioned it. Similarly, many have been hosed into flushing their transmissions, buying new windshield wipers, and swapping out their antifreeze before it was necessary.

Cigarettes (depending on state)

Image Source

Depending on where you live, cigarettes could be a substantial ripoff. In Connecticut, for instance, Channel 8 New Haven reported that the state cigarette tax had increased from $2 to $3 a pack as of September 2009. With cigarettes retailing for close to $8 per pack, that means the true price (without taxes) ought to be closer to $4 or $5. Indeed, cigarette taxes have been hiked in several states in order to raise more tax revenue during the financial crisis. The Tax Foundation offers a helpful chart of cigarette taxes by state for 2009, but be advised, again, that many of these taxes have actually increased in the short time since that chart was produced. As Billshrink commenter Manhattan opines, “$7 just to be unhealthy? No thanks.”

Tipping in Restaurants

Image Source

Another thought-provoking suggestion from a reader was tipping at restaurants. Commenter Mevima persuasively argues that tipping, far from being a social nicety, is little more than a clever way for restaurants to hide the full cost of eating there. “Restaurants pay their employees less so they can charge less up front for the food”, Mevima says, and then relies “on customers looking only at the price of the food” rather than thinking in terms of how much the meal will cost in full, with the tip included. In essence, the tipping system has created a scenario where a restaurant’s customers are unwittingly paying a portion of employee wages for the restaurant, rather than up front in the form of higher meal prices. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with tipping for exceptional service, the fact that tips are basically expected no matter what level of service you get offers strong support to Mevima’s theory.

Printer Cables

Image Source

One of the greatest things about technology is that it tends to fall in price over time, as methods improve and new technologies emerge. However, nothing has been exempted from that trend quite like printer cables. For as long as we can remember, printers have always been sold without the cable needed to connect it to your computer or laptop. Aside from that, they have always be sold for at or around $30. They were $30 in 1997, they were $30 in 2007, and having just purchased one, yours truly can personally vouch that they are $30 in 2010. Indeed, a commenter identifying themselves as a former Staples employee on claims that “Staples sells their USB printer cables for $25.00 when it is only costing them about $3.00 a cable.” Between the ink and the cables, printers seem to occupy more than their fair share of the ripoff world!

Travel Size Shampoo

Image Source

As several of our readers pointed out in the original article, travel size shampoo is rarely a good deal. In fact, went so far as to declare that “travel-sized products can sometimes be full-size rip offs.” As an example, IndependentTraveler cites how a 1.7 ounce bottle of Pert Plus was found on sale for $2, while “the regular 13.5 ounce bottle…cost just $3.69″ – in the very same drug store! In other words, buying the travel sized bottle is nothing more than a senseless way to pay “over four times as much for the exact same product.” A smarter option is to buy one of these travel sized kits once and then simply fill them up with shampoo from home every time thereafter. If you are a frequent traveler, the savings can quickly add up!

Restaurant Coffee

Image Source confirms what several of Billshrink’s own readers pointed out to us in the original article’s comments section – that restaurant coffee is often a huge rip-off. As Walletpop explains, a 16 ounce cup of coffee at your local Dunkin Donuts costs $1.75, which is at least what you can expect to pay “for a much smaller cup at most restaurants.” For perspective, keep in mind that “a plain 16 oz. cup will cost you about $0.55″ at home. True, there is something to be said for the convenience of not having to add coffee brewing to your list of morning or post-work chores. But make no mistake: restaurant and store coffee could add an extra $483 per year vs. brewing it yourself.

Brake Jobs

Image Source

In the same vein as oil changes, brake jobs often become rip-offs when unscrupulous mechanics or auto garages are involved. As Billshrink reader Kate astutely pointed out in the comments of our original ripoffs article:

“From what I understand, brake job specialty places will nearly always tell you you need new pads and rotors, and that they charge a huge mark up over their real labor costs.”

Again, it is not at all difficult to understand how this continues to happen. Many (perhaps most) of the people who bring their cars in for service to auto garages are not car experts themselves, as car experts often prefer to do their own labor. Consequently, the people paying for a mechanic’s services are often precisely those people with the least ability to evaluate the advice being given. Who is the average customer to dispute an authoritative-sounding mechanic insisting that you “really ought to get new pads and rotors?” Lacking the ability to confidently challenge such assertions, many of us simply give in and learn the hard way that we were scammed after the fact.

Publicly Financed Stadiums & Arenas

Image Source

Time and time again, professional sports teams have lobbied state and local governments with fancy graphs and charts “proving” that new stadiums or arenas will turbocharge the local economy. The argument is made that if the affected governments pitch in towards the stadium costs, that money will be made back and then some due to the increased business hotels, restaurants and the stadium itself will generate. However, numerous academic and professional studies have found that this is rarely what occurs when public money is used to finance stadiums and arenas. In fact, in their book Baseball Between the Numbers, demonstrates that every baseball stadium it analyzed failed to deliver the net gain to state and local economies that were promised. The chapter “are new stadiums a good deal?” ends by emphatically stating that “new stadiums are still about one thing: boosting team profits by separating taxpayers from their money.”

Lottery Tickets

Image Source

Many of us have heard the analogy that you have a better chance of dying in an airplane crash than winning a lottery ticket jackpot. Nevertheless, consumers willingly spend tens or in in the worst cases, hundreds of dollars a week on the long odds of winning a randomly awarded fortune. The slim chance of winning isn’t the only reason lottery tickets are a rip-off, though. As Billshrink reader superchicken explains in detail:

“Consider a “powerball” win of $300 million or so. First thing they do is take a nice chunk off the top of the money .. I don’t know what the figure is it but wouldn’t be surprised if a $300 million Powerball type lottery generated somewhere around $600 million in actual sales. Then, they offer the winner a choice between the $300 million spread out or a lump sum of about $92 million … and I can never remember anybody ever not taking the lump sum payment. And then they have the gall to tax that amount. At the end of the day the winner gets a nice $50 mil or so I suppose but everybody else gets around $550 million largely made up of recycled social assistance money.”

In short, even in the unlikely event that you win big, the tax man is waiting like an unfed house pet to tax away every cent that it can from your prize. Taking everything into account, it hardly seems worth it to play the lottery as anything more than a once-in-a-while hobby.


Image Source

Billshrink reader Martini brought alcohol to our attention as another rip-off worthy of discussion here. While alcohol costs pennies to produce, it is taxed heavily in countries located outside the Carribean. As an informative anecdote, Martini offered up the following in the comments section of our original article:

For example – Cuban distilleries AND the shops that sell it BOTH make a profit from selling a 750 mL bottle of Havana Club rum for $1.85. But in Canada, we’re paying approx $38 for the same bottle. Do the math – it’ll blow your mind.”

In this case, the rip-off is not primarily due to greed on the part of private alcohol manufacturers, but greed on the part of government for levying such high taxes on a popular, widely consumed product. Unfortunately, alcohol taxes do not appear to be going away anytime soon. Quite the contrary – a New York Daily News article on February 25, 2010 reported that a new alcohol tax was being discussed on the assumption that it would “make New Yorkers drink less and get healthier.”


Image Source

While we hesitate to refer to the most special day in many people’s lives as a rip-off, more than a few Billshrink readers opined that weddings ought to be included in a definitive list. states that the “majority of couples spend between $15,299 and $25,498 while their wedding budget is typically 50% less than the amount spent.” Note that this figure does not include the honeymoon or engagement ring which can easily add several thousands of dollars to the total price. It does us no good to think about “weddings” as a whole however, because the total cost is made up of innumerable separate purchases. Much of the cost can be found in individual parts of the wedding, such as accessories. Billshrink readers Earle and Brett concur, as Earle explains:

“I agree with Brett – if you haven’t experienced paying for a daughter’s wedding you are in for a surprise. A veil, for example, could cost you hundreds of dollars. However, it is usually not much more than a large piece of netting with embroidery sewn on the edges plus numerous pasted plastic “gems”. When you look at that compared to the workings that go into making the wedding dress and then compare prices, you will call a halt to the wedding.”

Wireless Cancellation Fees

Image Source

More wireless phone users than not have had the unpleasant experience of paying steep fees or penalties for canceling their phone service before the date specified in the contract. To an extent, this is a defensible thing for wireless providers to do – especially if a phone discount was given on the understanding that you would pay for a certain amount of service time. However, the rip-off comes in when the reason for canceling is the fault of the provider, like spotty service. Nor are these fines at all trivial. Nextel, for instance, states in their terms of service that there will be an early cancellation fee of $200 per line unless your cancellation falls within a 30 day guarantee period. In these cases, charging hundreds of dollars simply for shutting off a phone line seems quite excessive.

Share this article:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Tipd

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one } March 16, 2010 at 7:51 am

What about cell phone coverage that doesn’t work in your home. More than 100M people in the USA are getting ripped off by bogus coverage map claims.


Marc March 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

If there’s going to be part 3, I highly suggest glasses go on the list – hundreds of dollars for what amounts to a couple pieces of plastic and a metal frame weighing less than a few ounces. This goes for sunglasses too.


Anonymous July 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I totally agree. Optical glasses are a TOTAL ripoff, $500 for a pair of needed glasses? You are better off getting LASIK. Which by the way can also be a ripoff, you have to shop around and wait for specials. But in the long run, it may pay off.


scooterbaga March 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Aquafina, and most likely Dasani are both PURIFIED. This article and the source imply it’s straight tap water.


scooterbaga March 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Another alternative to inkjet printers is laser. It only SEEMS more expensive. The toner lasts much longer, and isn’t constantly wasted like inkjet.


Tim March 17, 2010 at 3:49 am

I’m an optician (I make glasses), and I can attest to what Marc said. It costs us about $5 for the frame, and $2 for the lenses. We sell those glasses for over $150. The protective film/anti-reflective that goes on them? Not real. They’re just dipped in a polymer. Oh, and lastly, you know how they have you wait up to a month for them? It takes me less than 10 minutes to make a pair from start to finish, quality check it, and send it out.

Course, to be honest, the company i work for takes a lot of that money, and sends me to make free glasses for people in third world countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Timor Leste. So the money is going to a good benefit.


jvo March 17, 2010 at 5:53 am

wow thats why i love the dollar tree, 30 bucks for a new usb printer cable? hell i can get one at the dt for a dollar lol


Wizard Prang March 17, 2010 at 6:12 am

@scooterbaga: So they take tap water, run it through filter… your point was?



james March 21, 2010 at 7:51 am

Ask yourself were did the money go bailouts, banks rip-offs; maid off is a small pimple on a frogs ass on a big log in a big lake, the smoke screen has cleared, we can all see now the buyoffs, payoffs the top CEO’S de regulators, speculators, Greedy at the top present created this great problem, find them tract them hunt them down make them give back the money and we wont be worried about another little extension But you have to start at the top.
If you want a little insight of what could be exposed just watch Michael Moore’s CAPALISM A LOVE STORY it will in lighten you a little bit to the big picture, by the way, thank you Michael Moore. I have an Idea for a real bailout let’s say there are 360 million people in the USA how about giving every person in the United States of America one MILLION DOLLARS I think that is 360 BILLION DOLLARS Ha, what do you think that would do for WE THE PEOPLE as a stimulus package for the country.
That would be only that small pimple I was talking about, give back to the working class people. The ones who made the rich rich or did us forget. How you can cut the big circle, now that the ones in control have all the money, as you can see it has never worked before and will not work now. MONEY, POWER, AND GREED.I wish my predictions weren’t coming true.
What about that great tax reform of 1986 which gave the biggest tax breaks? To the wealthiest few, and then started taxing unemployment benefits who are mostly the many, at the bottom of tax earners. Which is still in effect today, the first 2400 dollars off the top for 2009 what a joke? How about that tax break back for when you’re down even that would help WE THE PEOPLE!
I have one big question what is the FAIR TRADE ACT, and who is it really fair for, but most of us really know and the ones that don’t know need to. IT IS FOR THE WEALTHEST FEW, and boy where they really happy, and it is great for them, but I think they got the name wrong, It should be called the UNFAIR TRADE ACT and that is exactly what it is for the MANY Americans with no jobs. There’s your manufacturing jobs its really quite simple but ahhhh, let me think what should we do to get them back well how about nothing, but we’ve already done that. How about let’s try something new and what could that be!
Now with construction and housing failed, America’s real backbone we want our money back the FEW stole it from us, it didn’t just disappear its somewhere in the world, and they’re ha ha laughing all the way to banks
Or maybe let me think how about GOLD let’s acquire as much as we can, have you ever wondered why they want your unwanted gold, just ponder that idea for one moment.
Well everybody knows that it’s what we think is worth the most in value as were concerned, as we know it, but what real good is it really, bling, bling. I guess you could stamp in god we trust on the bars and then what eat it. Follow the gold maybe with a big metal detector from space. It’s never left the planet yet, and has been causing problems ever since it was found thousands of years ago, and don’t forget GREED to the equation.
I have another great idea how about creating some real jobs in our Own COUNTRY, instead of selling and giving away our jobs to foreign lands abroad, for the few rich to get richer and selling out our own people, of this great land.
If all of the special interest groups, lobbyists, greedy people in this world didn’t get bills and laws passed for themselves to proliferate our government we wouldn’t have all these problems like we have today. Maybe we all don’t know that since the beginning of time, as we know it. Money, power and greed have brought down the most powerful and strongest of nations of this world. Like the squirrels how money nuts do you need to hide, and then forget where you hid them and the big bear finds them anyway. You can’t take the nuts with you anyway, so let’s find the stolen nuts and share with the rest of animals in the forest. I think its time for we the people to awaken and take back this great country that are forefathers founded so many moons ago.
Look seek and you will find, the trail is massive, and well lit, follow it and you will find a stash that is beyond comprehension that was stolen from all of us in this great land. From you and I “We the people”
I have no problem with humanity and helping out the rest of the world. I do have a problem with deceit and lies to what’s really going on, the American people are mushrooms kept in the dark with only one media that control our senses and the biggest heists in recorded times has just happened!
There are enough drops in the big bucket to go around, nobody wants to talk about all of eastern Europeans that just came to this country in the last few years and get everything for free, money, houses, food, no taxes for 5 years, $150.000 dollar vouchers from department of agriculture for homes that if long as they don’t default or sell their home for 10 years the money is free. Here’s one of the best ones here’s a real good one $ 45.000 dollars free for some, right when they enter the country this all true, and take your jobs. The jobs that aren’t there! I dare you if you can, to do your investigative research, it shouldn’t be real hard to find out. I think you should start with the loop holes refugee status or the churches, that should get you started. And the list is so long to really list, but some of you are worried about the Mexicans and they where already here and I guarantee they don’t get anything. You would be amassed what the Russians and many other groups, get from their far away land when they set foot in America. They don’t want to talk about this tax burden on the taxpayers I know we are the “quote” “the melting pot”, but lets get real why should one group or groups get things that others do not get isn’t this land supposed to be the land of equal opportunity without discrimination, we all know our past witch wasn’t good, shouldn’t we have learned from our mistakes I dare 20/20, 60 minutes CNN or any other news group to follow the real story, it will never happen. Let’s put the real truth on the table, tell the real story, it won’t happen because you are all controlled just like all of us and you will think genius, but what about,
The people with jobs beware you to could become one with out one. It’s easy to think and say things about people, but maybe if you go yourself, you will have a better insight to reality.


Chris B March 25, 2010 at 3:12 am

I can vouch for the printer cable ripoff. I used to work at the (now-defunct) CompUSA in Ohio. We charged $29.99 for a 6-foot printer cable that according to our inventory system only costed $2.50. Best Buy now charges $35 for the same cable and I’m sure that they get an even cheaper bulk discount. But cables from Amazon – you can get a perfectly-good cable for under 10 bucks if you just plan ahead for the free shipping delays.


D Hartman March 27, 2010 at 10:10 pm

@james: what the hell was that. I started to read your post and I got to where you mentioned Michael Moore and I found it hard to listen. Not just because you think Michael Moore is enlightening, but also because you don’t seem to have any idea what the hell you’re talking about. That was the most ridiculous diatribe I’ve ever seen. Learn to break up your sentences, man.


Soup at restaurants is also generally a rip off. I used to work at a restaurant where we charged 7 bucks for a bowl of soup. What was the soup? Campbell’s.


Andreas April 1, 2010 at 9:36 am

My mother managed the snack shop at a golf course and stated every fountain drink cost less than 15 cents, including the cup. That is why coupons and specials for eating establishments often include a “with drink” clause.

All cables are a rip off. I needed audio cables, and Radio Shack sold a set at $15, I went online to Monoprice bought 8 cables, plus some connectors for under $18 including shipping. And there is nothing wrong with 99 cent store USB cables. They work fine.


Andreas April 1, 2010 at 9:49 am

Let me add, my Apple Care plan totally paid for itself. I was a month away from the end of the plan and problems struck with my Mac. Took it in 3 times and they couldn’t get it fixed. They replaced my 3 year old computer with a brand new one out of the then current line. Apple Care on my Mac Pro is the only extended warranty I have ever bought.


Alexander September 8, 2010 at 5:51 am

It’s funny that you mention printer cables. We got printers free on black friday with laptop purchases, the only problem? NO CABLES ! We were forced to go out and buy them for 30, little did we know a few months later they have them IN THE DOLLAR STORE !!!!

Check your local dollar tree for a lot of things before you spend big bucks ! I’m always AMAZED at how many things they have so inexpensive !


Anonymous November 13, 2010 at 3:59 pm

hdmi cables should be on that list. Amazon sells 12ft hdmi cables for about 6 dollars while retailers sell it for more than $60. My $6 hdmi cable produces the same video/audio quality as my neighbor’s $100 hdmi cable.


steve gray November 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm

you need to include the power balance bracelets in the biggest rip offs


nate May 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm

the thing about the ink cartridges…not true…staples sells re manufactured ink cartridges…ONLINE!!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: