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May 25, 2015

Elaborate Fake Schools Lure Students, Fool Employers

Filed under: Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:23 am

  Last week, the New York Times featured an extraordinary in-depth investigative piece about a company in Pakistan that has allegedly created over 100 fake high school and university websites (see list) that hand out fake degrees.

Diploma mills are nothing new, but these websites are slickly produced with great graphics, and have detailed information at every link.

Branton
Click above

Many of these schools are adorned with logos from known and unknown accreditation organizations, student testimonials, and even links to reports about the schools on CNN.

Example 1:

This CNN iReport touts the success of Brooklyn Park University:

CNN
Click above

*MOUSE PRINT:

That report really is at CNN.com — no tricks. How did it get there? The entire iReport section is a place for average citizens to upload news stories that they witnessed. CNN has a small disclaimer on each story that it has not been verified by the network.

Example 2:

And then there are student testimonials on some of the college sites like this one:

testimonial 1

*MOUSE PRINT:

What’s this kid, maybe 19 years old? That means, according to his testimonial, that he started working as a supervisor at the age of 12. And it seems he not only got a bachelor’s degree from Woodrow University (above), but he liked the experience so much that he got another bachelor’s degree from Johnstown University — all by about the age of 19.

degree 2

In fact, this guy is a male model and his pictures are for sale on Shutterstock.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Shuttterstock model

Example 3:

And the pay for professors must be pretty low because this teacher of business management coincidentally also moonlights as a model.

*MOUSE PRINT:

"professor"

Scam schools attract two types of students: those trying to pull one over on others by getting a bogus degree, and those who think they are applying to a genuine school to get an online education. Both may pay thousands of dollars for something that is ultimately worthless.

And then there’s another potential victim — all of us — who may come in contact with one of these people who was hired unwittingly by an employer who took their resume at face value without further checking.

The company denied the charges in the NYT story. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s equivalent of the FBI raided the company’s offices, seized computers and arrested 45 employees the day after the story was published. And CNN has removed iReport stories about (only some of) these schools from its website.

• • •

May 18, 2015

Ambiguous 2-Fer Offers

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:34 am

  Everybody loves a bargain, and when a company offers a second product free or at reduced price, that can be an attention-grabber.

The problem is that too often companies advertise 2-fer offers that are ambiguous at best, causing the shopper to jump to a conclusion about pricing that might be erroneous.

Example 1:

4.95 checks

Okay, what are these people offering? Is it two boxes of checks for a total of $4.95 and you get a third box free? Is it merely buy one box for $4.95, get a second box free? Or is it $4.95 for each box, and if you buy two, you get the third box free?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer in this case: This is a straight buy one box for $4.95, get another one free. (That’s an amazingly low price until you factor in mandatory handling charges of $3.45 per box.)


Example 2:

49 cents checks

Now, what’s this deal? Is each book of checks 49 cents? Is one box 49 cents when you buy two other boxes for $13.44 each? Are two boxes $13.44 period?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer when you clickthrough to their website is that this is a buy one for regular price offer, get the second box for 49 cents. So, apparently the first box is $12.95.

Incidentally, two many of these cheap check printers do not disclose how many checks are in a box. If memory serves correctly, it was standard practice to get eight books of checks in a box, or 200 total. Now some sellers only provide 150 checks, and others only 100.


Example 3:

Staples paper

So cases of paper are $4.99 after rebate at Staples “when you buy two.” So do you have to buy two cases at regular price and then get the third for only $4.99? Or are two cases $4.99 total? Or are cases $4.99 each, but you have to buy two of them to get that price?

MOUSE PRINT*:

In this example, unlike the check ads, the stated price is meant to apply per item. So, paper is $4.99 each case, but you must buy two to get that price each.

With these three examples, you have to wonder if sellers ever look at their offers to make sure that they are clear and unambiguous.

• • •

May 11, 2015

Keurig Partially Reverses Course

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

  Last week we told you about Keurig’s new 2.0 coffeemakers that no longer work with old Keurig K-cups and will now only accept their own brand or licensed K-cups with special markings on the top.

Well, it seems the company has had a little change of heart. What prompted them to come to their senses? Their first quarter financial results came in last week and showed that sales of brewers and accessories dropped 23 percent compared to a year ago. During a conference call with investment people last week, their CEO said this:

“We were wrong. We missed — we didn’t — we underestimated it, it’s the easiest way to say it. We underestimated the passion the consumer had for this,” Brian Kelley said. “We heard loud and clear from consumers who really wanted the ‘My K-Cup’ back. We want consumers to be able to bring any brand and bringing the My K-cup back allows that.”

What Mr. Kelley is referring to is a refillable and washable plastic K-cup the company sold that allowed consumers to buy a pound of whatever brand of coffee they wanted, and then just scoop a spoonful into it.

Fine, but that is only one part of the types of cups the company disabled. What about all the other brands of K-cups that don’t have that magic mark on the lid, and all the old K-cups consumers may have in stock?

Their PR manager declined to address those issues when we asked last Friday:

“Plans are still in progress, so I’m not able to provide any additional details at this time.”

The company’s stock is near a 52-week low.

• • •

May 4, 2015

Keurig 2.0 Coffeemakers Have a Built-in Detective

Filed under: Electronics,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:04 am

  KeurigThe maker of Keurig coffee machines, the ones that use those little (and expensive) K-Cups to brew a single cup of coffee, must have a clever bunch of engineers in their employ. They have created a new machine, the Keurig 2.0, that will only accept their own officially licensed cups that typically cost between 75 and 80 cents each (for about a dime’s worth of coffee). It is also designed to accept different size K-cups to brew either a single cup of coffee or four cups.

Hmmm. Where have we seen this before? Oh yes, inkjet printers. A few years ago, printer manufacturers who got tired of seeing consumers refill their own ink cartridges or buy cheap no-name ones, got the brilliant idea to affix a computer chip to each cartridge refill. That way, the printer could check if an official cartridge was installed or not. If not, the printer would stop working.

Similarly, Keurig presumably didn’t like all the cheaper knockoff little K-Cups on the market, or the reusable and washable cups that one can just add a scoop of grounds to whenever coffee was desired. So, they came up with a machine that would only turn on when a legitimate K-Cup was popped in.

How does Keurig disclose this limitation of their new coffeemakers?

*MOUSE PRINT*: From a footnote in the product description:

Keurig compatibility

What do they mean they can’t guarantee that non-Keurig-2.0 cups will work? They deliberately designed the machine not to work with them.

*MOUSE PRINT*: From their FAQs:

The Keurig® 2.0 brewer will only function with Keurig® brand pods. That means the Keurig® 2.0 brewer will brew both K-Cup® and Vue® pods and the new K-Carafe™ pods. Keurig® brand pods have been specially designed to work with the Keurig 2.0 Brewing Technology® in the Keurig® 2.0 system, which guarantees a perfect brew every time. Look for the Keurig Brewed® seal on your favorite K-Cup® pod and K-Carafe™ pod varieties to ensure a delicious cup every time. Keurig cannot guarantee that pods without the Keurig Brewed logo will work in the Keurig 2.0 brewer.

How exactly does the Keurig 2.0 work? No, they didn’t put a computer chip in every cup. The stories vary, however, of what the actual technology is, depending on whom you ask. Customer service folks at the company say the new coffeemakers have a laser that reads a serial number on the top of the new K-Cups. A company executive says that an infrared light is shined on the foil cover of each K-Cup, and the wavelength of the reflected light is measured to see if it matches a set standard.

What happens if you try to put an unlicensed little cup of grounds in the new machines? You get an error message on a little computer screen, the machine fails to start, and the coffee cops are notified.

*MOUSE PRINT:

oops

Not long after the new system came on the market, hackers went to work to defeat it, and came up with three primary ways to continue using whatever coffee containers you want. The first is removing one wire :

The other ways involved putting a legitimately licensed cap or portion of one over a rogue cup.

It may be obvious, but MrConsumer sees Keurig’s move as anti-competitive and anti-consumer. If the spy inside the machine is really only needed to distinguish between the old one-cup canisters and the new four-cup ones, I’ll forgo the wizardry and happily press a size button.

• • •

April 26, 2015

Despite Crushing Publicity, TurboTax Sales Surge

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 8:56 am

  In January, we were the first to call national attention to TurboTax’s nasty and inconspicuous ploy of stripping its flagship desktop income tax preparation software of key tax forms, thus forcing long-time users to upgrade to significantly more expensive versions. (See series of Mouse Print* stories.) Customers were livid and nearly 3000 of them posted one-star reviews on Amazon.

Major media picked up on the story, and after three weeks of a public pummeling, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, finally relented (after some half-hearted attempts to satisfy customers) and offered free upgrades to everyone.

Then came the revelation that crooks were claiming income tax refunds via TurboTax’s online software before their rightful owners could. Some states temporarily stopped accepting TurboTax returns. The FBI, Congress, and the FTC all launched investigations. And Intuit finally strengthened verification of identities on its website. This dual onslaught of negative press spanned most of January and February.

TurboTax headlines

One would think with the crushing and sustained negative publicity the company received over this period in the height of tax season that their sales would surely plummet. After all, consumers were mad as hell about the costly upgrades being forced on them, and worried as hell that TurboTax online was facilitating theft of their tax refunds.

According to Streetinsider.com, however, TurboTax desktop sales dropped only 6% or about 300,000 units, but online sales surged by two and a half million additional tax returns.

MOUSE PRINT*:

Unit Sales of 2015 TurboTax
TurboTax Sales

It is unfathomable to MrConsumer that millions felt more comfortable with TurboTax online this year than last, and that only relatively few abandoned the company’s desktop product. Wasn’t anyone paying attention except the two people who sued Intuit last week? Are all the alternatives just not up to the task? Or were those extra 2.5 million returns all filed by crooks?

• • •
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