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June 19, 2017

Beefers: Where’s the Beef?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:22 am

Clara Peller, the famed octogenarian who squawked “Where’s the Beef?” when confronted with skimpy burgers in Wendy’s commercials of yesteryear, would possibly have suffered a heart attack on camera had she ever seen these beef patties.

They are I&J Beefers, the top-selling frozen hamburger in South Africa.

Beefers

They look like pretty normal frozen beef patties. But there is a secret lurking on the back.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Beefers ingredients

What? They are only 36% beef? Yep! And the rest of it is mostly water and soy flour.

South Africa’s labeling regulation requires food manufacturers that emphasize a key expensive ingredient in the name or description of a product to declare the percentage of that ingredient in bold type on the front of the pack. The company says they comply with the law. While the package above clearly did not, new packages do:

Beefers percentage

I&J, the manufacturer of Beefers, also sells frozen fried fish. We can only imagine what’s under the breading.




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June 12, 2017

Celebs/Companies Warned to Disclose Paid Connections

Filed under: Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

When you see a celebrity using Twitter or Instagram in what looks like a personal post saying how much they love a particular product, you have to be suspicious. Were they paid by the product’s maker to casually say nice things about it, or was the post an honest sharing of the celeb’s favorite things?

Heidi Klum
Does Heidi Klum really like Dunkin’ Donuts, or was she paid to promote them?

 

Victoria Beckham
Does this fashionista really use this makeup, or was she paid to say nice things about it?

 
To help separate the honest opinions from the “paid to say it” posts, the FTC’s Testimonial and Endorsement Guidelines require that there be a conspicuous disclosure of any material connection between the endorser (the celeb) and the company that made the product. How often have you seen such a disclosure? Probably rarely if ever. That’s why we say the worst mouse print is the fine print disclosure that is missing in an advertisement.

This past March, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent “warning” letters to close to 100 celebrities and companies “educating” them about the federal rules on disclosing when an endorsement is really a paid advertisement. The FTC could not always tell if there was a financial connection between the celeb and the product manufacturer or not, so the letters were rather gentle. Here are copies of all of them and the names were NOT redacted.

The list of those warned reads like a who’s who in entertainment, including Jennifer Lopez, Lindsay Lohan, Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum, Victoria Beckham, and even Nicole (Snooki) Polizi. And big companies like Dunkin’ Donuts, Puma, Chanel, and Johnson & Johnson also received greetings from the FTC.

The FTC letter sent a strong message to these celebrity influencers, as they are called. The question is whether they will fess up in future posts.




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June 5, 2017

It Looks Like Junk Mail, But Ignoring It Could be Costly

Filed under: Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:20 am

[Note: Although this story is about certain Massachusetts towns, the same thing is likely happening around the country.]

Last week, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents in a couple of cities and towns found letters like this in their mailbox:

Somerville envelope

With a little prior knowledge of what sales pitches from alternative electricity suppliers look like, this appears to be just another one of those letters promising savings if you choose them instead of your regular electric company. Even though it has the name of the city (Somerville) in the return address window, it lists an energy company name (Dynegy) and an address in Illinois, not Massachusetts. So many people might simply toss the letter out as junk mail.

A similar letter from the same company also went out to residents of Brookline, Massachusetts last week. Here is the front page of it:

Brookline electricity letterClick letter to see full size.

Surprisingly, the letter really was sent on behalf of the town. It suggests that the town has bulk buying power when purchasing electricity for thousands of residents and businesses and thus has negotiated a plan “to provide you with competitive choice, longer-term price stability and more renewable energy.”

Good news, right. Not so fast. There are three big catches.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“There is no guarantee of future savings. The primary intent of the program is to provide price stability and savings over the duration [a 30 month fixed price contract] shown above. … Rates may drop below the program rate during any given six-month and three month period.”

So, first strike: no savings are guaranteed.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The details get worse. At the bottom of the page is the first unambiguous statement of what is really going on here.

“As an eligible participant, your account will be automatically enrolled in the program unless you choose to opt out.”

What, you are deciding for me what electric company is going to supply my power? Yep. Every resident and business in town will be automatically switched away from their current electricity supplier, Eversource.

Since when is a negative option plan legal that lets a seller impose its services on you unless you take action to stop it? If this were legal in other commercial contexts, we’d all be getting letters from swimming pool installers saying that next Tuesday a new pool is going to be installed in our backyards unless you call to stop it. Unbelievably, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a law some 20 years ago allowing cities to set up “municipal aggregation plans” like this, and foist it onto their citizenry automatically as long as they allowed people to opt-out. How anti-consumer! These aggregation plans are not limited to Massachusetts, incidentally. Some states have had them for five or more years already and take a similar approach.

We’re not done yet with this bad deal.

*MOUSE PRINT:

rate chart

To add insult to injury, the rate per kilowatt hour that everyone in Brookline is involuntarily being placed into is about 5% higher than the rate currently being charged by the regular electric company.

Dynegy charges $0.11098/kWh, while Eversource’s rate is only $0.10759/kWh. So much for the savings in the short term because the town was buying electricity in bulk. It should be noted that should everyone’s current electricity supplier go up in price during the next 30 months, people on the new plan may indeed save some modest amount of money.

The only way a Brookline consumer can get a lower rate than their current electricity supplier through Dynegy is to affirmatively opt-in to its basic plan rather than the default plan that the town chose for everyone. In that case, people will save just over one-third of one cent per kilowatt hour of power used. Woohoo!

Of course, saving money is not the only reason that cities adopt these aggregation plans. The hope is to force its citizenry into an electric plan that gets a good portion of its power from renewable energy sources like wind or solar power. In the case of Brookline, the default plan gets an additional 25% of its power from renewable sources.

On balance, we think that consumers should be offered these greener electricity plans, but they should be sold based on their merits and residents should not be forced into them involuntarily (even if there is a no-penalty way to opt-out).




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May 29, 2017

Payless Car Rental’s Shady Practices Get National Spotlight

Filed under: Travel,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

Last year, Mouse Print* brought you a story from Consumer World reader Marcie S. alleging that Payless Car Rental engaged in various shady practices that often left customers with much higher bills than they bargained for.

Complainants said they reserved a car at one price, but were charged more at the counter. Others said they declined optional charges like roadside assistance, gas refills, and additional insurance, but were charged for them anyway.

We tipped off our friends at Good Morning America about the issues and they took on the case. ABC News went undercover, hidden cameras and all, and discovered similar things happened to them too. Their story aired last week.



After receiving more than 800 complaints, the Better Business Bureau has now issued a national warning about Payless and given the company an “F” rating. (Text version of ABC story and BBB warning is here.)

The class action lawsuits filed last fall against Payless continue. The question remains, however, what are our state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission doing about Payless?




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May 22, 2017

Understanding (or Misunderstanding) Reward Credit Card Offers

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:46 am

MrConsumer received an email from one of his favorite stores, Christmas Tree Shops, advertising a new rewards credit card. It seems to pay back 1%, 2%, and 5% in various categories and then they throw in some type of “$10 reward certificate” for every $10 in regular rewards that you earn.

Christmas Tree Offer

So, I am trying to figure out what kind of $10 reward certificate this is because it sounds too good to be true. I bet it is really more like a coupon — get $10 off a $50 purchase — I said to myself.

Maybe the fine print will explain it.

*MOUSE PRINT:

*Reward Certificates are issued in $10 increments with your billing statement. Restrictions and exclusions apply, see Reward Certificate for details.

Thanks for nothing.

Clicking through from the email to their website does not offer any clearer explanation. In fact, it repeats the same exact claims and footnote.

Only after clicking “apply” and then “rewards terms and conditions” do the full details come up.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Reward Dollars will automatically be redeemed for Christmas Tree Shops andThat! Reward Certificates when the below threshold is met. Reward Certificates are issued in $10 increments via your monthly billing statement. $10 Reward Dollars = $10 Christmas Tree Shops andThat! Reward Certificate. … Once a Reward Certificate is issued, your Reward Dollars balance will be reduced by the number of Reward Dollars used to obtain the Reward Certificate(s).

So, it appears that the 1%, 2%, and 5% reward earnings are called “reward dollars” and when you accumulate $10 in reward dollars they automatically convert those into “reward certificates” good for purchases at Christmas Tree Shops, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc.

There is no bonus of a separate $10 reward certificate for every $10 in rewards that you accumulate.

How did you, dear reader, understand this offer? Did you think that you got some type of extra $10 certificate for every $10 in rewards that you accumulated? Or, did you understand that all reward earnings were converted automatically to reward certificates when you had reached the $10 level of earnings? Add your comments below.




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