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December 31, 2012

Canned Goods: More Water than Food?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

tunaNext time you go to the supermarket, pick up a can of chunk light tuna fish and shake it close to your ear. You will hear a lot of sloshing around of water, making it sound like there is more ocean than tuna in the can.

That is not far from the truth. This past summer, three California district attorneys filed a lawsuit against the makers of Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and Starkist tuna alleging that they were putting less fish in their cans than the label promised. The companies agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle the cases.

Now, Chicken of the Sea has come out with “no-drain” tuna in a can:

No drain tuna

*MOUSE PRINT:

The new no-drain tuna comes in a tiny four-ounce can (compared to the now common five-ounce can, which used to be six-ounces, which used to be seven-ounces, and a few other sizes in between).

— —

But it is not just tuna that is water-laden. Consumer Reports decided to check 63 cans of vegetables, fruit and chicken to see how much food was in the can and how much was water.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The results: they found water comprised 34 – 48 percent of the contents! And, that amount of water was totally legal based on federal standards.

Here is a video of their tests.

• • •

December 24, 2012

FreedomPop Weasels on Refund Rights

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:28 am

In October, a new wireless Internet service popped onto the scene, promising up to 500 megabytes of free 4G data each month, and even a free modem to pull down their service if you paid a fully refundable security deposit of $49 – $89. (See c|net story.)

Two months later, the Internet is buzzing with a variety of troubling complaints.

1. Some users are saying that the company is rounding up data usage to the nearest whole megabyte, when the terms and conditions state they will round up to only the nearest tenth. This might greatly increase usage for checking email every 10 minutes, for example, and could result in overage charges.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“At the end of each broadband session we will calculate your broadband data usage rounded up to the nearest 0.1 megabyte. “

The company denies that it is rounding up data usage. However, their spokesperson admitted to Mouse Print*, “We round on site for display purposes.” After suggesting to the company that this practice could very easily give their customers the impression they are being overcharged, the spokesperson conceded, “that could result in perception we’re overcharging so I’ve raised expanding out a couple decimal places for greater accuracy.”

2. The “fully refundable security deposit” may not be fully refundable. According to some complaints, the company keeps changing its terms and conditions.

The August 2012 terms which were in effect when many people signed up in early October stated:

*MOUSE PRINT:

freedompop

Brief translation: they will refund your money within 90 days after returning the equipment, but they will subtract any money you owe above the free data allowance. They also say if you breach their agreement, they owe you nothing.

Complainants say the company changed the agreement [which the company grants itself the right to do], now imposing a variety of additional conditions and limitations on the “full refund.”

*MOUSE PRINT:

“LEASED EQUIPMENT

From time-to-time, FreedomPop may permit you to lease Equipment from FreedomPop instead of purchasing it. In such case, we may require you to pay a deposit when you place your order for leased Equipment. If we collect a deposit from you and you terminate your subscription to the Broadband Service (or we terminate your subscription other than for your breach of these Terms), we will refund the deposit (less any amounts that you owe to us) to your registered payment method within 90 days after the date on which you return the Equipment to us, on condition that: (a) FreedomPop is still actively providing the same Equipment to users of the Broadband Service; (b) you (or we) terminate your subscription to the Broadband Service within 1 year of the start date of your subscription; and (c) you return all Equipment to us (at your expense) within 30 days of the date on which either: (i) you notify us that you wish to terminate your subscription to the Broadband Service; or (ii) we notify you that we are terminating your subscription to the Broadband Service. For the avoidance of doubt, if we terminate your subscription to the Broadband Service as a result of your breach of these Terms, including without limitation, your use of the Site or Services in a manner not permitted by these Terms, in which case you will, to the extent permitted by applicable law, be deemed to have forfeited your deposit. When returning your Equipment and as a condition of receiving any deposit refund to which you are entitled, you must follow the Equipment Return Procedures below.

To the extent you are entitled to a refund of your deposit, we will deduct from your deposit refund all amounts owed and unpaid for any Services and for any Equipment you return that is damaged due to neglect, misuse, liquid damage or non-standard wear and tear. You will not receive a refund of your deposit if you do not meet all the refund conditions specified in the previous paragraph. Shipping and handling charges are not refundable. Restocking fees may apply. Any amounts withheld by us from your deposit become the property of FreedomPop to use as it wishes. If applicable law requires us to handle deposits, or any other matter relating to Equipment, differently than described in these Terms, we will adjust our procedures accordingly to ensure that we comply with applicable law.” — Nov. 13, 2012 terms [highlighting added]

In short, now they say they will only refund your security deposit within one year and only if they are still issuing the same equipment. They also added a restocking fee.

FreedomPop’s spokesperson defended the company’s actions:

“we do not “continually” update the T&C’s but have updated them two times since launch. … deposits cause a ballooning liability that could bankrupt [the]company … 2, 3 or 10 years from now we can’t get inundated with millions of dollars of refunds and more importantly we don’t carry some $10 million liability on books forever … [with respect to adding a restocking fee:] we have real costs associated with returns from our logistics partner – we can’t eat those.”

The company also said that it is applying the changes only to customers who signed up after the changes were implemented. However, some complaints seem to suggest that the restocking fee was being applied to them despite signing up early for the devices.

3. Some consumers say they decided to contact their credit card company and dispute the equipment deposit because they were having difficulty getting a refund.

FreedomPop, in its latest terms statement (as well as the original) addresses how and where disputes must be filed:

*MOUSE PRINT:

DISPUTED CHARGES

If you think that there has been an error in any charge associated with your FreedomPop Account, you must notify us within 30 days after the date on which the disputed amount has been charged to the your registered payment method. You must submit your payment dispute notification through our online Support feature and one of our advisors will investigate your claim. If you do not notify us within 30 days, and unless otherwise provided by applicable law, you hereby waive any right to dispute the charge in the future, including in arbitration or a court proceeding. If we determine in our sole discretion that the disputed charge was incorrectly charged and was raised by you in a timely manner, we will credit or refund the amount to you. If we credit or refund the disputed charge, you hereby agree that to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, the dispute is fully and finally resolved and not subject to further proceedings.

CREDIT CARD CHARGEBACKS

If we have charged your registered payment method for a charge that we deem is authorized and valid under these Terms, and your credit card company or other payment provider subsequently withholds or revokes such payment to us because the charge has been disputed by you (a “Chargeback”), we reserve the right to suspend your access to the affected Services until the Chargeback is reversed or in the case of a billing dispute, the billing dispute is resolved as set forth in these Terms.

Brief translation: Customers have to file all disputes with the company within 30 days, or lose any other dispute rights, including even arbitration. And if you file a credit card dispute, the company reserves the right to turn off your service. Ho, ho, ho.

Some people have been very happy with the service, while some other complaints are surfacing. Amongst the not very happy customers are some who pre-ordered a FreedomPop sleeve for their iPhone last April, but still have not received it. On the other hand, some people report that other types of modems are being delivered by FEDEX within a day or two.

For an inside look at the good and bad, read the comments posted on the company’s Facebook page, and the nearly 100 pages of posts in Slickdeals.

• • •

December 17, 2012

Yuuup, Storage Wars Auctions May be Rigged

Filed under: Business — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

Storage Wars MrConsumer admits it — he is a fan of Storage Wars, the A&E cable series. In the show, the contents of abandoned storage lockers are auctioned off each week to the highest bidder. There are four recurring and quirky cast members, who, along with members of the public, bid blindly on these storage lockers in the hopes of finding some treasure amongst the junk. The cast members almost always win a storage locker in each auction, and many times they find an antique or other unexpected treasure worth thousands of dollars.

Now, one of the four regulars, Dave Hester (famous for placing bids by exclaiming “yuuup”), alleges in a lawsuit that the show is rigged. He claims, among other things, that the producers “salt” lockers with high-value items to heighten excitement when a successful cast member “finds” it, and that they assist the less well-financed cast member bidders who would not otherwise have enough money to pay for the storage lockers on which they are bidding.

Hester spoke out about these problems to A&E executives, suggesting that these practices were in essence rigging a game show, which is against federal law. Hester says he was then fired after the producers had already exercised an option to renew his $25,000 per episode contract. He filed a lawsuit against them last week.

*MOUSE PRINT: Excerpt from lawsuit:

Storage Wars suit

As a regular viewer, MrConsumer always wondered about several things in this “reality” show:

1. With dozens of bidders present at most auctions, how is it that the cast members almost always seem to be the winners?

2. Why would cast members bid often thousands of dollars for abandoned junk, that on its face, is worth no more than a few hundred dollars?

3. If such valuable items were stored in these lockers, why wouldn’t the true owner have paid the minimal storage bill or removed the valuable items before failing to make monthly payments?

4. With cast members seemingly only bidding against each other as the prices rose beyond what an average citizen would bid for a pile of used household goods, were the producers subsidizing those above fair market value bids?

Now we may know the answer.

*MOUSE PRINT:

As we have asserted before, some of the worst mouse print is the mouse print that is missing. There is no disclaimer in the television program credits stating that the producers of the show offer financial assistance to some bidders and that some items are “found” for dramatic effect.

A&E has had no comment on the lawsuit yet, but earlier this year said in a statment, “there is no staging involved. The items uncovered in the storage units are the actual items featured on the show.”

• • •

December 10, 2012

Apple iPad Version Changes Confuse Buyers

Filed under: Computers,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:20 am

Last week, one retail chain was offering the iPad “3” for only $399.99 — $100 off the regular price. [Hint: if you run to Micro Center, you might get one. Ends 12/12.] MrConsumer’s friend who had just purchased an iPad 2 for the same price was not too happy, but he wondered how in the world this chain could be selling the iPad “3” for $100 less than the full list price knowing that Apple closely controlled advertised retail prices.

As it turns out, Apple had recently discontinued the iPad “3” and had quietly introduced an iPad “4”, which might explain the discount. Much of the confusion, however, has to do with Apple’s decision not to explicitly name each new iPad by number. There was the original iPad, then iPad 2, then iPad (no number, but referred to by retailers as “third generation”), and now iPad with Retina Display (again no number, but referred to by retailers as “fourth generation”).

So if you are looking for the latest “iPad”, you might wind up with either the “iPad 3″ or the “iPad 4″ because they are both just called iPad (sans number). What is the difference between the two? You have to look at the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

iPad 3 and 4

They both have the same gorgeous Retina display. The primary differences are three for the iPad 4: the Facetime camera is better, the processor they say goes twice as fast, and iPad 4 has that new obnoxious connector that makes all your old i-accessories obsolete.

So, if you are shopping for an iPad, and you pick up a box, how do you know if it is an iPad 3 or 4? You have to look at the tiny label to find the model number.

*MOUSE PRINT:

ipad 3 label

One 16-gig white iPad 3 has a model number of MD336LL/A for example, while a similar iPad 4 has a model number of MD513LL/A.

In our view, Apple made a big mistake to not clearly identify iPads after the iPad 2 by number to avoid consumer confusion.

• • •

December 3, 2012

AMEX Allows You to Opt-Out of Mandatory Arbitration

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:35 am

In a rather unusual move, American Express is letting cardholders opt-out of the mandatory arbitration provision in their credit card agreements.

*MOUSE PRINT:

AMEX

The rejection notice (a sample is here) must be mailed by February 15, 2013 or 45 days after you make your first purchase with the card, whichever is later.

They are also instituting a mediation program to resolve disputes. But, the new agreement requires if you are not able to resolve the problem with customer service, that you file a notice with them before resorting to mediation, arbitration or court.

Why did AMEX decide to let you opt-out of required arbitration?

One consumer lawyer put it this way: “Just another attempt to make the arbitration provision bulletproof. What could be fairer than giving consumers the choice to opt-out?”

Everyone knows that opt-out rates are very low, and since there is a relatively short deadline, few people are likely to do it. The result: virtually all cardholders will be left without the legal remedy of going to court over a major problem (or be part of a class action for smaller but widespread issues).

• • •
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