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February 15, 2016

If You Don’t Check Your Cable Bill…

Filed under: Electronics,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:24 am

How good are you at scrutinizing your monthly bills for your cellphone, cable, Internet, telephone, credit card, and other services? Many people simply don’t have the time or inclination to do so, or are so turned off by the complexity of these bills that they have given up even trying to decipher them.

If you fail to do so, however, you are putting your wallet in financial jeopardy, as this story illustrates.

We received a complaint from Paula G. who noticed a charge on her Comcast bill for $4.20 for something called “The Cable Guide.” She believed this was the onscreen programming listing, or maybe even an enhanced version that appeared on her TV set.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Comcast bill

When she called Comcast to find out, the representative couldn’t explain what it exactly referred to, but volunteered to remove it from her bill going forward. Not satisfied, the consumer contacted us.

We asked her if this was something she had ordered, and how long she was being billed for it. The consumer indicated that she has been a Comcast customer for about 20 years at her location, that she generally just pays her bills without reviewing them carefully, and that a review of the oldest Comcast bill she had — from January 2007 — showed the same $4.20 a month charge on it too.

Yikes! She’s been paying over $50 a year for nine years for this program guide.

TV GuideWe contacted the PR folks at Comcast, who were extremely responsive. Within a few days, they offered an explanation. Our consumer was being billed for a TV Guide subscription that they say she ordered. “The Cable Guide” was a separate magazine that Comcast offered years ago. TV Guide purchased it, and subsequently sent subscribers TV Guide instead.

When told of this, Paula G. contended that she never ordered TV Guide or The Cable Guide– and that it might have been crammed onto her bill. After all, she contends, why would she have directed the magazine to be sent to her work address where there is no television.

Comcast strongly denied that it would add something like this onto a customer’s bill without them actually ordering it. Nonetheless, as a goodwill gesture, the company agreed to refund one year’s worth of TV Guide — about $50.

Incidentally, it should be noted that Comcast is charging up to three times the going subscription rate for TV Guide — it sells for only $16.50 a year on the magazine’s own website. And unlike virtually any other magazine seller, Comcast does not send you an annual renewal notice that you affirmatively have to return in order to continue the subscription.

We suggested to Comcast that at the very least the line on monthly bills for “The Cable Guide” really should say “TV Guide magazine subscription” so customers would know exactly what the $4.20 charge was for. As of last Thursday, Comcast reports that they have changed the wording on customers’ bills.




  ADV


• • •

November 30, 2015

Thanks for Nothing #1

Filed under: Electronics,Humor,Retail,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:32 am

We are starting a new recurring feature today called “Thanks for Nothing.” It is designed to highlight offers that seem great on their face, but when you get down to the details, you’ll probably say forget it.

Example 1:

For Black Friday, Lowe’s advertised 60-watt LED bulbs for an amazing 99 cents each — the lowest price ever.

99 cent LEDs

*MOUSE PRINT:

2000 hours

These bulbs only have an expected life of 2000 hours. That is about one-tenth the time the average LED bulb is expected to last. (See our prior story about LED bulb longevity.)

Thanks for nothing, Lowe’s.


Example 2:

Also during Black Friday weekend, online stores had some amazing deals. One that crossed our screen was this leather chukka boot for only $30 — quite a bargain at that price:

Vegan Leather

*MOUSE PRINT:

Upon closer examination, it says “vegan leather.” Huh? Is that like gluten-free leather? Who knows… so we asked the company whether this was man-made, and if so why they didn’t say so. They responded:

“It is man-made however, that is vegan friendly which is why they put vegan leather/suede.” — Street Moda, customer service

So if your dog is on a vegan diet and decides to chew on your chukka boots, he won’t be going off his diet, I guess.

And to the extent that this company is trying to mislead consumers into thinking that this is a form of real leather, thanks for nothing, Street Moda.


Example 3:

Also just ahead of Black Friday, Big Lots sent out an email with a seemingly very valuable coupon — “$10 off everything” it proclaimed in the subject. Since both Kohl’s and J.C. Penney offered similar $10 off coupons on anything, this seemed very plausible.

10 off everything

*MOUSE PRINT:

$10 off $50 purchase

Oh, did you forget to list the minimum purchase requirement in the subject, Big Lots?

Thanks for (almost) nothing.


We welcome your submissions of other great “thanks for nothing” examples. Just email them to edgar(at symbol)mouseprint.org .




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• • •

October 12, 2015

Kiss Your Written Warranty Goodbye

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

warrantyFor decades, federal law has required manufacturers that guarantee their products to include a written warranty on or in the box containing the product. Retailers have also had to make available a physical copy of all warranties for review by prospective purchasers right in the store.

That is all about to change because of a revision of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 that was just signed into the law on September 24. The amendment, called the E-Warranty Act of 2015 directs the Federal Trade Commission to revise its rules within one year to allow e-distribution of product warranties.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Manufacturers will now be allowed to merely include a link on or in their product packaging directing the purchaser to the warranty on its website. To accommodate those without Internet access, manufacturers must provide a telephone number or physical mailing address to contact the manufacturer to obtain a copy.

Similarly, retailers will no longer have to have physical copies of all warranties in a binder for customers to review before purchase, but can alternatively provide access to them electronically in the store.

Is this good for consumers? MrConsumer says absolutely not! Why should I as a purchaser have to jump through hoops just to get a copy of the manufacturer’s warranty for the product I just purchased? It should be there right in the box. Period. If they don’t provide you with a copy of the warranty in the box, aren’t you less likely to know you even have one and less likely to use it? And who do you think that is going to benefit?

This past June, Consumer World conducted a spot-check of 20 online stores which revealed that they failed to post the warranty electronically on their websites for four-out-of-five items checked. Under current FTC rules, online sellers either had to post the actual warranty on their website or tell customers how to obtain it. So while the idea of making warranties available electronically may be forward thinking, if stores or manufacturers don’t actually do it, thanks for nothing.

If there is any bright side to this new law, it is that the FTC can now fix an oversight in the recent review of its warranties rules, and require online sellers to post the actual product warranty for everything they sell (rather than be able to direct shoppers to the manufacturer).




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• • •

September 21, 2015

Upgrade iPhone Yearly Forever for $15 a Month?

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

  To promote the launch of its “iPhone Forever” plan, Sprint is only charging $15 a month for the just introduced iPhone 6S along with the privilege that lets customers get a new iPhone every year. That is less than half the monthly cost for Apple’s own upgrade plan.

Sprint Forever

This means you are basically paying $180 a year to have the latest iPhone. For people who always must have the latest phone, this could be quite the deal … except for the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

iPhone Forever terms

Besides learning that this is a 22-month lease and that you are responsible for [edited] insurance, what may have looked like a given to some — that you would only pay $15 a month and get annual upgrades forever — that monthly charge is only guaranteed for the first phone. What is not stated here in the headline, but also required, is that you trade in a smartphone when you first sign up for the plan.

According to a Sprint telephone representative, one year from now if you want to trade up to the iPhone 7, you must trade in the iPhone 6S, sign a new 22 month lease, and make monthly payments of the then current rate. She said you will owe nothing on the remaining 10 months of the original lease.

Like “unlimited,” “forever” means whatever the cell companies choose to define it as.




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• • •

August 17, 2015

Say Bye-Bye to $199 iPhones at Verizon

Filed under: Electronics,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

  As of August 13, Verizon Wireless is no longer going to subsidize the purchase of new cellphones. That means you can kiss that $199 price for iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6 goodbye. When you get a new phone, you’ll be asked to pay around $650 for those high-end phones, but you can do so in monthly installments of about $27 to soften the blow. Other phones will be available at other prices. Current customers can apparently continue to renew their two year contracts and get subsidized phones, according to the AP.

On the bright side, elimination of subsidies also means the elimination of two-year contracts. So you are no longer bound to remain a customer for 24 months. You will, however, need to fully pay off the remaining monthly payments on your phone if you choose to leave Verizon.

Now the big question: Since you are now paying full price for the phone, are Verizon’s monthly rates for service lower than they were? Remember, depending on the plan, they did have embedded in them a roughly $20 charge to cover the cost of that $650 phone that you got for only $199.

Old plan pricing choices:

Verizon old plan phone costs

In the old system, you had three choices: pay for the phone in full ($650), pay in 24 equal installments ($27.08), or pay $199 (with a two-year contract.)

In the new system, you only have two choices: pay $650 in full or pay it off in 24 installments of $27.08:

new payment options

Besides the cost of the phone, there has always been a line charge, or a charge for the cost of the service per smartphone. The old charge was $40 per line, but if you were on “Edge,” you got a $15 monthly discount making it $25.

Data charges were separate charges also. In the old system, there were many choices with varying prices. Some examples, old/new: 3 gigs – $50/$45; 6 gigs – $70/$60.

Putting it all together, here is the old pricing for an iPhone 6 with monthly installments, on Edge, and with 3 gigs of data:

old total

Here under the new system is pricing for an iPhone 6 with monthly installments and 3 gigs of data:

new system pricing

In this scenario, you are paying $10 a month less than in the former system.

So how does this compare to the old system if you had gotten an iPhone 6 for $199 upfront with 3 gigs of data? You would have been paying $90 a month ($40 for line, $50 for data) plus the equivalent of $8.33 for the phone itself, or $98.33 per month. It is now $6.25 a month cheaper.

At least in these scenarios, the new plan is a little less money, but the rate shock of paying $650 for a phone may still be too bitter a pill to swallow for some. The problem is that you don’t have a ton of alternatives since increasingly the other carriers are also moving away with subsidized telephones.




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