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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 27th update: The president of the company behind these schools was just arrested in Pakistan.

• • •

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.

• • •

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?

• • •

April 20, 2015

Sears Gives Payment Choice for Refrigerator: $1299 or $2099

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:16 am

  MrConsumer was helping a friend buy a particular refrigerator recently at Sears:

Sears

One weekend last year, Sears was selling it for $1299, marked down from (a supposed) $2099. Scrolling down the page, there was this “payment options” section:

sears

Huh? Which would I prefer to pay — the sale price of $1299 or the regular price of $2099?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Clicking the “see details” link didn’t really add any details beyond those stated.

The offer apparently, in a roundabout way, is trying to sell you a gift card along with the refrigerator, with the value of the gift card being the difference between the regular price and the sale price the refrigerator (in this case $800) plus a 10% bonus. In other words, for $2099, you will get an $880 Sears gift card plus a $1299 refrigerator.

For a lousy $80 extra, why would anyone buy an $800 gift card, unless they had an immediate use for it? We welcome your thoughts about this promotion in the comments section below.

• • •

April 6, 2015

Where’s the Big Savings?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

  We are all conditioned to look for sale signs and marketers know that. That’s why everything always seems to be on sale.

But sometimes, the savings offered are a joke. Here is our slightly-belated April Fools list of real sales with bogus savings.

*MOUSE PRINT:

home for sale
Wow… what a price reduction!


Sears big deal
Big sale at Sears… don’t miss it!


penny saved
Save a whole penny on clearance! [Thanks, K.T.]


4 for $10
Buy more, save zero! [Thanks, B.D.]

• • •
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