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Consumer Reporters & Advocates in Media


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July 28, 2014

New Program Trades Your Privacy for Rewards

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

 With great fanfare, Verizon Wireless launched its new reward program last week called Verizon Smart Rewards.

You collect points for signing up, for being a loyal customer, for amounts paid on your bill, for signing up for paperless billing, etc. And those points can be used for discounts on meals, merchandise, gift cards, entertainment and more.

This is what the homepage for Smart Rewards looks like at launch:

Smart Rewards

It explains how the program works: you sign up, your earn points, and you redeem rewards. Simple. Oh, they left out just one thing. See that sentence at the bottom that we outlined in yellow?

*MOUSE PRINT:

May require enrollment in Verizon Selects, which delivers more relevant advertising using anonymized information about customer use of Verizon products and services, interests and demographics.

You have to enroll in some advertising program called Verizon Selects? Huh?

Well, delivering relevant advertising is the result of the program. What you really are agreeing to is to allow the company to observe your Internet surfing habits on your smartphone, where you shop, what apps you use, what your location is, where and whom you call, and more. In essence, in return for getting rewards, you are allowing Verizon to track you.

But it doesn’t say that there. What a silly (or very deliberate) omission. And when you go to the registration page, all the introduction says is:

Verizon Selects personalizes the content and marketing you may receive from Verizon and other selected companies.

Still, you have not been informed what this Verizon Selects thing really is. It tells you the result of their tracking — getting more relevant advertising — not that it is a program to track you. Only when you scroll down to the terms and conditions agreement section, do they spring it on you, and ask you to agree to it.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Verizon Selects
[size reduced to fit space]

It seems to us that Verizon should be upfront about the precondition that you must agree to be tracked in order to sign up for the rewards programs, and clearly disclose that on the first page of the offer.

Customers will have to decide whether they think the rewards they are offering are worth allowing the company to track your smartphone usage. Incidentally, Verizon tells us that once you sign up for the rewards program and the tracking program, you can cancel the tracking part and still keep earning rewards.

Note: Edgar Dworsky is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board.

• • •

April 7, 2014

MetroPCS: “All 4G Phones Only $29″ ?

Filed under: Electronics,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

 MetroPCS has been advertising a “$29 for All Sale” where “All 4G phones on our nationwide 4G LTE network are now just $29.”

MetroPCS

MrConsumer thought what a great way to get a high-end 4G-LTE cellphone like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 for only $29 since MetroPCS does not require contracts. And, it might be able to be used on T-Mobile’s network.

Upon clicking the “Shop 4G Phones” button, one gets a surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

MetroPCS

Only three phones are listed, and not one of them is a high-end 4G-LTE phone. But all 4G phones are supposed to be $29, no?

Well, apparently, MetroPCS makes a distinction between a “4G” phone and a “4G-LTE” phone. (LTE refers to the newest fastest, network protocol for data.) But the advertisement specifically says that all their $29 4G phones run on their 4G-LTE network. How can that possibly be true, because only an LTE phone can run on an LTE network. A conventional 4G phone, as all the ones above are, cannot run on an LTE network.

MetroPCS has exactly one phone for $29 that runs on their 4G-LTE network, but it is not shown on the above page. It is that ultra famous, Huawei Vitria.

We asked MetroPCS for an explanation, and the PR firm representing them responded:

“While we believe that our website describing our $29 phone offer was fair and appropriate, it’s always important to us that we are as clear as possible in our marketing and advertising. As such, even though this promotion ends on April 9th, we have made some changes to the way we describe this on our homepage and elsewhere on our website.”

Lo and behold, the advertisement that proclaimed that all the 4G phones that run on their 4G-LTE network are $29 has mysteriously changed, including noting that the $29 price was “after rebate”:

MetroPCS

No longer do they claim that the $29 phones operate on their LTE network. Don’t you just love a company that denies anything is wrong, but then, just coincidentally, changes its offending advertisement.

Until that change was made, only one letter separated a “phone” sale from a “phony” sale.

• • •

December 2, 2013

Sprint Student Free (?) for All

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

Best Buy recently sent out an email making an astonishing offer on cell service for students:

Sprint student offer

They are providing a year of free service. That means free unlimited calls, texts, and 1 gig of data ($10 extra for unlimited data). What a deal!

It says however, “with purchase of phone at Student Activated price.” What’s that?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sprint student prices

The prices being charged by Best Buy for the phones appear to be full price, the same as what Sprint itself would charge. In some cases, the price appears to be $50 higher than buying from Sprint directly. The benefit for the student, however, is a free year of service, without having to sign a two-year contract.

So is this a good deal? The less expensive of the two Sprint plans that the student is required to sign up for is $70 a month (plus fees and taxes) if he/she had to pay for it. So that is $840 saved for the year, but the student is paying full price or slightly more for the phone. On the other hand, if the student were to get a fancy phone free from Sprint during a promotion, he or she would have to pay that $840 for service. So it appears that the student could save a little by taking advantage of the student offer, but not hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Presumably in year two, the phone might be able to be added onto a family plan at discounted monthly rates, and then the savings would increase (or maybe just get onto a family plan to start with to save).

• • •

October 21, 2013

Target Finds Sneaky Way to Make Robocalls

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Target’s red debit card provides a host of benefits that few department stores offer: free shipping with no minimum from their .com store, an additional 5% discount off most purchases, and a 30-day extension to their regular return policy.

When MrConsumer recently applied for a Target debit card, he was taken aback by the company’s tricky maneuver to allow it to make robocalls to its cardholders’ cellphones.

When one applies for the card in-store, you fill out the simplified application that appears on the little signature screen of the credit card terminal at the customer service desk. In addition to entering your social security number on one screen, and your date of birth on another, two screens also come up requesting your home phone and cellphone numbers.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Target

On the left of the two phone number screens is a disclosure granting Target permission to make robocalls to your cellphone. MrConsumer only provided a home phone (a landline) and left the cellphone screen blank. The application did go through.

Why did Target tuck that disclosure into the on-screen process, while leaving all other disclosures to a fine print booklet? The reason is that the FCC requires companies to get the consumer’s explicit written permission before any robocalls or texts can be made to a wireless telephone.

Most consumers probably won’t catch the disclosure, and won’t they be surprised when Target targets texts to them.

• • •

July 22, 2013

Readers Spot the “Gotchas” in the Fine Print (Part 1)

Filed under: Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:16 am

Mouse Print* readers have been busy scouring the fine print of ads and product labels, and have come up with some doozies. (Here’s how to submit your finds.)

Example 1

sheets

Cathy S. found these sheets at a flea market and also noted that some people online were complaining about them. Why?

*MOUSE PRINT:

These sheets that appear to be “1600 thread-count Egyptian cotton” aren’t 1600 thread-count and aren’t even cotton! The fine print above that claim says “experience the same comfort, luxury, and softness as” 1600 thread count Egyptian cotton. How deceptive can you get? Incidentally, the label above is enlarged from the original, so the qualifying language is even harder to read.


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Example 2

T-Mobile just introduced a new plan whereby customers can upgrade their phones whenever they want.

Becky sent along this commercial and urged us to focus on the fine print rather than the spoken words.

While the words say “upgrade when you want,” the hard-to-read fine print says something else.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Jump

“Upgrade up to twice a year after 6 months” is not exactly “when you want” says Becky. We agree.


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