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April 30, 2012

The Catch in Consumer Reports’ $12 Subscription Offer

Filed under: Internet,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

Consumer Reports is advertising one of the most amazing offers they have ever made for a one-year subscription — only $12.

Here’s the webpage promoting the offer:

What you can’t see clearly in this miniaturized version of the webpage above is a potentially expensive catch on the left side:

*MOUSE PRINT:

The above fine print is shown actual size, and indicates that your subscription will renew every year unless you stop it, and you will be charged the then current regular subscription price, probably in the $26-$29 range.

Although another disclosure is made on the final checkout page in similarly small type, it would have been nice of this pro-consumer organization to more clearly and boldly disclose the continuing nature of the subscription at a much higher price.

• • •

April 23, 2012

Fine Print Trips Up Storage Warrior

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

Riding the wave of two popular TV programs about auctioning off the contents of unclaimed storage lockers (“Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters”), Mouse Print* reader Tony P. recently found himself in a storage war of his own.

Back in 2004, Tony stored nearly 40 years of household goods in a five-foot by 10-foot storage room in New York. He paid about $125 a month to the storage company, now known as Storage Deluxe, LLC. To make sure he didn’t forget a payment, and risk having his goods auctioned off as they do on these TV shows, he had his credit card automatically charged every month.

In August 2009, Tony went to the storage facility and tried to get into his locker. To his horror, he discovered that all his stuff had been removed, and either sold or discarded. When he confronted the company, they said “someone” had come in during December 2008, and had signed a form closing down the unit. The signature was not Tony’s. And it appears that this mystery person never unloaded the locker, but rather the company did, without any notification to Tony. All his stuff was gone.

Tony went to court, suing the storage company for some $80,000 in losses, $21,000 of which he could document with receipts, claiming breach of contract, gross negligence, and violation of New York’s storage law. The judge issued his decision just a couple of weeks ago, ruling mostly against Tony, and relying on fine print in the original contract:

*MOUSE PRINT:

The judge took this clause to mean that the storage facility was only liable for up to $5000 since the renter was not allowed to store anything of greater value in the locker without permission. And since the minimum amount his court had jurisdiction over was $15,000, the judge kicked the case back to a lower district court.

With all due respect to this judge, this clause said nothing about the storage company being liable or not liable for losses of only a certain amount. (And another New York court apparently previously had struck down this clause as an impermissible limitation on liability.)

So Tony is left without his stuff, but has lawyer bills that will eat up most of the $5000 if he decides to settle with the storage company. He has just decided not to appeal the decision, upon the advice of several lawyers.

• • •

February 27, 2012

Free Hugs*

Filed under: Humor,Retail,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:59 am

Special thanks to Bruce from Tennessee and his son for finding this fine print chuckle.

[Reprinted with permission from J.L. Westover and www.mrlovenstein.com]

• • •

December 19, 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho, DC-Style

Filed under: Humor,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

NOTE: The next new Mouse Print* will be on January 2.

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, MrConsumer was drawn to the fine print on the back of a one-way street sign.

On the reverse side of the sign was a tiny disclaimer that one would normally see in a product warranty:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah from Mouse Print*.

• • •

October 24, 2011

Magazines Shorten Fixed-Length Subscriptions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:48 am

When you are in the consumer business as long as MrConsumer has been, you think you’ve heard everything until something comes along that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

That happened a couple of weeks ago when Angela T. wrote complaining about a letter she received from the publishers of Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine. It said, in essence, that their November issue was so fat with content they they were going to count it as two issues against your subscription (and thus shorten your subscription by one month).

They do say that if you call to complain, they will restore your original subscription length.

Fast forward about 10 days, and Mouse Print* received another complaint about a magazine subscription being shortened, but this time it was Family Handyman. Here is the letter that Brian F. received:

Same thing — we’re sending you a really big November issue, so we are going to count it as two issues against your subscription unless you file a complaint with us.

Is it a coincidence that two magazines are pulling the same stunt at the same time? Not at all. Both magazines are published by the same company — a subsidiary of Readers Digest.

It is interesting to note that the following fine print footnote appears on the current subscription sign up pages online for both magazines:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Each 1-year (11 issue) subscription includes a special issue, which counts as 2 in your subscription. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Does this mean that your “year” of the magazine is really 10 issues because one of the 11 is a double issue, or is it just an explanation of why there are 11 issues and not 12? More importantly, was such a disclosure made to old subscribers before they signed up, or did they believe they were signing up for 12 separate issues a year?

Mouse Print* asked the publisher of both magazines some very pointed questions about their letters and their seemingly unilateral decision to cut the number of magazines they would deliver to their subscribers.

Here, in part, is their reply:

“For any magazine in which we have provided special content so that the magazine issue counts as two, we have provided an explanation in a letter to every subscriber and polybagged it with the magazine. In the letter, we encouraged subscribers, if they were not completely satisfied, to contact us so we could address their concerns immediately by either extending their subscription expiration date or issuing them a refund for the balance of their subscription. We’re happy to report that, so far, most subscribers are happy with the bonus content.

Many magazines give notice in their solicitations that they may publish special issues in place of or in addition to regular issues of a magazine as part of someone’s subscription. The promotional materials for all of our publications, including Every Day with Rachael Ray and The Family Handyman, contain such notice provisions.”

The publisher ignored most questions posed to them, including whether old customers were actually told clearly in advance of signing up for a subscription that their subscriptions could be cut short when special issues were published. If they were, then the magazines would be within their rights to do so.

However, if that warning was not there, the publisher may be on weak ground. It generally takes at least parties two parties to form a contract (or modify one) after agreeing to all terms. In a number of states, the consumer’s silence does not constitute acceptance of a contract’s terms, as their letters would like to assume. (“If you don’t call to complain, we assume shortening the subscription is okay.”) If silence constituted acceptance of a contract, then car dealers, swimming pool installers, and everyone else in the world would be sending you letters that said, if we don’t hear from you by November 1, we are going to deliver a car to your front door, install a swimming pool in your backyard, and sign you up to receive these 100 magazines. And you have to pay for it all.

Hopefully, a sharp state Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission will open an inquiry into whether the publisher was within its rights to shorten readers’ subscriptions in the manner they did.

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