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February 24, 2020

Are CVS Customers Better Than Most at Taking Their Pills?

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Prescription adherence, as it is called, is a real problem. About half of prescriptions issued each year are either not filled or the medicine is not taken correctly. (See report.) So if someone has come up with a more effective method to ensure that patients take their drugs properly, that would be good news.

Along these lines, a curious new claim has recently adorned CVS circulars that asserts that “CVS customers are better than most at staying on their prescriptions*.”

CVS better than most

That asterisk goes to a small footnote on the front page of their advertisement.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“Based on 2019 study of national retain chain customer prescription adherence for diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia medications.”

Checking the CVS website for further details, the following is displayed:

CVS better reasons

So, out of curiosity, we asked the CVS PR folks for a copy of the study, who did it and paid for it, how competitors fared, and whether the study explicitly cited the three elements above as reasons for CVS customers’ superior adherence record. The company only responded with this statement:

CVS Pharmacy worked with an independent third-party firm to study data for the top dispensed prescriptions in the U.S. across different pharmacy competitors. That data was used to create a campaign educating our customers on the benefits of filling prescriptions at CVS Pharmacy.

All this seems to say is that CVS paid for the study. We are left guessing as to which competitors did better than CVS, and which did worse. But without seeing the actual study, we simply don’t know if the conclusions that CVS drew are substantiated by it.

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February 17, 2020

Surprise: Stuff You Buy With Your Credit Card Could Be Repossessed!

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:10 am

MrConsumer recently applied for a new credit card and was shocked to see a particular clause in the credit card agreement. [See identical clause from a different credit union.] It said the credit union was taking a security interest in any goods I purchased with the card.

*MOUSE PRINT:

security interest

That means if I don’t pay my credit card bill, they could theoretically come to my house and repossess that big screen TV set I might have bought to watch the Super Bowl, or deduct the delinquent part of my unpaid balance from any savings accounts I have at the credit union.

We normally think of a security interest arising when taking out a mortgage on a house or buying a new car, but not when buying a refrigerator. Nonetheless, if your credit card issuer tucked a security interest clause in your credit card agreement, and depending on the wording they used, they could repossess that still unpaid for big-ticket item.

They will have to follow state law, which might impose restrictions such as the security interest does not apply to items under $200, or they can’t disturb the peace in the repossession process, or they have to get a court order first, etc. See some rules that apply in New York State, for example.

We’ve reported on various unexpected and sometimes funny clauses that have been secretly tucked into various contracts (see, for example, story one, story two), but this one raises potentially serious issues for those who fall behind in their credit card payments.

Does your credit issuer use one of these security interest clauses? To check, see if the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has your bank’s credit card disclosure form in their database.

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February 10, 2020

How Quickly Do Free Credit Monitoring Services Alert You When Someone Accesses Your Credit Report?

Filed under: Finance,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:08 am

Like many people, MrConsumer has had a variety of ID theft notification services that have been offered by various companies that have experienced a data breach. He has also signed up for some from financial websites that offer credit monitoring as a free benefit. All these plans are supposed to be an early warning system to alert you when someone applies for credit in your name or when there are major changes to your credit report. If it was a crook and not you, a quick call could stop that new credit line from being opened.

On January 6, a little before 1 PM, I applied for a new credit card. I got an email confirmation of my application from the bank at 12:58 PM and received almost instant approval. Seconds after that, also at 12:58 PM, I received an email from Experian entitled, “Alert: Change to your credit file detected, Edgar.” It alerted me that a bank/credit card inquiry had been made on my account. Wow! How is that for being on the ball? However, it wasn’t until 24 days later that I received an alert from them that a new trade line (account) had been opened and added to my credit report. This service from Experian is called CreditWorks Basic, and it only monitors activity on Experian credit reports and not the other two credit reporting agencies — Equifax and Trans Union.

But what about all the other ID theft notification services I had subscribed to? How fast did I receive alerts from them?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Credit Monitoring chart

Experian’s other service offered to AAA members didn’t notify me of the credit application until the next day, and CapitalOne took three days. Worse, none of the other services ever let me know that someone (me) was applying for credit. Why is that?

We asked an Experian executive and found out that credit bureaus don’t generally share inquiries made by lenders with their competitors. In other words, if you apply for a credit card and the card issuer gets your credit report from Experian, Experian doesn’t share that information with Trans Union or Equifax.

If you don’t happen to have a credit monitoring service that explicitly watches the credit bureau which was contacted for a copy of your credit report by the lender, you are likely to never get a notice that someone has accessed your file. Yikes! If your monitoring plan is connected to the bureau from which your credit file was pulled, you will likely get an instant notification. So had my new credit card company asked Trans Union or Equifax for my credit file rather than Experian, services that monitor those companies would also have notified me either immediately or very soon after my application.

Now how come all the monitoring services took about a month to notify me that a new credit account had been added to my credit file? It is common practice in the industry for credit grantors to only let the credit bureaus know of a new account after the first statement is rendered. And that is typically close to a month after the account was actually opened.

So, what does all this mean for you? The best protection against anyone applying for credit in your name is to lock or freeze your credit file at all three credit reporting agencies. But if you want an early warning whenever anyone, including yourself, applies for credit in your name, you need all three bureaus to be monitored with one service (a three-bureau report) or a combination of ID theft protection services.

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• • •

February 3, 2020

Honest Tea Making Less Than Honest Low Sugar Claims

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that Honest Tea, a bottled beverage manufactured by The Coca-Cola Company, is making an implied “low sugar” claim that is prohibited by federal law.

In particular, adorning the top of each bottle of Honest Tea is the claim “Just a Tad Sweet.” Most people would probably understand this to mean that this was a drink low in sugar, and therefore more healthy than a full-sugar drink.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Honest Tea

A close look at the back label with the nutrition facts disclosure reveals that this 16.9 ounce bottle contains 25 grams of sugar. As we’ve reported previously, most consumers have no idea how to convert metric measurements on product labels to more commonly understood ones. In this case, this “tad sweet” product has six teaspoons of sugar. No reasonable consumer would say that that amounts to just a “tad.” The product is loaded with sugar.

So CSPI has sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging them to take immediate enforcement action against the company, and to consider coming out with rules defining when “low sugar” claims can be made. And a proposed class action lawsuit has already been filed in New York.

You can learn more about the issue of low sugar claims and Honest Tea here.

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• • •

January 27, 2020

Caution: You Could Get Overcharged on Some Advertised Sale Items at Staples .com

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:09 am

If you’re not careful, you may wind up paying the regular price for an item rather than the sale price when shopping on the Staples.com website.

Here is a chair that was advertised last week in both their physical circular as well as the online version.

Staples chair

When clicking this item in the online circular, a box comes up with the $149 price showing, and a button to add it to one’s cart.

Chair - add to cart

If you click that button, the item is confirmed to be added to the cart at the sale price. But then something unsettling happens on the next screen.

*MOUSE PRINT:

In the cart, the chair jumps back up to the full regular price — $100 higher than advertised. If you were only buying a single item, the overcharge would be easy to spot. But if you were buying many things and had no idea what the order should total, you could easily overpay.

We asked the PR folks at Staples what’s going on here — why aren’t customers always being given the advertised sale price when shopping on the Staples.com website particularly if using their clickable online circular? Despite multiple requests, the company did not respond, but lo and behold soon after receiving our initial email, that chair magically became an “in-store only” item at the advertised price.

If the company is relying on the blurry, microscopic online general disclaimer below [that we highlighted] saying that prices can vary on the phone and online, they better check state rules that require exceptions to prices and availability to be disclosed specifically as well as clearly and conspicuously, among other requirements.

*MOUSE PRINT:

disclaimer

Unfortunately for customers, the chair example above is not an isolated case. In all, while the price of most test items we tried did not change, we found half a dozen sale items from last week’s online circular with substantial discounts (shown under the green “ad price” below) that all jumped up to regular price when added to our cart. And none of these was specifically listed as in-store only prices or items.

*MOUSE PRINT:

cart with five items

We don’t know why this is happening. While we don’t think Staples has a grand plot to misrepresent sale prices, this does not appear to be just a one-time problem. This week (the week of January 26) it took no more than two minutes to find an advertised sale item in Staples’ print and online circular that jumped up in price when added to the cart for in-store pickup. This time, however, the price in the cart was even higher than their regular price, triggering what appeared to be a $13 overcharge.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Thumb Dirve at Staples

We are turning over our findings to the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office with the hope that they will open an investigation into these advertising practices. We have no illusions, however, that the AG will do anything about it despite the fact that Staples is headquartered in Massachusetts and many people could experience overcharges. Nine months ago, we alerted them to widespread misleading savings claims being made by Wayfair.com, another Massachusetts-based company, but they seemingly have done nothing. These everyday pocketbook issues are important, affect thousands of consumers, and represent alleged violations of the AG’s own regulations.

In the meantime, shoppers have to protect themselves. Be sure to double-check the price you are actually going to be charged when you add any sale items to your cart at Staples.com.

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