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September 24, 2018

Senator Sent “Official Summons” to Potential Donors

Filed under: Finance,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:38 am

Residents in some Texas counties recently received a mailing in an official looking brown envelope that said “Summons Enclosed…Open Immediately.”

Cruz envelope

Who wouldn’t open that right away if it was in their mailbox? The first line of the return address had the name of the local county and indicated it was an official summons:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Official Summons

Inside was a standard solicitation to make a campaign contribution to Senator Ted Cruz for his re-election campaign. And his name was also in small type on the outside of the envelope.

Cruz inside mailer

A spokesperson for the Federal Election Commission told the New York Times that the mailers were not illegal, as “the F.E.C.’s regulations don’t speak to how candidates may choose to word particular solicitations to potential contributors.”

However, Texas state criminal law may have been violated:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Texas Penal Code – PENAL § 32.48 – Simulating Legal Process

(a) A person commits an offense if the person recklessly causes to be delivered to another any document that simulates a summons, [emphasis added] complaint, judgment, or other court process with the intent to:

(2) cause another to:

(B) take any action or refrain from taking any action in response to the document, in compliance with the document, or on the basis of the document.

(c) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the simulating document:

(2) purports to have been issued or authorized by a person or entity who did not have lawful authority to issue or authorize the document.

So, simulating a summons, even if the real sender is disclosed, is a misdemeanor in Texas.

The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act also prohibits the sending of a solicitation that misrepresents or implies it was sent on behalf of a governmental entity. This law is probably not applicable because it relates to commercial enterprises.

And under United States Postal Service rules, government lookalike mailings, such as using brown envelopes requesting donations for political causes, are not allowed unless the envelope has an explicit disclosure that there is no governmental connection. Misuse of a federal agency’s name or official seal is usually necessary, however.

So what does the Cruz campaign say?

“…there were a few complaints that came not to us but through the local media or twitter,” a campaign spokesperson said. “Our mail efforts have been both effective and critical to identifying and engaging our supporters, and getting them involved in our campaign efforts to keep Texas strong.”

The aide also said that the campaign “believe(s) we are in full compliance legally.”

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September 17, 2018

Aldi Waters Down Its Margarine… Literally

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:56 am

Aldi is an international chain of limited assortment supermarkets known for very low prices on most items. They carry very few national brands. Rather, store brands dominate their shelves.

In recent months, MrConsumer noticed price increases on various items there like cookies, peanut butter, pretzels, and more. One particular item, their 45-ounce tub of margarine, has had two price increases in recent months. It had been $1.79 for years, but jumped to $1.99 several months ago, and shortly thereafter went up again to $2.29.

Aldi margarine old

Last week, there was another change to this product. The margarine now comes in a rectangular tub:

Aldi margarine new

A closer examination of the package, however, revealed an additional change that was very unwelcome.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Aldi 51%

VS.

Aldi 40%

They cut the amount of oil in the product by over 20 percent. So what replaced the oil? Water! In fact, the primary ingredient in this margarine is now water, whereas previously it was oil.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Aldi margarine ingredients

We asked Aldi’s PR agency to explain why they literally watered down this product rather than raise the price, why they didn’t label the product as a new formulation, and whether they conducted any consumer taste tests to demonstrate that consumers preferred the new version. They declined to answer the questions.

Sadly, name brand tub “spreads” like Country Crock and Blue Bonnet are also only 39-40% oil these days. I don’t know about you, but MrConsumer just loves to spread emulsified water on his crisp English muffins.

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September 10, 2018

Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop” Made Unsubstantiated Health Claims

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

Last week, the Orange County California district attorney’s office and other DAs settled a consumer lawsuit against Goop – a lifestyle brand and website created by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The suit contended that Goop made health claims for various products but did not have substantiation to back up those claims.

For example, Goop touted “Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend” this way:

Inner Judge

You can either mix this stuff in water and drink it, or apply it externally to your body “over the liver.” It supposedly would help you get rid of guilt and shame, replacing those feelings with compassion and forgiveness, so as to prevent a spiral into depression. Oh please. What is this, a psychologist in a bottle?

For this crock of **** and unsubstantiated claims about two other products, Paltrow’s company agreed to pay $145,000 in settlement, without admitting any wrongdoing. So much for the company’s statement of values:

We test the waters so that you don’t have to. We will never recommend something that we don’t love, and think worthy of your time and your wallet. We value your trust above all things.

The case against Goop arose because our friends at TruthinAdvertising.com cited more than 50 unsubstantiated health claims made by Paltrow’s company, and sent them to some of the California DAs.

Here are some of the claims made for other flower essence products previously available on the Goop website. They include products to help “cure”: a broken heart such as from death of a loved one; emotional trauma from divorce, OCD, or bad dreams; infertility; auto-immune conditions; writer’s block; perfectionism, talking too much, etc.

Hertz

Scroll down the list.

For more about the case against Goop, here is an ABC Nightline story.

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September 3, 2018

Lowe’s Corrects Goof in Labor Day Promotion

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

Ever on the hunt for a good deal to promote as Consumer World’s “bargain of the week,” MrConsumer electronically thumbed through the Lowe’s Labor Day sale circular late last week. He found a sale on Bosch dishwashers, which usually have very good product reviews from shoppers, and tend to be rated very highly by Consumer Reports. Making the deal even better — almost unbelievable — was the fact that Lowe’s was advertising free installation via a rebate.

Here is part of their Labor Day print circular featuring five Bosch dishwashers as low as $449. And the free installation rebate is smack in the middle of all these models. All the asterisks and other symbols just below the green arrow concerning the rebate shed no light on the actual restrictions.

 

Lowe's circular

 

Taking a closer look at one of the cheapest Bosch models at $449, the Bosch SHE3AR72UC, which grabbed Consumer Reports’ highest rating of any dishwasher (though only lukewarm reviews by Consumer Reports readers), the Lowe’s website provided the following product listing, and noted the availability of two rebates on this model.

 

Bosch dishwasher listing

 

When clicking to get the details of the installation rebate, the shopper is presented with a surprising catch:

*MOUSE PRINT:

$799 restriction

It said that the rebate only applies to Bosch dishwashers $799 or higher! But the rebate form doesn’t say that. The newspaper circular doesn’t say that. And the big print description of the rebate on the website doesn’t say that.

So we wrote to the PR folks at Lowe’s to ask which was correct: that the rebate offer only applied to dishwasher models $799 or higher, or that it applied to all models listed in the circular, shown on the website, and listed on the rebate form.

Less than 24 hours later, an inconspicuous change was made to the website — they removed the $799 minimum purchase language!

*MOUSE PRINT:

Lowe's correction

A Lowe’s spokesperson confirmed to Mouse Print* that the promotion in question did not have a minimum purchase threshold and all references to it were removed from their website. The company said that the $799 minimum purchase requirement was never intended to apply to this sale.

Incidentally, in the Boston area, Lowe’s charges $239 for installation. So getting that free is seemingly quite a savings. But, before you run to Lowe’s to buy a Bosch dishwasher because of this great deal, understand that Lowe’s plays by the book in terms of obtaining a local plumbing permit if required by your city or town. In my town, for example, Lowe’s will add a charge of $170 for the permit!!! Since this seemed rather high, MrConsumer contacted the city’s inspectional services department and found out that the actual cost is only $60. Lowe’s is charging an additional $110 for the time it takes a third party contractor to wait in line at city hall, it appears. And Lowe’s says that homeowners CANNOT get the permit on their own to save money. The Lowe’s spokesperson could not get a formal response by publication time as to why the company has such an anti-consumer policy.

In addition, Lowe’s, like other appliance sellers, does not include in the advertised price of the dishwasher the drain pipe, necessary adapters, and the electrical cord. That’s another $50. And haul away is yet $20 more.

So, what started as a great bargain is turning out to be a very expensive proposition unless you do the installation yourself.

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August 27, 2018

Thanks for Nothing #6

Filed under: Humor,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Here is the latest collection of advertisements that made us do a double-take when checking the fine print.

Example 1:

In many parts of the country, real estate prices have gone crazy. And that is certainly true in and around Boston… but this is ridiculous.

price increase

A jump from $300,000 to $1.5-million? The question is, which number is wrong?


Example 2:

Many Macy’s ads indicate that items are on “special” during certain hours and that after the special, the price will be higher. Apparently, that is not the case here.

Macy's after special price

During the limited time special, the price of these pillows was $20. After the “special,” they dropped to $12.99. The rebate was not limited to certain times of the day incidentally.


Example 3:

Here’s a nutty example from last December. Walmart had a small 5.5 ounce bag of Emerald mixed nuts on sale 47% off. Wow, you say… until you see the actual price.

Walmart's nutty price

What? This small bag of nuts had a regular price of $30.99, but they are “only” $16.36 on sale? Who would be nutty enough to pay such a high price? Now that eight months has passed, we have good news. The price has dropped to a mere $13.94 on their site! Thanks for nothing, Walmart.


Example 4:

In this disclosure from Sears, they try to explain that when they say that something is merely “on sale” that means only selected groups of items are actually on sale. But when they use the term “all” then it really does means all. Or does it?

Sears all on sale

Apparently when they use the term “all on sale” that really doesn’t mean “all” since over two dozen groups of items are not included. Thanks for nothing, Sears.

If you find a good example of a humorous surprise in the fine print, please submit it to Edgar(at symbol)MousePrint.org .

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