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September 14, 2020

Need a New Refrigerator Fast? Don’t Count On It!

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:45 am

MrConsumer had a refrigerator emergency about a week ago. His five-year-old Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator was climbing in temperature from a perfect 37 degrees to an out-of-spec 42 degrees. Both the freezer and refrigerator sections were filled to the brim, and I didn’t want to suffer hundreds of dollars of food losses.

But how do you get a repair person on the weekend and then probably have to wait days or weeks for a part to arrive? Well, maybe the faster method was to buy a new refrigerator. So MrConsumer checked Sears.com and found the current version of his exact model which is one of the very few of this capacity that just fits through his back door and between his cabinets.

The initial search indicated it could be delivered in “3+ days” which might just make it in time. But clicking on the detail revealed the inconvenient truth (and also that Sears had stopped free delivery).

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sears Kenmore fridge

What? Three days became over a month for delivery. So now it was time to check Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy for the Whirlpool or Maytag version of this model. (My Kenmore was made by Whirlpool.)

The news at those stores wasn’t much better. Either those models were not available at all in my area, or the wait was anywhere from over three weeks to three months.

Best Buy Maytag


Best Buy Whirlpool Home Depot - Whirlpool


Lowe's Maytag Lowe's Whirlpool

With fast delivery of a replacement not a possibility, I started freaking out and tinkering with the temperature controls which have always been finicky. Lo and behold, the refrigerator came back to life, and my crisis was seemingly over. Whewww.

Nonetheless, not being able to get a replacement major appliance quickly was news to me and has not been widely reported. We asked three retailers why this was happening, but they were not talking. Informal chats with salespeople at Lowe’s and Home Depot, however, reveal that COVID-19 is the culprit. They said there have been huge increases in home appliance sales, not just refrigerators, and that manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand.

Indeed, Lowe’s is now displaying this warning on its website:

Lowe's warning

So if you need a major appliance in a hurry, you might not get your first choice for a while.

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• • •

September 7, 2020

Airlines Drop $200 Change Fees, But…

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:33 am

Last week, United Airlines made a bold move: it dropped its $200 domestic change and cancellation fee. In short order, American, Delta and Alaska all chimed in making similar announcements. So even on a nonrefundable ticket, if you want to change your flight or postpone it, you can do so without that financial penalty.

Change fees

The fine print of the new rules is not quite as rosy as the headlines, however, particularly for bargain hunters.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“Basic economy” fares — the least expensive seats you can buy on the major airlines — are NOT included in the new plan. So you’ll still have to fork over $200 for changes. In a moment of unexpected generosity, American, United, and Delta all said that basic economy tickets purchased by December 31, 2020 will also be granted free changes.

There are some slight nuances in how the various airlines are implementing the new rules. On United, for example, if you exchange a $300 ticket for a $200 ticket, they will not give you back the difference even as a credit toward future travel. American, however, will. And Delta will only commit to providing a voucher for the difference for flights booked this year.

A bit of additional good news was contained in the airlines’ announcements. You can now standby for an earlier flight the same day without having to pay a change fee. It is unclear whether this also applies to basic economy fare passengers starting in 2021, however.

For complete rules, check with your airline since the rules keep changing. Here is a good summary of the American and Delta changes, and the ones for United.

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• • •

August 31, 2020

Chrysler’s Lifetime Warranty Leaves Many With High Repair Bills

Filed under: Autos,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

As Consumer World celebrates is 25th anniversary this week, we look back to 2007 when Mouse Print* published a story about a just-announced “lifetime powertrain warranty” that Chrysler was offering on its vehicles. The gist of the story was that while this warranty sounded great in their advertising, neither the local dealers checked, nor Chrysler’s website, nor their customer service department could provide us with any details about what exactly was covered. We wanted to check the fine print but could not until finally their PR department was able to provide a copy of the warranty. We then reported on a provision that could easily trip-up buyers.

Chrysler see dealer

As it turns out, over the years, scores of purchasers who brought their cars back for free repairs under the lifetime warranty were denied coverage because of that very clause we warned people about.

*MOUSE PRINT:

They failed to follow a tiny provision that was tucked into their warranty and required owners to have their car’s power train inspected by Chrysler within 60 days of each five-year anniversary of their car.

G. Inspections
In order to maintain the Lifetime Powertrain Limited Warranty, the person or entity covered by this Powertrain Limited Warranty must have a powertrain inspection performed by an authorized Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep dealer once every 5 years. This inspection will be performed at no charge. The inspection must be made within sixty (60) days of each 5 year anniversary of the in-service date of the vehicle. You must have the inspection performed to continue this coverage.

In May 2020, more than two dozen Chrysler owners around the country filed suit against the company after being told that their warranty was void because they didn’t comply with the inspection requirement. Thus, they had to pay out of pocket for all needed repairs. Their lawyers argued that most of these car buyers had no idea that this was even a requirement, saying they never got the full language of the warranty, just as we had trouble obtaining it.

Chrysler petitioned the court to dismiss the case arguing that purchasers did not follow the requirements of the warranty to have their cars inspected every five years in order to keep the lifetime warranty in effect and therefore were not entitled to free repairs. The company also claimed that details of the warranty including the inspection requirement were contained in a press release and various news stories published at the time. (Note to Chrysler: consumers are not required to read press releases and news stories.) They also claimed that purchasers, depending on when and what model year car they purchased, received warranty information in various written documents at various times.

It may take years before there is a final decision in this case. In the meantime, if you bought a 2006-2009 Chrysler vehicle when the lifetime warranty offer was in effect but were subsequently told your warranty was void and you would therefore have to pay for repairs to the power train, save your receipts. The consumer lawyers in this case are trying to have those lifetime warranties reinstated and to collect damages for those who were improperly charged.

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• • •

August 24, 2020

Scammers Rake in Millions But Only Have to Repay Thousands When Caught

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:04 am

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a series of proposed settlements it made with several companies that had been accused of charging upfront fees to students when signing up to use their debt relief services. However, under the telemarketing sales rule, a fee can only be charged after a debt is settled or renegotiated.

In total, these companies (along with two others who have not agreed to settle) allegedly collected more than $11.8 million in illegal fees. And while the settlements call for judgments in the full amount of money improperly collected, the amount of restitution and civil penalties that these companies actually have to pay may leave you speechless.

*MOUSE PRINT:

In one case, where the full $11.8 million was assessed against this particular defendant, here is all it has to repay:

full payment of this judgment will be suspended upon satisfaction of the obligations in Paragraph 14 of this Section and …

14. Within 10 days of the Effective Date, Defendant must pay to the Bureau, by wire transfer to the Bureau or to the Bureau’s agent, and according to the Bureau’s wiring instructions, $25,000 in partial satisfaction of the judgment as ordered in Paragraph 13 of this Section.

And to add insult to injury, here is the amount of civil penalties the company has to pay for violating the law.

*MOUSE PRINT:

…by reason of the violations of law alleged in the Complaint, and taking into account the factors in 12 U.S.C. § 5565(c)(3), Defendant must pay a civil money penalty of $1 to the Bureau. This amount is based on Defendant’s limited ability to pay as attested to in his financial statements listed in Section VIII above.

One dollar? That’s the penalty for this multimillion dollar violation?

According to the CFPB, what defendants are required to pay is based on their current financial condition. So $25,000 is all the bureau is requiring. But what about that measly dollar in fines? According to the law, as long as the CFPB assesses even the most minimal of fines — like $1 — that will entitle the bureau to pay some amount of additional restitution to aggrieved consumers taken from their Civil Penalty Fund (a victim compensation fund). It has not yet been determined if each victim will be made whole. (The CFPB failed to provide us even with a sense of what percentage of their losses victims historically are able to collect from the fund.)

It is unfortunately too typical that victims get ripped off, and the alleged masterminds of these schemes get to pocket most of the money even after being caught.

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• • •

August 17, 2020

Is Folgers Exaggerating The Number of Cups of Coffee Each Canister Makes?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:43 am

J.M. Smucker, the maker of Folgers coffee, has been the subject of several recent class action lawsuits, all claiming the same thing — the company grossly exaggerates the number of cups of coffee that each canister is capable of making. (One case is here, and another case is here.)

Folgers

For this particular Folgers variety, the company claims you get up to 210 cups of coffee (6 ounce size) per canister. And the instructions on the back tell you to use one tablespoon per 6 ounce cup or 1/2 cup of grounds for 10 “cups.”

Well, those crafty class action lawyers measured out the coffee to see what you actually got in each container (see below) and one of them mathematically figured out how many tablespoons weighing about five grams each there were.

*MOUSE PRINT:

For the French Roast coffee pictured above that is supposed to make 210 cups, brewing the coffee by the cup only yielded enough for 156 cups; while making the coffee in batches of 10 cups at time still came up short by yielding only 195 cups.

We asked Smucker how they came up with their yield of 210 cups, and for comments about the lawsuits. Despite multiple requests, the company did not respond. However, in a Florida lawsuit, Folgers argued that the amount a can makes varies greatly because coffee drinkers have different preferences for a cup’s strength. As such, it concluded, their claims are accurate.

Folgers is not alone in getting sued over their yield claims. Last month, the maker of Maxwell House coffee was sued for allegedly doing the same thing.

Thanks to Truth in Advertising for the case.

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