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October 10, 2011

Citi’s $400 in “Free” Giftcards Offer

Filed under: Finance,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:17 am

Citibank has been advertising what appears to be a very generous offer to encourage new customers to open a Citi checking account.

$400! That’s a lot better than a crappy toaster typically offered in the 1960s. The question, of course, is what do you have to do to get the $400 in giftcards? A lot.


  • You have to open a Citigold account.
  • You have to enroll that account in Thank You Rewards.
  • You have to initiate direct deposit.
  • You have to make at least one electronic payment for two consecutive months.
  • You have to wait 90 days after your qualifying transactions to have the 40,000 Thank You points deposited.
  • You have to keep the account open at least until the points are deposited.
  • There are required direct deposit/e-payments each month to get points, with changes starting in December.
  • If you can get over the hurdle of doing all that and waiting five or six months before your points get deposited (and longer to get your actual giftcards), you’re all set.

    Oh, wait. There’s more. The gold account has a steep monthly fee, and what may be one of the highest minimum balance requirements needed to waive the monthly fee.


    A fee of $30 a month? (And if you have to keep the account open for five or six months, that comes out to as much as $180 — eating up almost half your $400 in free giftcards.) Or, if you want to get that fee waived, you only need to keep $50,000 or $100,000 in the bank.

    Funny thing, taking everything into consideration, that free toaster from the 1960s is sounding better and better.


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    October 3, 2011

    OnStar Amends Privacy Policy to Snoop (More) on You

    Filed under: Autos,Electronics — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:49 am

    We have all seen the OnStar commercials where a poor soul has had a traffic accident and a reassuring voice comes over the loudspeaker asking the driver if everything is okay or if they need help. That’s the kinder, gentler OnStar.

    The more invasive OnStar is the one that is changing its privacy policy and terms and conditions statement, effective December 2011, to do a little extra snooping on its customers, and even on people who discontinue the OnStar service! [Current privacy policy, revised privacy policy.]


    In addition to the other reasons they collect data such as diagnostic trouble codes, oil life remaining, tire pressure, fuel economy and odometer readings; information about crashes involving your vehicle, including the direction from which your vehicle was hit, which air bags have deployed, and safety belt usage about your vehicle, they have allowed themselves the ability to collect:

    “the location and the approximate speed of your Vehicle based on the Global Positioning System (“GPS”) satellite network” “for any purpose, at any time, provided that following collection of such location and speed information identifiable to your Vehicle, it is shared only on an anonymized basis.”

    Some critics suggest that GPS information is never anonymous, because GPS coordinates can pinpoint places such as your home address.


    They also disclose for the first time that they keep tracking your car even if you cancel your OnStar service.

    “Unless the Data Connection to your Vehicle is deactivated, data about your Vehicle will continue to be collected even if you do not have a Plan. It is important that you convey this to other drivers, occupants, or subsequent owners of your Vehicle. You may deactivate the Data Connection to your Vehicle at any time by contacting an OnStar Advisor.”

    On September 27, after much public criticism and a call for an investigation by a New York congressman, OnStar decided to retract this part of their planned changes to their policy.

    All the other changes will be implemented including that they now say they can share your data with their own affiliates for “marketing purposes,” and have removed the section about requiring your consent first:


    OnStar certainly provides great lifesaving services, and while their privacy policy gives you the ability to opt-out, their data collection practices and plans to give or sell your data to law enforcement agencies and marketing companies may nonetheless be disturbing to some. One such person is Jonathan Zdziarski, who discovered these changes and writes persuasively about it.


    • • •

    September 26, 2011

    The Sensa Weight Loss Potentially Costly “Free” Trial

    Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:08 am

    You may have seen a full page ad in Parade magazine yesterday promising a 30-day free trial of Sensa, a product that claims you can “lose 30+ pounds without dieting”. You supposedly just sprinkle the stuff on everything you eat “to help reduce cravings, curb your appetite and help you feel full faster.”

    When you visit their website from the link provided and click on the free offer, here’s what you see:

    It looks like they have upped the offer because they are now going to send you a “free 2-month starter kit*” when you agree to pay $7.95 shipping and handling. There is also a smaller representation to “try Sensa Free for 30 days*”. If you follow the asterisk to near the bottom of the page, all is explained, or is it?


    “*Product is Free to try for 30 days! Pay only a small shipping and handling fee.”

    Out of curiosity, MrConsumer clicked the “terms and conditions” link at the very bottom of the page. Normally this contains information about website usage, copyright infringment, etc. This time, however, it revealed the true nature of this offer.


    Terms of Offer
    You have a full 30 days to try your SENSA 2-Month Starter Kit. If you enjoy SENSA, do nothing and you will be billed for the 2-Month Starter Kit one low payment of $89.95 at the end of the free trial on 10/25/2011. That’s a 35% SAVINGS off the retail price! If you decide to keep your 2-Month Starter Kit, you will be automatically enrolled in our SENSA AutoShip Delivery Service. As part of the SENSA AutoShip Delivery Service, you will receive a fresh 2-month supply of SENSA every 60 days at the low price of only $89.95 so you never run out. You will be charged this price every 60 days, billed to your credit card, plus $7.95 shipping and handling.

    Someone who just blindly ordered from this “free offer” without paying attention, would likely get an expensive surprise on October 25 when their credit card gets charged $89.95 (not even a full 30 days after they receive the magic powder). Worse, two months later, they will get another shipment of the stuff and another charge because of the automatic shipment plan they may have unknowingly entered into.

    It is high time that companies like this became straight forward in their advertising, and told you upfront what the deal really is. NOTE: We did not go through the ordering process to see what disclosures, if any, are given before and after entering one’s credit card number to cover the shipping and handling charges.


    • • •

    September 19, 2011

    Get Your FICO Credit Score Free?

    Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:20 am

    Taking a page from companies advertising free credit reports, a number of firms are now promoting free credit scores, including the company that invented the FICO score:

    No disclaimers in the ad.  Nothing.  Maybe it’s really totally free!

    When you click the ad, you are taken to this page on the MyFICO site:

    Still no obvious strings. No asterisk after the word “free”. Go ahead and click the picture to see it full size. There, on the bottom is the VERY small disclaimer that reads:


    IMPORTANT INFORMATION: When you order your free FICO Score here, you will begin your 10-day trial membership in Score Watch®. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 10-day trial period, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.

    The free score is only free when you sign up for a free trial, and if you fail to cancel that free trial within a short 10-days, you will be billed $14.95 monthly.

    If you missed that inconspicuous disclosure and click to get your free score, you will be asked to part with a lot of personal information, including your date of birth, social security number, password, and full name and address — all before you are told on a subsequent page that you have to give a credit card number and it will be dinged $14.95 a month if you don’t cancel quickly.

    FreeCreditReport.com got better about disclosure after the FTC went after them. And a new consumer law, the CARD Act requires better disclosure in ads promising free credit reports where you are really signing up for a trial of a continuing service. The law does not explicitly extend to offers of free credit scores, however. And therein lies the problem. Though general consumer law would require better disclosure, not until enough complaints get filed against “free score” offers, will disclosure likely improve.


    • • •

    September 12, 2011

    Detergent and Cookies Downsized

    Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

    The latest products to downsize have keep the same old package, but decided to put less product inside.

    P&G has just downsized its largest containers of Cascade dishwasher detergent ActionPacs.


    In surprisingly large print, the company decreased the number of loads you get from each container from 110 to 105. The trouble is that most consumers have not memorized the number of loads that each size container of Cascade provides, so they are not likely to recognize they are now getting less for the same price.

    Also downsizing but keeping the package the same is Mrs. Freshley’s.


    Here, instead of getting 12 Buddy Bars in each box (six packages of two), you now get only eight (four packages of two) — a decrease of one-third! Most people, including MrConsumer would not have noticed this because the boxes are the exact same size. Mrs. Freshley’s indicated that in fact they make both eight bar and 12 bar products, but that it is the retailer who decides which to carry. In this case, it was Dollar Tree which apparently decided it could make more money selling the eight pack for a dollar.

    Thanks to Cathy B. for spotting the Mrs. Freshley’s change. She also notes that Mrs. Freshley’s Swiss Rolls are being cut similarly, but the box is smaller.


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