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November 14, 2016

Is It a Story or Is It an Ad in the LA Times?

Filed under: Business — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Every week, MrConsumer searches through thousands of consumer stories trying to find the most interesting and useful ones to present to Consumer World readers.

In a Google news search last week, this story about store brands came up and I thought it might be a candidate as a “Consumer Quickie.”

Google story

Clicking through, here is the story that came up.

LA Times "story"

Use scrollbar above on right to view.

The L.A. Times story was actually kind of boring and was not put in Consumer World. But, upon closer inspection, another reason for rejecting it became apparent (yellow highlighting below added).


LA Times disclosures

This is not a real story but rather an advertisement made to look like a news story. It is called “native advertising.” Under the recently adopted Native Advertising Guidelines of the FTC, this content had to be clearly labeled as a “paid advertisement” or “sponsor paid content” or similar wording. Indeed, it is so marked but is it really conspicuous enough? The “story” is so designed to look exactly like an LA Times story that one has to wonder whether two small disclosures can overcome the overall impression created by the webpage.

And why is Google indexing advertising and listing it as a news story?

We raised this exact issue two years ago with the LA Times (see original story), which at the time said:

“…the advertisement in question is clearly labeled as such and the only path for readers to find that content was intended to be via an panel that is also clearly labeled as advertising. However, your inquiry brought our attention to the fact that although this ad and others of the same ilk is not included in our News SiteMap and the page has “noindex nofollow”¯ directives, there appears to be a technical glitch with Google News. We are working with Google to find out why the content is indexed incorrectly and have the issue fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have removed the advertisement from our site to eradicate potential for further confusion.” — V.P. Communications, Los Angeles Times

We did not recontact the LA Times, but clearly, two years later the problem still exists.

• • •

November 7, 2016

With 100s of Exclusions, Kohl’s Coupons Questioned

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

For years, Macy’s coupons were the laughing stock of the retail industry because so many brands were excluded from the discounts offered. Well, it is time for Macy’s to step aside because they are being displaced by a new coupon exclusion leader, Kohl’s.

It certainly looks like a good deal to get $10 off a $30 purchase at Kohl’s with this grand opening coupon:

$10 off

But then you read the fine print, and learn there are exclusions:


coupon exclusions

In fact, there are so many exclusions that Kohl’s had to create a web page to list them all!


Kohl's exclusions

Use scrollbar above on right to view.

Good going, Kohl’s, you’ve seemingly excluded hundreds of brands. That even challenges the six foot long disclaimer by Sears last year excluding things from its big “Friends & Family” sale.

• • •

October 31, 2016

Citi Enlarges the Fine Print, But a Clever Ploy Lurks Within

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:09 am

We all periodically receive a “card agreement” from credit card issuers. It is usually a small, sixteen panel, accordion-pleated booklet full of fine print about how finance charges are calculated, how fees and payments will be applied, etc.

Citi card agreement

Citi, however, has seen the light. They just sent out a new and improved version on 8-1/2 by 11 paper, divided into numbered sections, printed using a decent size font, and written in relatively plain English.

new agreement

The new document is 15 pages long, however, which probably won’t encourage too many people to sit down and read it.

One big change in terms is Citi’s mandatory arbitration provision. They have heard regulators and advocates complain about these legal provisions that prohibit cardholders from going to court or participating in a class action lawsuit against the card issuer. Citi is giving their customers a one-time chance to opt-out of arbitration.

(Larger than usual) *MOUSE PRINT:

arbitration provision

You only have until December 22 to notify Citi that you want out of arbitration. But lest we think that Citi has completely become pro-consumer, they required you sent them a physical letter with your request to opt-out. You cannot call (we tried) and you cannot email. You have to write a real letter (remember them) and put a stamp on the envelope.

Citi has certainly taken an approach to assure that the fewest possible cardholders will take advantage of this one-time offer. At least they didn’t require the request to be notarized and sent via certified mail.

• • •

October 24, 2016

At Payless You Could Pay More Because of Dirty Tricks

Filed under: Autos,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:44 am

Consumer World reader Marcie S. is one determined consumer. She says she was ripped off by Payless Car Rental, which is a low-priced subsidiary of the Avis Budget Group. She was determined to get satisfaction not just for herself, but for the hundreds or perhaps thousands of other consumers who may have had similar problems with them.

Marcie says when she rented a car from Payless, they did something unusual:

Payless Car Rental pre-charges the customers’ credit card for a full tank of gas, stating the charge will be reversed once the car is returned with a full tank of gas. Upon return, they inspect the car and if the gas tank is full they note it on the return receipt. They do not automatically reverse the charges. Rather, you are directed to call 1-800-Payless where they open up a customer service ticket. There, the claim is classified as a fuel charge “dispute.”

They reply via ticket that they require ALL of the following to be met in order for your fuel charge “dispute” to be considered for review:

1) A physical receipt from the gas station noting the address and number of gallons purchased;
2) Gas station must be located within 5 miles of rental drop-off;
3) The receipt must have a time and date stamp. They will only accept the claim if the purchase was made within 30 minutes of drop-off time.

These requirements are non-contractual and extremely unlikely to have been met, especially with no knowledge of said requirements beforehand. They will NOT accept the rental return with the fuel reading marked “FULL” as proof. The ticket is then closed. There is no recourse and no way to escalate this situation.

Wow. Could Marcie’s experience be unique and came about as the result of a rogue agent’s actions? Apparently not. There are hundreds of complaints online about Payless, which average consumers never see until it is too late. Here are some of their alleged practices:


  • Issuing reservations at one price, but charging more at the time of rental;
  • Cramming charges, such as optional insurance, onto bills after the customer has declined the coverage;
  • Cramming charges such as for roadside assistance onto bills without oral disclosure or permission;
  • Misrepresenting insurance charges as being required when in fact they are optional;
  • Failing to refund fuel deposits after representing that they will be credited upon return of the car fully fueled;
  • Failing to fully disclose fuel refilling requirements prior to rental;
  • Representing there was no charge for an additional driver, then assess such charges;
  • Representing that certain fees are refundable upon return of the vehicle when such is not the case;
  • Provide the customer with one receipt with a certain price, and subsequently provide a receipt with a higher price;
  • and many others…

    Many customers report they were charged hundreds of dollars more than they bargained for. Some would even call Payless’ actions bordering on criminal behavior.

    Marcie got her money back from her credit card company but she wasn’t going to let Payless keep ripping off customers. She was able to collect the complaints of other consumers, complained to state AGs without much success, organized a private Facebook group with over 250 members who had complaints, and searched dozens and dozens of law firms until she found one to take the case.

    Last month, two law firms filed a class action lawsuit against Payless, alleging many of the things mentioned above.

    The New York Times asked Avis Budget (Payless’ parent) to comment on the lawsuit, but they declined. But we welcome your views below.

    And to Marcie… we need more consumers like you who don’t take no for answer.

  • • • •

    October 17, 2016

    When is “Sold by Amazon” Not the Same as “Bought from Amazon”?

    Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:45 am

    Mouse Print* reader Chris L. recently purchased a $1,900 piano from Amazon and was offered three months of online piano lessons for free as part of the deal.

    Amazon piano

    When he didn’t receive an email with his promotional code from Amazon for the free piano lessons, he contacted customer service via chat. An hour and 20 minutes later, nine representatives later, and a bazillion bogus excuses later, he finally extracted a promise that he would be sent the appropriate promotional code for the piano lessons. But, he never received it.

    Finally he received an email explaining the real reason he never got the free piano lessons — he got tripped up by the fine print.

    The original offer and the terms and conditions used magic words that most people wouldn’t understand had a very specific meaning.


    amazon piano

    Piano terms

    Although our consumer purchased the piano at, he did not buy it from He bought it from a third party marketplace seller found on the Amazon website and the order was “fulfilled by Amazon” meaning that Amazon shipped it out for the seller. The promotion, however, required that the piano be “sold and shipped” by Amazon alone.

    Would anyone ever catch that nuance? And why was it promoted on a page where the offer didn’t apply?

    Fortunately for Chris, the actual company providing the free lessons,, provided him with three months of free lessons after he sent them proof of purchase.

    • • •
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