mouseprint: fine print of advertising
Go to Homepage

Subscribe to free weekly newsletter

Mouse Print*
is a service of
Consumer World
Follow us both on Twitter:

Updated every Monday!   Subscribe to free weekly newsletter.

July 21, 2014

If You Can’t Trust Consumer Reports to Keep Your Info Private…

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

  Consumer Reports offers a Car Pricing Service for $14 that provides car buyers with the invoice price of vehicles, as well as an even lower price — the Consumer Reports “bottom line” price — that subtracts out all dealer incentives, holdbacks, and rebates. It is a handy report for arming you with information to negotiate a deal more effectively.

R.L. of Massachusetts recently complained to Consumer World that immediately after signing up for the Car Pricing Service, she was inundated with telemarketing calls and emails from car dealers.

Here’s what happened. Not wanting to place her order online for a report on a 2014 Toyota Highlander, R.L. called the auto price customer service number at Consumer Reports at 800-880-4874. They took her contact information, email, phone number, etc. and said she would be receiving an email. She asked the representative to hold on to make sure she could access the report. She quickly breezed through its various sections. Just after R.L. hung up the phone, it rang. It was a local car dealer offering to sell her a 2014 Toyota Highlander. R.L. told him basically what he could do with his car and she called back Consumer Reports to complain that they had shared her personal information with car dealers. Consumer Reports responded “we don’t share that,” according to R.L., and told her that she could complain to “corporate” about the issue.

R.L. says that on the day she placed her order for the Consumer Reports pricing report, she received 15 to 16 phone calls from dealers from as far away as Florida (at least that’s what the caller I.D said), and about a half a dozen emails. By a point 10 days later, she said she had received another half dozen to a dozen phone calls and a total of about 30 emails. R.L.’s phone, incidentally, is on the do not call list.

According to a disclosure on the Consumer Reports website, the company does not share your email when buying one of these reports.


car pricing service

At the bottom of the ordering page is a link to their privacy policy (which actually takes you to a “privacy policy highlights” page). The full privacy policy is summarized in relevant part below:


If you (the consumer) disclose your personal information to third parties, their privacy policies govern, and not those of Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports only provides third parties with enough information for them to carry out the service for which they were hired. Other than that, third parties are seemingly authorized to only use anonymous data from Consumer Reports in most cases.

In the case of the Car Pricing Service, Consumer Reports jointly provides the reports with a company called TrueCar. And they have recently begun offering a free bonus when you buy a car pricing report — access to the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service operated by TrueCar. Build & Buy shows you discounted prices that local car dealers are offering on the car that you were just researching. As described, it is a service that the consumer can take advantage of if he/she so chooses, rather than a service that somehow automatically inundates users with sales offers.


…your identity is hidden from them [dealers]. If you choose, you will then have the option to send your contact and vehicle information to any of the dealers, and the dealers’ identities will be revealed to you.

What appears to have happened to R.L. is this: while she was perusing her car pricing report, she unknowingly entered “Build & Buy,” clicked a “next” button, and that sent dealers her telephone number and email address.

Before you criticize R.L. for poking around without reading, you have to see how Consumer Reports presented these pages to her, along with the representations they made.

The top of the first page of the Car Pricing Report looks like this:

car pricing 1

Most people would be interested to see what real dealers are charging, so the temptation to click “View Dealer Pricing” is strong given its prominence on page one.

After clicking twice, you are brought to this page asking you to verify your contact information:

build & buy 1

Only the most observant person would recognize that they left the Consumer Reports Car Pricing Service and were now in Consumer Reports Build & Buy. The consumer is assured that the reason they are being asked to enter their name, telephone and email is this:

In order to ensure your dealers honor your Guaranteed Savings, we collect your basic information.

There is no disclosure there whatsoever that the reason they are collecting your contact information is so that dealers can call and email you after you go a little deeper into Build & Buy.

So one innocently fills out the form, and then you see prices for your chosen car from three local dealers:

build & buy 2

Since the dealers’ names are not disclosed yet, the natural inclination is to click the “next” button which is labeled “Get Your Certificates.” These certificates have the location of the dealer and the discount price each one has guaranteed to offer you. Only if you catch the third bullet on the left do you see what really is going to happen next.


By clicking next, your information will be shared only with the dealer(s) you select. Your personal dealer representative(s) will call you within 24 hours to discuss availability.

You just, maybe unwittingly, gave this service permission to send your telephone number to a bunch of dealers. And although you didn’t give explicit permission to share your email, they will also be sending that to the dealers.

Incidentally, it appears that only these three dealers will receive your contact information. And Consumer Reports cleverly has the box pre-checked for each one to get your information.


Mouse Print* asked Consumer Reports to explain why R.L. started getting so many phone calls and emails after signing up for their pricing service considering their privacy policy seemed to forbid sharing of her personal information. And we also asked, if her contact information was being improperly shared, what they were going to do to correct the situation.

Consumer Reports explained how their site works and what likely happened to her. They also offered this statement:

…we provide a seamless connection to a customized Build & Buy service, powered by TrueCar, that connects consumers directly with auto dealers to get competitive prices from local dealers who are hel​d​ accountable for high customer satisfaction. Consumer Reports does not share any personal​ly​ identifiable information with third parties unless that is explicitly stated and required as is the case with our Build & Buy service. We regret any inconvenience that [R.L.] may have had as a result of ​using our product and have reached out to TrueCar to ask that [R.L.] no longer be contacted by any participating auto dealers. — Director of Communications and Social Media

R.L. explained to us that she was so upset that her information was shared with third parties because it was Consumer Reports that was doing the sharing — the last company she would expect to not respect her privacy.

Here’s our take: In an effort to make it appear that Consumer Reports was providing services itself to consumers to help them with car purchases, they rebranded services provided by a third party — TrueCar. Despite tiny disclaimers explaining the deal that Consumer Reports has with TrueCar, most people would have no idea that an independent third party was providing the actual service. So few consumers would realize that parts of Consumer Reports’ privacy policy allowing information to be shared with third parties actually applied in the case of these services.

Worse, explicit statements on the sign up page for both services said the consumer’s email would not be shared (Car Pricing Service) or misleadingly said that contact information was only being collected so that the saving promised would be honored by dealers (Build & Buy).

Consumer Reports/TrueCar could certainly provide the exact same Build & Buy service without passing on the consumer’s identity and personal contact information to car dealers. Both the consumer and the dealer could get written confirmation of the dealer’s name, the specifications of the consumer’s desired car, the price promised, and a code number representing that individual potential customer. Then, if the consumer chose to visit a particular dealer, the dealer could verify the offer by matching the code number given to the consumer with the one in their system.

We urge this most respected of consumer organizations to take a hard look at how they are presenting these car buying services, so that every user clearly understands when their personal information is going to be shared, and what the consequences of this sharing are — potentially a deluge of phone calls and email offers from local car dealers.

• • •

May 4, 2014

You ARE Going to Pay a Lot for This Muffler

Filed under: Autos — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:59 am

 MrConsumer admittedly does not know a lot about cars or car repairs, but doesn’t like to pay a lot when his 1996 Honda Accord needs fixing.

About 10 years ago, he had Meineke install a muffler with a lifetime warranty. Maybe five years later, it rusted through and needed replacement again. The “gotcha” with guarantees like this is that you have to pay for labor and other parts, and it comes out costing almost as much as replacing a conventional muffler. So when that muffler went again, MrConsumer decided to go to his trusted gas station mechanic instead.

After dropping off the car, the verdict came from the repairman by telephone: it would cost $400 to replace that muffler with another “lifetime warranty” one. MrConsumer gave the go-ahead, and the car was fixed a few hours later.

Scrutinizing the receipt, MrConsumer noted that the muffler itself was $260, but wondered what an auto parts store would have charged for it. Advance Auto Parts was $172.99 — nearly $90 less. Ugg. Autozone was $149.99 — $110 less, but there was a $50 additional rebate. Double ugg. And was $103.99 less 25% or $77.99 AND the $50 rebate also applied there. Shoot me now.

Then a brainstorm hit MrConsumer. The purchase was made with a Fidelity MasterCard that has a “price protection” benefit that would provide up to a $250 refund if a purchased item could be found for less elsewhere. As MrConsumer was relishing getting his $260 muffler for a mere $27.99, he checked the fine print of the bank’s price protection benefit.


What items are not covered?

The Price Protection program applies only to items purchased in the United States of America, including Alaska and Hawaii. This program does not cover any of the following:

Motorized vehicles of any kind and their parts and equipment, including, but not limited to, boats or watercraft, air vehicles, automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles.

Foiled again. Drats.

One last hope: what if the charge had been put on his Chase Freedom card instead? Nope. Their price protection policy excludes automobile “equipment.”

So MrConsumer learned an expensive lesson about car repair shops marking up the cost of parts, and will have to be content with at least getting back $50 under the manufacturer’s rebate.

• • •

April 1, 2013

No Joke, These Ads are Real

Filed under: Autos,Humor,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:30 am

To celebrate April Fools’ Day, Mouse Print* looks at the lighter side of fine print this week — advertisements that will make you shake your head and say “huh?”

Ad 1: Farrell Volvo

This is the tail-end of a radio ad for a local car dealership. Just the way the fine print in TV car ads is a blur, so is the disclaimer in this radio pitch:

Can’t hear it? Try this.

Ad 2: JC Penney “Clearance Sale”

For the past year, J.C. Penney has done away with sales and coupons. And at least according to this ad, they have eliminated clearance reductions as well:

JCP clearance

Ad 3: Macy’s “One-Day” Sale

Macy’s is known for running periodic “one-day” sales that last for two days with a “preview day” followed by the actual sale day. Here, however, they are giving readers a bit of a snow job:

Macy's One Dale Sale

• • •

September 24, 2012

Avis: $30 Off Your Next Rental?

Filed under: Autos,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:19 am

Mouse Print* reader Marc D. recently got a mail offer promising $30 off his next Avis rental if he would give them his email address.

Avis $30 offer

What he didn’t realize until after he received his $30 coupon was the offer was really $30 off a weekly rental.


Avis coupon

Since Marc’s “next rental” was not going to be a weekly one, he felt hoodwinked.

Mouse Print* wrote to Avis, asking what happened, and whether they would honor the no-strings-attached $30 offer for those who received the original offer.

“As a result of a printing error, the promotional insert did not specify that the offer was for a “weekly” rental. However, “weekly” is mentioned in several other places, including the outer envelope (see attached), the website/page where the customer provides his/her information to redeem the offer ( and the subsequent email offer. The erroneous promotional inserts have been discarded. New inserts have been printed and are currently being used.” — Avis spokesperson.

Fair enough, the disclosure WAS on the webpage where consumers had to sign-up, but was not on the offer sheet they received by mail. Some consumer protection advertising rules, however, state that the subsequent disclosure of the actual terms of an offer does not diminish the deceptive nature of the original offer that did not disclose those terms.

And what will Avis do for consumers who felt mislead about this offer?

“The $30 offer is being accepted on weekly rentals.” — Avis spokesperson.

In other words, nothing.

• • •

January 2, 2012

CarMD Pricing… Nurse!

Filed under: Autos,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

A friend recently called MrConsumer wanting him to look at an infomercial airing for a product called CarMD. Apparently this device claims to be a consumer version of the computer that dealers plug into your car in order to read the diagnostic repair codes. He said it costs about $120.

Checking their website, rather than calling the 800 number, seemed to reveal much lower prices online:

He was astonished to hear how much cheaper the device was on the Internet. But a closer look revealed the truth:


What? Multiply the price you see by three? Who has ever seen a price next to an “add to cart” button that was not the actual price you pay?

• • •
« Previous PageNext Page »
Powered by: WordPressPrivacy Policy
Mouse Print exposes the strings and catches buried in the fine print of advertising.
Copyright © 2006-2020. All rights reserved. Advertisements are copyrighted by their respective owners.