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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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June 4, 2018

Citi Cuts Back on Credit Card Benefits

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Don’t you hate those credit card notices that announce “important updates” or “changes,” but don’t tell you what the old terms were so you can compare?

Citi sent out an email last week announcing revised terms for many of its credit card benefits starting July 29. But without referring to the old brochure, you would have no idea if the particular benefits were improved or cut back. (Hint: those notices rarely contain good news.)

So Mouse Print* looked up the old benefits to compare them with the new changed ones.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Citi benefit changes

As you can see, some benefits like roadside and travel assistance were eliminated. Other benefits were cut back substantially, but not eliminated (thank goodness).

One of the benefits that has remained the same is Citi’s extended warranty. Unlike any other credit card, Citi (at least on its Double Cash card) will add 24 months of extended warranty coverage free to almost every manufacturer’s warranty. So a one-year warranty becomes a three-year warranty. This benefit is substantially better than other cards that merely promise to double the manufacturer’s warranty for up to an additional (one) year.




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May 14, 2018

The String Attached to Discover’s Free FICO Score Offer

Filed under: Finance,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:16 am

This week in Consumer World we featured an offer from Discover to get a free copy of your genuine FICO credit score. Before you sign up, however, you may want to check their privacy policy, which might better be described as their “not much privacy” policy.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Discover privacy

First, hats off to Discover for finding an easy way to convey a complex privacy policy without pages and pages of dense text.

But that is where the good news ends. Discover clearly says that at least for a “short time” they are going to market their services to you. But they are also going to share much of your information, like name, email, and your online activity with both their own affiliates and with companies they are not affiliated with. And they are going to share your birth date and social security number with companies that service or market their products.

This all made MrConsumer a little uneasy — an unusual feeling for someone who is generally privacy insensitive.

You have to decide if the reward of a free FICO score is worth the price of your personal information being shared with others.




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February 19, 2018

Don’t Bank on Higher Interest on Savings

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

Have you noticed that interest rates on savings accounts have been creeping up over the past few months? A review of bank ads a couple of weeks ago from the Boston Globe reveals some of the rate hikes.

Admirals-1

This is certainly much better than the fractions of one-percent that have been offered in recent years. But this bank has tucked a nasty provision in the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Admirals-2

That’s right, to get the advertised rate you have to deposit a minimum of $200,000. Thanks for nothing, Admirals Bank.

Of course, this was not the only bank ad in the Globe. A few days earlier, HarborOne bank offered a higher rate with better terms.

HarborOne-1

*MOUSE PRINT:

HarborOne-2

This bank only requires one-eighth the minimum deposit of the first bank — $25,000 — to get a higher interest rate.

But we are not done. Another ad in the same paper as the Admirals Bank ad is even more generous.

Metro-1

*MOUSE PRINT:

Metro-2

Now we’re up to 1.50 percent with a $25,000 deposit. But one final ad in the same paper tops them all.

Belmont-1

*MOUSE PRINT:

Belmont-2
Belmont-3

Bingo. One and a half percent on balances of only $10 or more from Belmont Savings Bank. But why hide that great fact in the fine print?

To the other banks: How about being upfront and posting your minimum deposit requirement right next to the advertised rate that grabbed the reader’s attention?




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November 6, 2017

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts:
Free Quicken 2018 CDs Come with Costly Catch

Filed under: Computers,Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:50 am

Quicken 2018 Upgrade CDOver a million Quicken software users are in for a costly surprise if they install the free upgrade CD that many received in the mail last week. Consumer World is warning them that the 2018 upgrade could triple their cost of the popular personal money management program.

Starting with the 2018 edition, the new owner of Quicken (H.I.G. Capital) is converting the software to a subscription service and charging a regular annual fee of $49.99 for Quicken Deluxe. If not renewed, the user faces the loss of online functionality to update account transactions and pay bills.

Quicken $49.99

The previous owner, Intuit, required purchasers to upgrade only every three years or lose online access. The list price for the three year program then was $74.99, but was often on sale for $50 or less, and even lower when bundled with TurboTax.

“This is a pure money grab by Quicken’s new owners,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “The original intentional crippling of the software after three years was bad enough, but now reducing it to just one year in essence triples the cost for many, and will drive away thousands of users.”

How did the new management disclose their major change in terms for 2018 in the fancy three-fold mailer that accompanied the upgrade CD? It was only in a hard-to-read fine print footnote.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Quicken 2018 fine print Click to enlarge

For those who cannot read that, it says that a purchase would entitle users to [only] one year of Quicken, that data downloads stop at the end of the term, and that users’ memberships would be automatically renewed each year and users charged the then current renewal rate.

When Quicken introduced annual subscriptions in Canada earlier this year, it utilized an additional ploy to encourage annual renewals. It disabled the ability to even add transactions manually if the software was not renewed after a year. Following public criticism alleging that the company was holding users’ data hostage, they relented and lifted that restriction.

Echoing the company CEO’s open letter to customers about the changes, a spokesperson for Quicken explained that the primary reason for instituting annual renewals was so that their technical team can concentrate on continually improving a single version of the software. Currently the company has to separately update the 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions. He did acknowledge, however, that they are getting “negative feedback” about the pricing change.

Dworsky challenged the company’s justification suggesting that they could have just as easily introduced a single version of the software good for three years from the date of installation rather than just one year.

Quicken was spun off from a company that also engaged in tactics to “encourage” customers to upgrade. Two years ago, Intuit created a self-inflicted public relations nightmare when it changed the functionality of its most popular version of TurboTax tax preparation software to force users to upgrade to a more expensive version. After a public outcry, the company restored the software to its original form.

Consumer World recommends that current users of Quicken 2016 and 2017 continue using those versions since they are still fully functional until April 2019 and April 2020, respectively. But, they should lodge a complaint with the company now (here and here) if they are upset by the pricing changes.




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