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September 16, 2019

Dog Walking Company Sued Over Fine Print

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

This summer, three New Yorkers sued a California dog walking service, Wag!, for various alleged misleading representations.

Wag! maintains a website and app to allow dog owners to schedule local dog walkers and dog sitters on demand. Thnk of it as an Uber service for pets. The company says walkers go through an extensive vetting process and that each walk is insured and bonded, and they guarantee home insurance of $1,000,000 for “extra peace of mind.” Their website emphasizes “trust and safety” — “we treat your dog just like we’d want ours to be treated.”

Wag insurance
Composite Illustration

The lawsuit, however, points out that contrary to the great care promised, the company’s terms and conditions tries to absolve itself of most responsibility.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The Services includes a marketplace technology platform that connects Pet Care Providers with Pet Owners. We do not provide any pet care services and [we] make no representations or warranties about the quality of dog walking, boarding, sitting, … Wag! does not employ, recommend or endorse Pet Owners or Pet Care Providers, and we are not responsible or liable for the performance or conduct of Pet Owners or Pet Care Providers, whether online or offline. Wag! provides Pet Care Providers with access to third-party vendors that perform background checks and verifications. Wag! itself does not conduct background checks and does not independently verify information in the background checks. Wag! is not responsible or liable in any manner for the background checks. [Emphasis added]

These provisions and others were added recently to the company’s terms and condition statement after the lawsuit was filed.

Despite promises of a million dollars in insurance being provided, in Wag’s prior terms and conditions the company attempted to cap its liability at a mere $500:

*MOUSE PRINT:

IN NO EVENT SHALL WAG!’S TOTAL LIABILITY TO YOU IN CONNECTION WITH THE SERVICES FOR ALL DAMAGES, LOSSES AND CAUSES OF ACTION EXCEED FIVE HUNDRED U.S. DOLLARS (US $500).

A spokeperson for Wag! released the following statement:

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, ensuring the safety and security of all those who use the Wag! platform is of utmost importance to us. Every day, thousands of pets are cared for using the Wag! platform. Accidents and incidents are rare, but we know the impact even one can have on the family involved. We are committed to the safety and security of our platform…”

Various media outlets around the country, but particularly in the New York area, have reported unfortunate incidents that have befallen dogs under Wag’s care, including some deaths.




Please Help Support Mouse Print*

give support For 24 years, Consumer World has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, original stories, and independent investigations. But we no longer receive financial support from a corporate sponsor. So reluctantly, MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your help to keep Mouse Print* and Consumer World available free. Your gift will be most appreciated.


• • •

September 9, 2019

NBC TODAY Show Caught Up in Diet Pill Scam

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:39 am

NBC’s TODAY Show has innocently gotten caught up in a diet pill scam that Consumer World discovered.

I was recently on a local television station’s website (CBS 19) and saw what might be an interesting story about Kelly Clarkson losing 105 pounds.

CBS 19 ad

Upon clicking the box, you are taken to what looks like the TODAY Show website where the story becomes even more intriguing because of the headline — “Kelly Clarkson Forced to Lose 105 Pounds by NBC Producers.” According to the story, producers of “The Voice” were requiring Clarkson to lose at least 50 pounds and if she did not she would lose her role as head coach on that program per the terms of her contract. Her lawyer was unable to negotiate a compromise.


View full size

Ellen DeGeneres apparently caught wind of the controversy and recommended a particular product to Clarkson to help her lose weight.

The TODAY Show writer of this story then describes her own test of that product. And with that, MrConsumer realized he had been duped. This whole story was really an advertisement for Keto 101 weight loss pills. But why had the TODAY Show become involved with something shady like this?

*MOUSE PRINT:

The answer is, they didn’t. The promoters of these diet pills apparently hijacked the format of the TODAY Show website and created their own phony story using the TODAY logo. The URL (Internet address) of the web page was diet.healthy-service.com rather than today.com. In fact, they even changed all the TODAY menu links to their own ordering page.

Pill URL

As with many of these product promotions, there was a long list of phony consumer testimonials near the end followed by a free trial offer of a 30-day supply of these pills. Just pay $4.95 for shipping, they claimed. But the ordering page had its own hidden gotchas.

order form

*MOUSE PRINT:

terms expanded

Only when you expand the offer terms section do you learn you will be charged $89.99 for pills if you don’t cancel during the trial period because you have been enrolled in a membership plan with automatic shipment of refills every month.

As if that is not bad enough, if one looks at the complete terms and conditions section, you learn that although they are sending you 30 days worth of pills, the free trial is only 14 days. And the free trial period begins on the day you place your order and not when you receive it. So it is possible that your free trial period could expire before you even get the product.

*MOUSE PRINT:

terms highlighted

We notified the folks at the TODAY Show about their website being appropriated by these pill pushers. They responded that “the problem is they are very hard to track down… [I’ll] send them to our legal department, so they could get some type of cease and desist action going.”

It should be noted that the above fake TODAY Show web page was just one of four variants that we found, all using similar tactics and slightly different pill names. What’s particularly bold about these fake sites is that they are using the real names and look and feel of actual TV news sites as noted in our main story, rather than made-up names like “Health News Today” as they used to.

Reader beware!

If you have been a victim of one of these look-alike major media sites, please tell us in detail what happened in the comments.




Please Help Support Mouse Print*

give support For 24 years, Consumer World has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, original stories, and independent investigations. But we no longer receive financial support from a corporate sponsor. So reluctantly, MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your help to keep Mouse Print* and Consumer World available free. Your gift will be most appreciated.


• • •

July 29, 2019

Cash Back Credit Card Correction;

Group Asks FTC to Investigate Prime Day Promotions

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:05 am

CORRECTION AND UPDATE:

Before our main story, I wanted to advise readers that the PayPal 2% Cashback credit card mentioned here two weeks ago as a good substitute for the Citi Double Cash card which is dropping almost all benefits soon does NOT have the benefits referred to on its website nor as confirmed by its customer service agents with whom I double-checked. That card only has one benefit – ID theft protection — but not extended warranty, price protection, return protection, CDW coverage, lost luggage coverage, etc. contrary to the link from the benefits section of its website states. I apologize to anyone who applied for this card as a result of the recommendation. I will be cutting up my card shortly. Synchrony Bank, the card’s issuer, just provided us with a response that basically says they are going to correct their link:

…we are taking some action to help further clarify the specific benefits of the PayPal Cashback Mastercard when a consumer is looking on the web. Already consumers can see the two key benefits including ID Theft Protection and Microchip technology. Additionally, we plan to post a specific version of the guide to benefits that you can find here.


Last week, Public Citizen, a Washington-based public interest consumer advocacy organization, sent a letter to the FTC asking them to crack down on websites that promote the sale of products from Amazon.com without clearly disclosing when they have a financial incentive to tout those items.

The group pointed out dozens of instances of stories published two weeks ago on popular websites and through social media that spotlighted certain items as great deals during Amazon’s big Prime Day sale. In most cases, the affiliate relationship the publisher had with Amazon was either not disclosed at all or poorly disclosed. (We documented this very issue last December in this story.)

In an affiliate relationship, a publisher or even a person with just a social media presence can earn a small commission on the sale of products if a reader clicks a link from the website or post and actually purchases the item. Under the Federal Trade Commission’s testimonial and endorsement guidelines if there is a financial connection between an endorser and the product being touted, that fact must be clearly disclosed. Similarly under the FTC’s native advertising guidelines when advertising masquerades as editorial content, clear disclosure of a sponsorship relationship must be made.

As one example of what is going on, Public Citizen cited this story from the Today Show website:

Today Show promotion

The story recommended a couple of dozen items as “the best Prime Day deals.” What the reader didn’t know was that NBC had a financial interest in the sale of those items.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Only if the reader clicked the “read more” link (and they would have no particular reason to do so based on the content that was already showing), would they learn NBC’s little secret).

NBC Today Show disclosure

The program makes a small commission if a reader buys any of the items featured through the links provided.

The problem here was that NBC hid that fact instead of openly disclosing it. At least their specific choice of which items to highlight was an independent editorial decision based on merit. This is how Consumer World selects its Bargain of the Week (which very rarely contains an affiliate link).

Last year, we called out ABC and others for an even bigger problem — running entire “deal” segments on their morning shows, where the network was getting a cut of the sale of each item featured, and not clearly disclosing that fact at the beginning of the segment. See our story.




Please Help Support Mouse Print*

give support For 24 years, Consumer World has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, original stories, and independent investigations. But we no longer receive financial support from a corporate sponsor. So reluctantly, MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your help to keep Mouse Print* and Consumer World available free. Your gift will be most appreciated.


• • •

May 27, 2019

Google Ran An Illegal Lottery — And We Got Them to Stop

Filed under: Internet,Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

Last Wednesday evening, Google sent out an email to Google Assistant customers announcing a sweepstakes to win a free Google Home Max speaker.

Google email

To get your chance to win, you had to either buy a 2-pack of Google Home Minis smart speakers yourself (or anything else from the Google store), or get a friend to buy two using a special link that would secure your entry. At the bottom of the offer was a terms and conditions link with the contest rules.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Despite the rules saying multiple times “no purchase necessary” to enter the sweepstakes, they provided no free means of entry. You or someone else had to make a purchase for a chance to win. And that makes this an illegal lottery, against federal law and the gambling laws of virtually every state. “Paying a price for the chance of a prize” is the classic definition of a lottery. To convert an illegal lottery into a legal sweepstakes, the promoter must always include a free means of entry.

But Google didn’t do that.

We wrote to their PR folks about 12 hours after their email was sent, contacting both Google and its parent company, Alphabet, pointing out the problem and asking how they were going to remedy it. By that evening Google sent out a new email to customers entitled “Update to Home Max Sweepstakes.”

Google Revised Email

Miraculously, all mentions of a purchase being necessary disappeared from the promotion. And the sweepstakes rules were changed to include an additional alternate means of free entry.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Google updated sweepstakes rules

Did Google or Alphabet reply to our email, or even send a note of appreciation for getting them out of potential legal hot water? Nope.




Please Help Support Mouse Print*

give support For 24 years, Consumer World has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, original stories, and independent investigations. But we no longer receive financial support from a corporate sponsor. So reluctantly, MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your help to keep Mouse Print* and Consumer World available free. Your gift will be most appreciated.


• • •

April 22, 2019

Wayfair Called Out on Exaggerated Savings Claims

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:45 am

Wayfair, the large online seller of home goods, had its big “Way Day” sale on April 10th and 11th, promising the “lowest prices of the year” and “up to 80% off.” In the process of checking it out, we discovered often exaggerated savings claims and misleading price comparisons, and not just on Way Day.

Wayfair Way Day

 

Perusing those six categories, some of the discounts seemed too good to be true. For example:

Wayfair memory foam mattress on Way Day

Here they’re claiming this store brand memory foam mattress is on sale for $349.99, marked down from what looks like their $2,100 regular price. That’s 83-percent off, seemingly saving shoppers $1,750!

Many other items were advertised at 40 – 80% off, with some discounts so large as to raise questions about the legitimacy of the savings claimed. To check this out, Consumer World conducted a spot-check of a dozen deeply discounted items from the six categories featured above on April 10, 2019 – the first day of Wayfair’s Way Day 36-hour sale.

Here is the cart with those 12 items:

Wayfair Way Day cart

Scroll down the list.

You’ll see the amazing discounts above that Wayfair was offering.

But the question was, when the Way Day sale was over, would all these items revert to the higher price shown? Or, would you save almost as much if you delayed your purchase or missed the sale and returned later? To find out, we went back the day after the sale ended, April 12, to check the prices of the same dozen items.

Wayfair day after cart

Scroll down the list.

One item we checked was that memory foam mattress pictured at the top of this story. It was on sale during Way Day for $349.99 and was still on sale right afterwards and only slightly higher — $376.99. So customers who purchased that item on Way Day when it was said to be 83% off, really only saved a mere $27.

Wayfair mattress after Way Day

 

All the items went up in price right after Way Day, some by only a little and some by much more. This certainly suggests that the company did lower its everyday prices for the sale and it was a good day to shop there.

But none of the items in our spot-check reverted to the stated crossed out price (the “strike-through price” like the $2,100 reference price for the mattress). In fact, while Wayfair’s claimed savings on Way Day for the items in the sample averaged 71% off, the actual savings on Way Day compared to Wayfair’s everyday prices right after the sale only averaged out to be a 16% discount.

*MOUSE PRINT:

What Wayfair does in their product listings for many sale items, and not just on Way Day, is make it appear that their own regular price is being cut by crossing it out and claiming it is now being offered at an often large percentage-off discount. The trouble is, this is not how Wayfair’s discounts actually work.

Take the mattress pictured above, for example. Is the $2,100 strike-through price really their regular price? Wayfair buries the answer in a 42,000-word page of fine print accessible through an inconspicuous “terms of use” link. Its strike-through price is really the list price or the highest price they ever offered the item, according to that disclosure.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Wayfair terms

The Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Against Deceptive Pricing says that comparison to a high list price or regular price that is rarely charged can mislead buyers as to the discount they actually receive.

Various states have similar false advertising laws. For example, in Massachusetts where Wayfair is headquartered, the company appears to run afoul of state consumer law by not “clearly and conspicuously” stating the basis for its price comparisons and discount claims. Simply put, under the attorney general’s regulations [940 CMR 6.05], when sellers advertise an item as “X% off”, it automatically means the discount is off the seller’s own regular prices – just the way a shopper would understand the claim. If sellers intend the savings claim to be a comparison to any other type of price, they have to finish the comparison — X% off what — such as by stating “83% off list price.” Similarly, putting a line through a higher price suggests it is the seller’s own regular price that is being reduced unless it is labeled otherwise. Wayfair’s product listings fail to make these critical distinctions and disclosures.

And Wayfair has an additional burden. List price comparisons are not even allowed under Massachusetts law unless the seller can demonstrate that a reasonable number of sellers in its trade area actually offer the goods at the stated list price.

We asked Wayfair to comment on our findings and their pricing policies. The company did not respond to two inquiries.

In our view, shoppers are misled when retailers make illusory savings claims based on inflated regular prices rarely if ever charged or by making comparisons to list prices that virtually no one ever pays. Why can’t sellers just play it straight?

Consumer World is turning over its findings to the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General and other relevant agencies.

The spot-check of prices done by Consumer World is limited in scope, and cannot be used to project the average actual savings on all items during Way Day nor the number of items that did or did not revert to the claimed reference price.




Please Help Support Mouse Print*

give support For 24 years, Consumer World has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, original stories, and independent investigations. But we no longer receive financial support from a corporate sponsor. So reluctantly, MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your help to keep Mouse Print* and Consumer World available free. Your gift will be most appreciated.


• • •
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