Posts tagged with "Consumers"

Don’t fall for that risk-free trial offer: The average victim loses $186

December 19, 2018

There’s one of us born every minute. We hate to admit that we are suckers, but most of us have—at least once in our lives—been bamboozled into sending for a sample of a miracle product (acne cure, wrinkle eraser, hair remover) in the belief that we are paying only for shipping costs.

In many cases, says a December 18 story from NBC News, these ads (which are all over the Internet, as well as our TV screens) offer a “risk-free” trial that works something like this: Try a free bottle of our revolutionary supplement. All you pay is $4.95 for shipping and handling on your credit card. If you are not completely satisfied, just cancel and there’s nothing more to pay.

“Many of these risk-free trial offers are not free,” the Better Business Bureau warns in a just-released report. In many cases, there are strings attached, so you could wind up being charged for products you don’t want and didn’t order—or joining a “club” that bills you every month.

Indeed, the Better Business Bureau’s in-depth investigative study found that, if you were to locate and read the fine print on the order page, or the terms and conditions buried by a link, you would discover that you may have only 14 days to receive, evaluate, and return the product to avoid being charged $100 or more.

In addition, the same hidden information may state that, by accepting the offer, you’ve also signed up for monthly shipments of the products that will be charged to your credit card and become subscription traps. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments, and get a refund.

What’s more, the study found that many of the celebrity endorsements are fake. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission—among them, Oprah Winfrey, Chrissy Teigen, and Ellen Degeneres. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.

That’s why the Bureau urges consumers to use “extreme caution” before agreeing to a risk-free trial that requires you to provide the company with a credit or debit card number to pay for shipping/handling charges. (Warning: Consumer experts advise against using a debit card to pay for online or phone purchases with unknown companies. If there is a problem, credit cards provide much greater fraud protection.)

The BBB investigation into fake free trial offers highlights a serious and growing problem. Among the key findings:

  • The BBB received nearly 37,000 complaints about free trial offers during the last three years.
  • Not every complaint involved a monetary loss, but for those that did, the average loss was $186.
  • Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about these offers more than doubled between 2015 and 2017. Victims involved in 14 free trial offer cases resolved by the FTC during the last 10 years lost more than $1.3 billion.

“Fraudsters have created a global multi-billion-dollar industry that has ripped off millions of people based on false and deceptive advertising related to fake risk-free trial offers,” BBB International Investigations Specialist Steve Baker, who prepared the report, told NBC News.

The best advice: Before you sign up for a little sample of an unknown product that promises “miraculous results” from a company you’ve never heard of before, ask yourself: Do I really want to give them my credit or debit card number? Is it really worth the potential hassle, if this is a fake offer? You already know the answer.

Research contact:@TheConsumerman

Forgot to pack a warm coat? Try the airport vending machine

November 15, 2018

If you are traveling by air, don’t worry about packing lightly. There’s almost no limit to what you can buy at the airport now, if you find you have forgotten an important item or need something unexpectedly.

Zara Harding had a nagging concern as she walked to her gate after an airport layover last June,” she told The Wall Street Journal for a November 14 story.  She had run out of time to buy a coat for the glacier hike in Washington’s Cascade Mountains she was heading to and was “worrying about being cold in the snow.”

But to her surprise and delight, she found her solution right there at Hollywood Burbank Airport. “Lo and behold,” she says, “a Uniqlo brand vending machine appeared in my path.”

Harding, 39, a group fitness instructor from Northern California, told the business news outlet that she paid $69.90 for an ultra-light down jacket made by the Japanese casual clothing retailer.

Indeed, according to the Journal, the retailer started rolling out vending machines in August 2017 at airports and shopping malls near New York, Houston, Oakland, and seven other U.S. cities—selling basic, travel-friendly attire to customers with no time to browse through the racks or wait on a line.

Although Uniqlo won’t comment on its sales, San Francisco International Airport officials told the New York-based newspaper that the machine there brings in a whopping $10,000 a month.

And according to the Journal, Uniqlo is in the forefront an exponentially expanding number of companies that are using vending machine to sell everything from apparel to makeup, to electronics and high-end foods at hubs nationwide.

The machines can be stationed in unused corners of an airport and make sales around the clock. Some new machines have touch screens and robotic suction arms to deliver expensive products.

“There’s only so many stores you can fit in an airport,” Elias Bizannes, CEO of San Francisco-based ZoomSystems said in an interview. The company operates machines for Uniqlo, as well as Best Buy, Benefit Cosmetics, Nespresso, and Proactiv.

Sarah Skwire, a senior fellow at a think tank in Indiana was on her way to Washington, D.C., when she got a text message that she needed her own makeup for a filming, the Journal reports. At Indianapolis International Airport, she found one of the pink, 59 bus-shaped Benefit machines that are parked at 37 U.S. and Canadian airports.

Before, she says, “I would make sarcastic remarks: Who’s going to blow $40 on Benefit while waiting for a plane, from a vending machine?”

This time, Skwire, 47, bought a travel makeup kit to get herself camera-ready. A few months later, she was back at a Benefit machine after a compact of pressed powder came apart in her bag during a security screening. “I went from a skeptic to a minor enthusiast.”

At some airports, vending machines offer local flavor. Ted Drewes, a St. Louis frozen-custard institution, has been selling $6 “concretes”—custard so thick you can turn it upside down without spilling—from machines at St. Louis Lambert International Airport since mid-2015. Travelers bought 15,000 concretes in the machines’ first year and sales climbed 25% the next year, according to Las Vegas-based AVendCo, which operates the four frozen-custard machines.

At Pittsburgh International Airport, a vending machine operated by Arcadia Publishing sells books on the history of local neighborhoods for about $20.

What’s next? Maybe food or other supplies for all of those companion animals that are catching flights with their owners?

Research contact: @alyrose

Missouri becomes first state to regulate use of the word ‘meat’

August 29, 2018

The last time most of us had “mystery meat” was either in school or in the military. On June 1, Missouri—the “Show-Me State”—made sure that its residents would never have to see mystery meat or eat it again when it became the first state in the nation to pass a law that prohibits food providers from using the word “meat” to refer to anything other than animal flesh.

This  new legislation takes direct aim at manufacturers of what has been dubbed “clean,” or “plant-based, or “nontraditional”meat, according to a report by USA Today. Clean meat—also known as lab-grown meat—comprises cultured animal tissue cells, while plant-based meat is generally made from ingredients such as soy, tempeh and seitan.

The state law forbids “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violators may be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for a year.

What’s more, a similar argument is unfolding on the federal level.

The meat-substitute market is expected to reach $7.5 billion-plus globally by 2025, up from close to $4.2 billion last year, based on findings by Allied Market Research.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which worked to get the law passed, has cited shopper confusion and protection of local ranchers as reasons for the legislation.

“The big issue was marketing with integrity and … consumers knowing what they’re getting,” Missouri Cattlemen’s Association spokesperson Mike Deering told USA Today. “There’s so much unknown about this.”

On Agusut 27, the company that makes Tofurky filed an injunction in a Missouri federal court to prevent enforcement of the statute, alleging the state has received no complaints about consumers befuddled by the term “plant-based meats” and that preventing manufacturers from using the word is a violation of their First Amendment rights. In addition, the company pointed out, “meat” also refers to the edible part of nuts and fruit.

The statute “prevents the sharing of truthful information and impedes competition,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. “The marketing and packaging of plant-based products reveals that plant-based food producers do not mislead consumers but instead distinguish their products from conventional meat products.”

The co-plaintiff is the Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

MCA spokesperson Deering said he was surprised by the suit because the primary target of the law was lab-grown meat.

Tofurky’s main ingredient is the first two syllables of its name-—tofu.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would regulate lab-grown meat. Traditional animal proteins are the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia told USA Today that consumers use the word “meat,” when applied to nonanimal protein as a “shortcut” to understand how they eat the food they see on supermarket shelves.

“There’s a segment of consumers that doesn’t have to eat alternative products but wants to,” he said. “In those cases, putting those options together in front of consumers gives them the thought that ‘Hey, maybe these two are similar. Maybe I can substitute.’ ”

Research contact:@ZlatiMeyer