If you're one of the many, many millions of people who shop at Target, you officially have reason for concern. Target has confirmed that 40 million credit and debit card accounts of its customers were breached by thieves.
That's reason for concern. Not panic.
Here's what the thieves got: Customer names, their card numbers and expiration date and the three-digit security codes. What does that let them do? It can allow them -- or anyone they sell the data to -- to use your cards to buy things online or even create new cards they can use.
It's a scary proposition, particularly for those whose debit cards were affected. Consumers are protected from having to pay for fraudulent purchases, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a hassle. Indeed, for the most part, it's on you to identify purchases on your statements that aren't yours. With a debit card, a dispute could tie up your cash. With a credit card dispute, on the other hand, the company will usually temporarily credit your account the amount at issue while the charge is being investigated.
So, what does all this mean? If you shopped at Target and used a card between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 you ought to be checking your statements, and then check them again. If you have online access to your accounts, check them even more often so you can begin the process of trying to reverse the charge as soon as possible.
Credit card companies shield their customers from fraud that is reported. Visa issued a statement today about that:
"As always, Visa encourages cardholders to regularly monitor their accounts, carefully review statements and notify their issuing financial institution promptly of any unusual activity. Cardholders should also remember they are protected against fraudulent purchases with Visa’s zero liability protection policy. Additional consumer security tips are available at www.visasecuritysense.com.”
And here's a link to some additional information from Target that includes information about requesting a creating a freeze on your credit reports as well as contact information for Target and other answers to some questions customers might have.
Here's Target's statement on the issue:
Target today confirmed it is aware of unauthorized access to payment card data that may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases in its U.S. stores. Target is working closely with law enforcement and financial institutions, and has identified and resolved the issue.
“Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Target. “We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice.”
Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. Target alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after it was made aware of the unauthorized access, and is putting all appropriate resources behind these efforts. Among other actions, Target is partnering with a leading third-party forensics firm to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.
More information is available at Target’s corporate website. Guests who suspect unauthorized activity should contact Target at: 866-852-8680.
Q.I bought a ceiling fan from Sears 13 years ago with a lifetime warranty. It stopped working last month, so I brought it back to a Sears store for a replacement. The customer service representative I spoke to said they do not sell ceiling fans anymore and did not know what to do. I asked to see the store manager and was told there was nothing she could do. I feel like I've been ripped off.
David Moreau, Wrentham
A. I don't think this really counts as a rip-off. But that warranty does say "lifetime," and it does promise a replacement fan by going into any Sears store. That they don't sell fans anymore does change the game a bit.
It probably isn't a situation that comes up very often ? a customer showing up with a busted fan bought at the turn of the century ? with a demand for a new one. Still, the store folks could have come up with some sort of solution. Since that didn't, I went to the folks at Sears' corporate office to see what they would do.
"Sears apologizes for any confusion regarding Mr. Moreau's ceiling fan and any inconvenience caused to him," said Sears spokesman Larry Costello. "Without a receipt from Mr. Moreau, the store associate followed store policy and was unable to authorize a refund -- and an exchange wasn't possible as Sears no longer sells ceiling fans. However, as customer satisfaction is very important to us, we have agreed to provide Mr. Moreau with a refund."
Perhaps the store personnel could have nipped this in the bud with a better gesture than throwing their arms up in the air. Costello said they were just following policy. But this is one of those situations for retailers than can earn or cost customer loyalty depending on how they handle it.
Even the idea of a lifetime warranty is alien to many in retail today. It is an endangered species.
So, if you've got an old product that came with a "lifetime" warranty, prepare for resistance if you try to enforce it. But keep going. Provide as much documentation as you can and go over the heads of those who stand in your way if you can't get was promised. In the end, Sears did right by the customer. It just took a while and bit of effort.
A reader sent me a note about purchasing a jacket and shoes from a website that wouldn’t respond after it sent the wrong items. At first glance, the site, shopjordans2013.com, looks like a typical online outlet. But when you look under the hood, it’s clear that it’s not the sort of site with which you should do business.
When you look at the “About Us” page, there’s nothing there. Digging in further, a “Whois” search, which reveals who registered the website, shows incomplete information and a non-working phone number in an area code that doesn’t exist.
There is no phone number to contact customer service. The contact page simply says “Hong Kong” as the location and above an email form says: “All the email will be response (sic) in 24 hours on weekdays.”
The reader didn’t get a response and neither did I. The site, which sells what it claims to be North Face clothing, is not an authorized seller of that line. A list of the many sites that can sell that brand can be found on the North Face website.
What about the “BBB Accredited” logo on the bottom of the page and other authentic looking symbols? Click on them on you’ll see they go nowhere. They ought to take you to the sites that lend their legitimacy. It’s easy to copy logos.
How did this reader land on the site? A link from a social networking site. All it takes is one person to post an image or blurb that you can get something for cheap and people share it. And eventually someone bites because, well, someone shared it.
In this season of non-stop shopping – an increasing amount taking place online -- follow some simple rules to avoid dealing with a site won’t give you what you want while leaving you with little-to-no recourse when there’s a problem.
Be sure you’re dealing with a reputable seller. If you’re interested in a certain brand, start at the brand site and see where you can buy the product. There’s an industry of counterfeiters who build their businesses around brand names and the words “cheap,” “sale,” and “discount.” Don’t be their next victim.
Q. I recently purchased a coat for $89 at an L.L. Bean outlet store. As I was looking at the coat at home, I noticed it was pretty dirty along the cuffs and neck and at the end of the zipper. Then I felt something in the pocket. It was someone's bank statement along with a handwritten shopping list. I know L.L. Bean has a generous return policy and the coat was marked as "returned." But shouldn't returned items be for things like the wrong color, wrong size, etc.? I could have bought a used coat at the Salvation Army or Goodwill for under $20. If L.L. Bean is going to resell used clothing and items, shouldn't they be required to put "used" on the items?
Sheila Roberge, Exeter, NH
A. L.L. Bean has as liberal a return policy as any retailer. But the company is not in the business of selling used goods. A company spokeswoman apologized for what happened and said "Clearly, we misprocessed the coat."
"Our outlet stores sell a range of products that include discontinued styles, overstocks, and some second quality returns which may include gently used products -- everything from apparel and footwear to outdoor gear and furniture," spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said. "As we process returns we determine whether they are first quality -- never been worn, returned to stock -- or second quality suitable for the outlet stores, or lesser quality to be liquidated other ways."
But dirty clothes or those with another customer's belongings, she said, should never be found on L.L. Bean's racks.
Ironically, I've heard a number of tales lately of this thing working in reverse -- consumers exploiting L. L. Bean's "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" by asking for (and getting) replacements when, say, a zipper breaks on a hand-me-down coat.
"The vast majority of our customers understand and respect the guarantee and return policy," Beem said. "Do we have a few who try to take advantage? No doubt. But they are in the minority."
The takeaways: Double-check what you're buying when you're at an outlet store and when a retailer has an exceptional policy on the quality of its products (not many do these days), consider what's reasonable before you mess it up for everyone else.
If you're looking for last-minute deals or some insight into how to make the big score on this busiest of shopping times - Black Friday and Cyber Monday - you can get some tips from the pros.
Here's a story about how the most dedicated of Black Friday shoppers attack the stores. And, here's one about some apps that can make your smartphone a super shopping partner.
Also, check out these tips from consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky.
Happy Thanksgiving and happy shopping.
Q. There has been a lot of publicity about the federal health insurance exchange not working but almost nothing said about the Massachusetts Health Connector. I have had a policy through the Connector since 2011. It worked great. Now I have received notice that I have to sign up again. My old login no longer works. Setting up a new one doesn’t work properly. Going to the call center is torture. No one answers and the same message on hold plays over and over again, telling people to go on line while the online site tells people to call the help line. Worst of all, it looks like my policy is discontinued. Calling my insurer, I’m told it was a Health Connector decision and they can do nothing about it. Why is a process which worked so well before now completely broken?
A. There’s no doubt the health insurance exchanges are messed up and the previously functional one in Massachusetts has tanked as it tries to adapt to new federal requirements. The folks at the Connector seem eager to please and are helping on your case, but acknowledge they’ve got some problems.
“This is a very large and very complex system, and anytime you are creating something of this scope bugs are expected,” Connector spokesman Jason Lefferts said. “We have had issues with the website and we are frustrated when those issues impact user experience. We are constantly monitoring the site and when specific issues are found we work on finding a solution and making a fix.”
The system is taken down a few times a week late at night – so it will not be working at all when you try then. It’s pretty clear that federally mandated changes have complicated the situation. For example, the new federal law means you can get dental insurance through the Connector. But you won’t find the details online. You’ll have to call, Lefferts said.
It’s unfortunate that something as beneficial as ensuring that everyone can get health coverage has taken a big step back before being able to step forward. Lefferts said he expects things to improve. “We anticipate new functionality will be added in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitors with Sensor Pads were sold since 1999 for $100-$300 at stores including Babies R Us/Toys R Us, Burlington Coat Factory, Sears, and Walmart, along with web retailers and baby specialty stores.
The problem involves the cord that runs from the sensor pad that is placed beneath the crib mattress to the monitor. A 13-month-old and an an 8-month-old both died after the cord became wrapped around their necks. Two other incidents involving the cords also were reported, the CPSC said.
Those who have the monitors are urged to check the cords to be sure the baby can't reach them and get a repair kit to be provided by Angelcare at no cost to consumers. The kit includes cord covers, a warning label and updated instructions.
The following models are subject to the recall: AC1100, AC201, AC300, AC401 AC601 and 49255. You can find the model number on the rear of the nursery monitor.
You can call Angelcare at (855)355-2643 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or email email@example.com.
The CPSC warned consumers more than two years ago of the problem with monitor cords after the agency had learned of seven deaths.
Q. Thanks for responding to me on Twitter. I had Verizon FiOS service at my apartment in Somerville. When I moved to Cambridge, where FiOS is not available, I switched to Comcast. When I ended my service with Verizon Aug. 31 , I had credit on my account totaling $63.78. I returned the Verizon equipment as instructed on my bill and have a record it was received.
More than two weeks after they received the equipment back, I received a bill from Verizon for $520.60 – the cost of the equipment minus my credit. When I eventually got Verizon to agree to send me my refund, they told me I was only owed $29.40. Apparently they had billed me $34.38 in taxes and charges for the equipment. After all that, they tell me that it will take a month to issue the refund.
David McCadden, Cambridge
A. How you handled this is a lesson in dispute resolution. Using social media can be very effective and a far better tactic than banging your head against the wall when you seem to run into a corporate dead end.
Not long after you first connected with me on Twitter – making public your displeasure with the situation – Verizon was already at work trying to fix it. Indeed, Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro quickly reported this situation was all straightened out. It was a billing mistake, he said. A full refund is swiftly headed your way.
Certainly, not every complaint posted to Twitter or Facebook is going to get such immediate attention or get resolved to the satisfaction of the consumer. But after trying normal customer service channels, using these services can bring attention to consumer issues since different folks monitor social media. At many companies, these people are quite aware that their handling of problems is public – so dealing with conflict swiftly and professionally can bring a positive ending on a complaint for all sides.
This is good reminder that in addition to writing a consumer advocate, complaining to the state or the Better Business Bureau and, social media’s worth a try, too.
A popular wagon sold at Toys R Us that's used to haul children is being recalled because the seat backs can come off allowing a rider to fall out, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said today.
More than two dozen children have fallen out of the wagons after the seat backs came off, the CPSC said. Most of the children suffered bumps, bruises, cuts or scrapes.
This recall involves Step2 Whisper Ride Touring Wagons. The tan plastic wagons have two blue seats and a red canopy and have the Step2 logo.
About 14,000 of the wagons were sold by Toys R Us and its website between February and August for about $130.
If you have one of the wagons, you are urged to stop using it immediately. To determine whether you have one of the recalled wagons, check to see if the seat belt is attached to the removable blue seat back. If it is, then the wagon is included in the recall.
The recall involves getting and installing a free repair kit. To get the kit, call Step2 at (866) 860-1887 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or go to the company's recall site.
Q. Whole Foods charges sales tax on loose bagels (up to six), the salad bar, and some herbal teas. I can understand paying tax if I’m eating there, but when part of a large grocery order and not being consumed there, it doesn’t make sense. I was told that herbal teas were considered a health supplement, bagels were considered a “restaurant” item unless prepackaged, and anything in any of their salad bars was considered a “restaurant” item. Are they right or are they charging more sales tax than necessary?
Lynda Costello, Dedham
A. Those questions, or similar ones, come up all the time. So, it’s worth revisiting this issue since it clearly confuses people.
There are lots of rules about what is included and excluded from the sales tax when it comes to food. The exemptions vary depending on the type of food, how it is prepared, and where. General grocery items – the things you’d buy to stock your pantry or make meals at home – are exempt.
But it appears that Whole Foods correctly applied sales tax to the items you mentioned.
Let’s start with bagels and the salad bar. Bakeries at grocery stores are not always created equal. If they sell items that are typical of coffee shops or lunch counters, such as drinks and sandwiches, they have to charge sales tax (like any other restaurant) unless they separate that area from the rest of the store. If they did, that would allow regular bakery items to be sold without tax.
But, if the bakery section is integrated into the store, as at most supermarkets, only baked good sold in groups of six or more would be exempt from sales tax.
At the salad bar, food is prepared for consumption – just like at a restaurant – so that would also be subject to sales tax. Those rules help level the playing field for restaurants so you don’t end up receiving a 6.25 percent discount by buying tonight’s dinner (ready to eat) at the grocery store. If you make it yourself you’ll avoid the tax.
As for herbal teas, some are marketed as supplements – whether for digestion or sleep (they don’t actually contain tea, but rather herbs) – and supplements are taxable. Hopefully, all this is digestible.
Being a victim of an unscrupulous contractor, in addition to being financially draining, can be exhausting. After what seemed to be a victory in their fight to get justice, the one-time customers of former South Grafton contractor Kyle Buckminster are growing restless in their pursuit of money they are due.
The state Attorney General’s Office announced in early June its lawyers had won a judgment against Buckminster, an unlicensed contractor, for more than $150,000. He would collect money from customers and then walk away from the jobs, according to the complaint.
The court ordered Buckminster to pay $111,000 in consumer restitution, $35,000 in civil penalties, and $12,600 in fees.
But, now, about five months later, consumers are still waiting for some compensation – highlighting one of the big frustrations for victims in cases like this. Winning is one thing, collecting is another.
It is not unusual for a consumer to win a court judgment against a contractor and never see a dime. One victim, William Moran, who said he is out $40,000 for work that was to be done on a house on Cape Cod, has been driven in his pursuit of Buckminster.
He and others are trying to track down the contractor and get him to pay up. He operated under these names: Buckminster Construction, Kyle Buckminster Fine Custom Carpentry and Finishing, Mid-Cape Construction and Fine Custom Carpentry, Blue Ocean Builders, and First Commonwealth Builders. Moran said he has heard Buckminster is once again doing contracting work in New England.
Attempts to reach Buckminster for comment were unsuccessful. Calls to a number that had been listed for Buckminster’s old business went unanswered and no messages could be left. Buckminster’s contractor registration in Massachusetts was revoked more than a dozen years ago.
The Attorney General’s Office said it has not given up getting the money from him. “We are continuing to monitor the actions of this individual and urge anyone with additional allegations to contact our office,” said Coakley’s spokesman Christopher Loh. “Kyle Buckminster is currently in default due to his failure to pay the ordered restitution imposed by the court and our office will continue to pursue the amount owed to consumers.”
I like to warn parents about the perils of not only this holiday, but about also cheap, junky products in general. That includes the annual reference to the little Halloween flashlight someone gave my son a few years back that caught fire. Not only have I written extensively of the dangers of poorly made gadgets (as well as toys and clothing), I’ve also had to extinguish one myself.
When it comes to Halloween safety, apply some common sense. The idea is to avoid having your children injured or worse. Here are some tips to consider:
- Don’t let your kids wear costumes that are so long they’ll step on them.
- Go for a light colored costume. If dark ends up being the motif, consider the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s tip of using reflective tape as trim or the American Academy of Pediatrics’ idea of using the tape on bags that hold the goodies.
- Have your kids carry flashlights as they go trick or treating.
- Accompany children and make sure they use the sidewalks (when there are sidewalks).
- Tell the children they may not enter someone’s home unless they are with you or another adult who is escorting them.
- Stick to a familiar neighborhood and do not go to homes that do not have outdoor lights on.
In addition, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary recommends avoiding masks or other gear that blocks peripheral vision. Consider instead hypo-allergenic make-up. And, the hospital recommends, avoid wearing contact lenses that are not prescribed by a doctor.
When it comes to the treats themselves, the state Office of Consumer Affairs suggests parents give them a once-over to look for any signs of tampering. Toss out anything that was previously opened. And avoid any homemade treats unless they were given to you by someone you know well. Consider using battery powered lights in carved pumpkins rather than candles.
Halloween ought to be a time of spooky fun, not scary reality. A small dose of caution will go a long way toward avoiding really frightening places like the emergency room.
Millions of packages of string cheese made by Kraft Foods and sold under the Kraft and Polly-O brands are being recalled because they can spoil before the dates on the packages, according to an announcement distributed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Consumer complaints about the cheese spoiling too soon led to the recall, Kraft said. A factory in upstate New York was the source of the cheese in question. Production there was halted and the company said it is investigating what caused the problem.
The recalled cheese packages -- 735,000 cases worth -- were shipped nationwide and have dates to use the cheese by ranging from Oct. 25 through Feb. 11, 2014. Spoiled cheese will become discolored, the FDA said.
If you have the cheese, do not eat it. Consumers are advised to return it to the store where they bought it to exchange it for a new package or get a full refund. In addition, c can call Kraft Foods at 1-800-816-9432 between 9 am and 6 pm Eastern Time.
A wide range of products are involved, including a variety of different sized packages and types of cheese. A full list of the cheese being recalled and the use-by dates can be found on the FDA site.
The "Best When Used By" date on multi-stick packs can be found near the bottom of the packages the string cheese came in. If the sticks were bought one at a time, the date will be on the bottom front.
Kraft said the recall is limited to the Kraft and Polly-O string cheese products on the list distributed by the FDA.
The average per ticket price from resellers to go to the 2013 World Series is $1,520 in Boston and $963 in St. Louis, according to the ticket aggregator TiqIQ, which compiles prices from a variety of sites.
The highest priced ticket available as of Tuesday was a row A1 dugout box at Fenway for $13,200. The cheapest: $375. The average ticket price is already soaring for a potential game 7, with an average asking price of $1,852.
Part of the reason for the price disparity is the Cardinals' success in recent years. St. Louis has has been in the National League Championship Series for three consecutive years, while the Red Sox haven't been in the playoff since 2009, said Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ.
Also, because the Sox came into the season with a projection of being also-rans, more tickets ended up in the hands of ticket brokers, whose sole motive is to profit from selling tickets. Unlike regular ticket owners who can try to command a price and then go to the game if they don't get what they want, the brokers have to sell their tickets and will charge what the market will bear.
Because of the demand for tickets, the chance of getting a phony ticket is heightened.
“Scammers use these opportunities to lure consumers into purchasing counterfeit tickets or booking hotel rooms that don’t exist," local Better Business Bureau Vice President Paula Fleming said.
Federal safety officials are looking for pet owners across the country whose dogs or cats got sick after eating jerky treats.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to find pet owners and veterinarians who can provide more information about pets sickened by treats that have led to some 580 dog and cat deaths since 2007. Most of the sick animals have been dogs. About 3,600 dogs have reportedly taken ill after eating the jerky pet treats.
The government's Center for Veterinary Medicine has gone to China, where the treats were made, and worked with a variety of other agencies and researchers, but has been unable to pinpoint what is making the animals sick.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," center Director Bernadette Dunham said. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it."
The animals get sick within hours of eating the treats. They are sold as "jerky tenders" or "strips." They are made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit. Symptoms have included reduced appetite, less activity, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased water drinking.
While the bulk of the treats that has led to the illnesses and deaths were made in China, consumers might not have a way to easily figure out where the ones they bought come from. Unlike requirements for many human foods, pet foods don't have to say where all their ingredients come from.
The FDA has been issuing recalls for these types of treats for the past six years. Here is one example. Here's another. The number of cases has shrunk, the government said, as the amount of these treats on the market have shrunk.
The FDA has not banned jerky treats, but is urging caution, suggesting that if a pet becomes sick while eating them to save the remaining treats -- and packaging -- for testing.
"Our fervent hope as animal lovers is that we will soon find the cause of—and put a stop to—these illnesses," Dunham said.
Follow this link to see an FDA fact sheet that explains how to protect your pet and what to do if your dog or cat gets sick from the treats.
Q. In June I took advantage of a promotion offered by Comcast. The deal was that if I switched my [cell] phone service to Verizon and bought a new smart phone I would get a $100 gift card. I was told it would take eight to 10 weeks to get the gift card. After 10 weeks I hadn’t received my gift card. I checked and was told the process was supposed to take 10 to 12 weeks. In week 13, I was told it would be another three to four weeks. They went from eight to 10 weeks to 16-17 weeks. Can you help me get the $100 gift card I was promised and warn others who signed up for this that they might need to follow up.
Marshall Feldman, Brookline
A. Glad to help and happy to warn.
This is hardly an isolated case, but is a good example of the downside to offers that involve getting a later reward. Adding a step for a consumer to get a promised incentive – whether it’s a gift card or rebate or anything else -- means if you have to apply, many won’t. And even if you do, some will be disqualified for various reasons while others fall into some mysterious crack.
It’s not clear what happened here, but shortly after I brought the situation to Comcast’s attention, your frustrating wait for he $100 gift card ended.
“We’re looking into what could have caused this unfortunate delay,” Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman said. “Meanwhile, we have reached out to this customer to apologize for the inconvenience, and he now has the gift card that was promised. Customers with similar concerns can call 1-866-347-2229.”
The message here is if you do have to wait for a rebate or reward for a purchase, you’re well served to keep a copy of all receipts and the form you submitted. You should also make a calendar note of when you’re due to receive it. If you’ve made a purchase with the promise of getting $100 – or any other compensation – down the road, stay on top of it. Make sure you get it rather than donating it to the company.
Q.I have been a Fast Lane (now E-ZPass) pass holder since Day One, and have my funds drawn down automatically from a credit card. It has never been a problem. That is until I planned a trip to North Carolina. Not knowing how much I would have to pay in tolls, I called E-ZPass to request that information. They apologized for not knowing, but said I should have plenty of credit on my account to avoid problems and they ended up charging $125. It ended up costing a fraction of that in tolls. So, I asked for a refund and was told no. I have been using about $25 in tolls a year and don’t know why the state should hold onto my money.
William Downey, West Roxbury
A. It seems as though something got messed up in that initial conversation. If someone told you to deposit $125, it clearly wasn’t a recommendation grounded in reality – or even common practice.
Mike Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said that confidentiality rules prohibit him from discussing specific accounts or what happened in this case. However, he said, E-ZPass generally recommends having $50 in your account when you’re traveling out of state, noting how expensive some New York City river crossings are. It can cost up to $10.25, for instance, to cross the George Washington Bridge using an E-ZPass .
For those who don’t have automatic credit card billing to their account and prefer to replenish their E-ZPass as needed, the $50 rule should still cover out-of-state travel. In this case, given that you have an automatically replenishing account, there’s really no good reason to have charged your account all that money.
E-ZPass does make it seem a bit scary, saying that it can take at least three business days to credit your account when you’re traveling out of state. But you’d have to try really hard to drive on a lot of toll roads and cross a lot of bridges in a short amount of time to need $125.
Fortunately, after I reached out to try to straighten this out, E-ZPass refunded the excess funds due to the confusion in this case.
An awful lot of consumers end up with cars they call lemons, but actually just have a problem that can (and should) be fixed by the dealer. But anyone who really has a lemon can use all the help they can get under the state lemon law, and the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has made it easier to figure out who qualifies.
A new online tool being offered by Consumer Affairs is intended to help those who recently bought (or leased) a vehicle (new or used) that doesn't work right. If the car qualifies under the lemon law, a replacement or refund must be provided.
“This new service will help to mitigate the frustration of consumers who have been disappointed by a recently purchased vehicle,” Consumer Affairs chief Barbara Anthony said. “Motorists will be able to more easily collect the benefits and protections guaranteed to them by state lemon laws. Clarity and simplicity are the keys to helping consumers put the law to work for them.”
A simple set of questions vital to determining whether a car is a lemon is presented to consumers: Whether the vehicle is new or used, its mileage, how long since it was purchased, what the vehicle's main use is... If the answers meet the criteria, the user will be directed to the application to file a formal lemon law complaint.
Lemon law complaints have been among the top five complaints the state has received over the past four years. Using the new application is not necessary, but is intended to help guide those who believe they might have a lemon.
An issue that has come up recently about old bills, particularly old medical bills, and at what point you no longer have to pay them.
Anyone with health insurance – and that ought to be everyone – is likely to have noticed that just about any time you owe some money to a practitioner, there’s likely to be a lag before the bill arrives. That’s because the medical provider and insurance company have some figuring and reconciling to do.
Have you met your deductible? How much did you pay when you were there? Was the charge properly coded? What is the insurance company’s share? What’s the insurance company rate? And, ultimately, what’s left that you owe?
Eventually, a bill gets sent. It could be a few weeks, often even a few months, after the service was provided. But, as some readers have experienced, and it’s certainly more exception than rule, it can also take a lot longer than that.
So, the question was raised, when are you no longer responsible for the debt? One reader wistfully asked if a year passes, do you still have to pay?
As much as you might have been unprepared for a bill and as annoying as it is to be charged for something that seems a distant memory, as long as the charge is proper you’re on the hook.
Each state has some sort of statute of limitations for collecting on debts and, in Massachusetts, it’s six years. That means that you can’t get sued over a debt older than that.
But what you should do when so much time has passed is to make sure there hasn’t been a billing error. That means checking to see if you had previously paid, checking with the insurance company about what they paid, and asking for any supporting documentation to confirm the bill is accurate.
Once you’re clear it’s legitimate, you have to pay. The last thing you want to do is let a bill go unpaid just because you wished it had never come. It will be a lot harder dealing with a bill that has gone to collection and ends up on your credit history.
Some 15 million surge protectors sold for a decade at some of the nation's largest retailers are being recalled after more than 700 reports of the strips overheating, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today.
Under the government shutdown, the CPSC is only announcing recalls that pose an imminent risk to the public. APC SurgeArrest surge protectors have been blamed in at least 55 incidents involving property damage caused by smoke or fire, including 13 that resulted in injuries, the CPSC said.
The surge protectors were last sold in 2002 and were first in stores in 1993, the safety agency said. Stores that sold the surge protectors include Best Buy, Circuit City and CompUSA.
The danger to consumers is that these now aging surge protectors can overheat and melt, and potentially catch on fire. If you have one of the recalled surge protectors, unplug it immediately.
APC, or American Power Conversion, is now known as Schneider Electric IT Corp. Rhode Island-based Schneider will replace any of the recalled surge protectors with a new one, the CPSC said.
For additional information, consumers can contact Schneider at (888) 437-4007 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.
A series of web pages, most notably those put together by the Federal Trade Commission, are filled with important educational information that anyone can use to help determine if they're making a big mistake with their money. That is until the government shutdown.
Go to some of these sites today and you'll be met with an apology of sorts. Really, it's a sign that they're closed right now.
To add insult to that injury, the government also cut off the ability to file Do Not Call complaints. If you think you're getting a lot more phone solicitations this week, it might not be coincidence. Shady telemarketers are well aware the place consumers are supposed to go to complain about them is closed.
Perhaps it's part of a strategy to let us know what we're missing when the government isn't there. But, seriously, is blocking access to static information pages really necessary? Is it good government policy? Or is it just plain dumb?
It's one thing when you call the FTC and find out that no one's there. And it makes sense if you put up a banner -- as many other agencies have done -- on each page that says that due to the government shutdown the website won't be updated. It's quite another to prevent consumers from being diligent and doing research by seeing what information the agency already has put out regarding business opportunities, reverse mortgages or telemarketing.
Not every agency has engaged in this type of behavior. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which, thankfully, also has a lot of the information the FTC is now blocking, has its website up and running. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission isn't updating its site (which makes sense), except to provide safety information when there are "imminent risks," but it also didn't take away the rest of the information it has assembled over the years.
Politics is one thing. Common sense, apparently, is something entirely different.
When is butter not butter?
When you order a buttered bagel at a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant.
Craig Polewaczyk of Worcester was recently disappointed after taking a bite of a bagel ordered with butter. He complained that it didn’t taste like butter and was told he was right. Even though 1) he asked for butter and 2) his receipt said “butter,” the bagel was schmeared with margarine. No apology or refund followed. So, he asked me whether the chain was deceiving its customer, and I asked Dunkin’ Donuts.
Dunkin’ acknowledged its use of a “butter-substitute vegetable spread” when butter is ordered, with the caveat that some franchisees might differ in their offerings.
“For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry,” said Dunkin’ spokeswoman Lindsay Harrington. “As a result, the recommended in-store procedure at Dunkin’ Donuts is that individual whipped butter packets be served on the side of a guest’s bagel or pastry but not applied. The vegetable spread is generally used if the employee applies the topping.”
That decision, and the chain’s lack of disclosure, is not fair to consumers, said Barbara Anthony, who leads the state Division of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
“You really do need to be candid with the consumer with what you’re doing,” she said. “The seller knows the difference, but the consumer doesn’t. That’s why this is an unfair practice and a misrepresentation -- the consumer’s in the dark.”
It’s quite possible, Anthony said, that a customer ordering butter is told they’re getting margarine, they’ll be fine with it. But what if they’re not? What if they have a health issue? Or would they opt to spread butter packets themselves if they knew that was an option?
Regardless, she said, the chain is on a slippery slope with its supposedly buttery bagel. “Butter” is not a generic term, it’s a dairy product. And while Dunkin’ can certainly serve “vegetable spread,” the chain has to be honest about it.
“The company,” said Anthony, “really does need to revisit its policy and tell people what it is.”
Q. I recently entered a dispute with Priceline.com over a car rental reservation. The charge is for a car that I was to use during a planned trip to California. About a week before I was to travel, I collapsed while staying at my sister’s home and was found by neighbors three days later in a comatose condition. I remained under care for the next couple of weeks and never made the trip. After I received my credit card bill, I disputed the charge, which was for eight days of a car rental I never used. I called Priceline and was told by a supervisor that the charge was non-refundable, despite my medical emergency. Is there any action that I might take to have this charge cancelled or modified?
George A. Ripsom, Chelmsford
A. Given what happened to you, I really wanted to win this one. While it would have been great for Priceline to make an exception, it was pretty clear from the outset that wasn’t going to happen.
Consumers who use Priceline and similar sites to hunt for deals do so with some risk. When you use Priceline’s “Name Your Own price” feature, as you did, there’s a trade-off. Consumers toss out a below market rate to see if the company will accept, and it does, the charge isn’t refundable.
Priceline spokeswoman Leslie Cafferty said consumers who are more averse to risks can simply book a car, hotel, or plane as they would on any travel site – losing the deep discount but gaining the ability to cancel.
“The benefit of our Name Your Own Price product is that consumers can get dramatically discounted rates – sometimes over 50 percent off,” she said. “But these deep discounts are only available with certain travel restrictions.”
For many, the most important thing is getting a great price. But paying attention to the terms is key, as they often mean giving up flexibility, even under extreme circumstances. Consumers facing similar challenges would also be best served to appeal prior to the planned trip.
Being a consumer in Massachusetts can be unlike the experience anywhere else. We’ve got all sorts of laws – good as well as quirky. So, it stands to reason that as the first state in the country with its own health care insurance exchange, the Massachusetts Health Connector, there might be some confusion.
We’re about two weeks away from the first stage of the federal health care law reaching consumers. And while the law is similar to what we have, it isn’t the same. The result is going to be some changes that the quarter-million consumers now using the Connector are going to have deal with.
Nationally, there have been some well-publicized scams tied to the implementation of The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), but the folks at the Connector want people to know they are conducting a legitimate education campaign to help Massachusetts residents sort out the coming changes. That involves letters, emails, robocalls, and phone calls. “If consumers get a call or email from us and are unsure if they are getting a legitimate call, we strongly encourage them to go to our website or call our customer service number on their own,” Connector spokesman Jason Lefferts said.
The website is MAhealthconnector.org and the phone number is 877-MA-ENROLL.
So far, it appears the changes are largely to the benefit of those who use the system, mainly folks who don’t receive insurance through an employer. Expect to see more choices, more insurance carriers, dental coverage, and a higher income figure to qualify for subsidies.
Another big change is a shift in the open enrollment period, which starts Oct. 1 and runs through March 31. What that means is that those who recently picked a policy will have to once again make a selection before the end of March and re-enroll. (Some will have a Jan. 1 start date for their new policies.)
“Members will be able to find the same kinds of coverage, maybe even better coverage, but it will be in a slightly different plan,” Lefferts said.
More than 2 million dehumidifiers sold under some of the biggest brand names are being recalled after at least 165 reports of problems including overheating as well as 46 fires that caused more than $2 million in damage, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said today.
The recall involves dehumidifiers made in China by the manufacturer Gree Electric Appliances. They were sold under the following brand names: Danby, De’Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir and SuperClima. The units came in a variety of colors and the following sizes: 20, 25, 30, 40, 45, 50, 65 and 70 pints.
The dehumidifiers were sold for $110-$400 between 2005 and last month, the CPSC said. The following retailers were among those who sold them: Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s, Sam’s Club and Sears. They were also sold online on Amazon.com.
Those who have the dehumidifiers are urged to stop using them immediately, unplug them and contact Gree to arrange for a refund.
To reach Gree, call (866) 853-2802 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com