Here on our Consumer
Watch page, I will post some news and notes and commentary to help you get the most for your money, and to keep you alert
about things to watch for as you spend your money. I will be posting new money alerts and money tips on a regular basis
here. Some will deal with major consumer issues, and some will deal with minor issues such as making sure you get napkins
from the drive-thru attendant at a fast food restaurant. (I hate when they don't give you napkins.) Please also
see our "Consumer Alert" page for breaking news including product recalls.
Have you got something we should watch? Go to our "Contact Us" page and send me an email. Thanks for watching and good shopping!
Update May 26, 2016 I stopped in at a nearby CVS to pick up a travel toothbrush and small tube of
toothpaste for the office. There were several different choices in the travel and sample section at CVS and I chose a pack
that had a shelf price sign of $1.57 and that was the lowest priced package. At the cash register I was distracted and didn't
pay attention when the cashier told me the total price to be paid. I gave the clerk a $5 bill, received my change, and hurried
out of the store. Later, when I went to throw out the receipt I happened to glance at it and saw that I hadn't paid $1.57
but was charged $1.99 which was the price on another toothpaste and toothbrush package. I called the store, got a manager
on the phone who confirmed that I was charged too much, and he told me to bring the receipt in for a refund. I appreciated
that. Of course the lesson here is to pay attention at the check-out and check the receipts. By the way, my distraction was
an attractive young lady at the next check-out register. Since I didn't get her phone number so that was a loss. Fortunately,
CVS has a policy to make good on its error so at least I will make good on my loss with the retail purchase. See the
Shelf price tag showed $1.57 at CVS.
But register rang up a price of $1.99 in error.
When I discovered the error I called the store
and a manager confirmed the error.
WHAT PRICE DO YOU PAY?
Update May 21, 2016 In California there are state laws about posted prices, tagged prices and what
retailers must charge you. State law prevents a business from charging you more than a posted price even if the posted price
was supposed to have an "end date." That means if it is still posted, it's still the price despite an intended expiration
date. There are other pricing issues to consider. For example, what if a retailer has an online price which is higher than
the tagged price of an item in its brick and mortar store? See our discussion about this subject by clicking here.
HOW SLOW CAN MAPFRE INSURANCE BE?
Update March 25, 2016 MAPFRE Insurance, based in Massachusetts, says it builds relationships based
on trust. But consumer Linda Y. of Ventura, California has no trust in them because she has been waiting weeks and weeks for
a check for $500 that MAPFRE says it has mailed not once but twice. It seems that the company that claims an "A"
rating and has been collecting premiums from this consumer can't get her correct mailing address on the envelope with the
$500 that she is owed. First the payment was mailed to an old address, and then a second check was mailed to an incorrect
But there are more problems to tell you about. Getting the first check sent out was met
with delays. A supervisor at MAPFRE even suggested to the consumer that she contact a superior because the employee assigned
to her case was weeks behind in her work. The consumer also told me that days and even weeks went by that her voice-mail messages
left for the employee assigned to her case went unanswered. When I first became aware of the problem I called the MAPFRE offices
on March 9th and I never got a call back. A week ago I sent an email to an employee who was handling the consumer's case and
I never got a response either.
Did I say that two checks were mailed out by MAPFRE and neither
got to this consumer? Well, it seems that the consumer was told a third check was being mailed out. Will this be a third strike
against MAPFRE? How many strikes till you're out in the eyes of customers?
BANK OF AMERICA CHANGES ATM PROCEDURES AGAIN
Update March 4, 2016 Bank of America has changed its ATM procedures again and I think this change
will improve customer safety at automated teller machines. The new change is actually a return to an old procedure: your card
will stay in the machine until the transaction is completed. See the photo below showing the new instruction. It also appears
that you can only make one transaction each time you insert your card and enter your personal identification number or PIN.
A while back Bank of America changed its basic procedure so that ATMs returned your card and then asked you to punch
in your PIN to continue with the transaction. This probably prevented consumers from forgetting their cards when a transaction
was over. Now, Bank of America has returned to the original method that ATMs used -- you put your card in, enter your PIN,
and the card is returned at the end of the transaction.
What I like about the latest ATM procedure
is that there is only one transaction allowed with each card insertion and cards are returned when the correct PIN number
is punched in. The new safety feature is if an incorrect PIN is entered five times the machine will lock the card until midnight.
This will help prevent crooks from using stolen cards and trying a partial PIN to access an account.
have all heard of reports of crooks who watch consumers enter their PIN at an ATM. Crooks will continue
to get stolen cards but this additional safeguard means a crook with a partial PIN will be limited in the number of tries
before the card account is locked.
Under the previous
procedure, a crook could be watching you enter your PIN and then after your first transaction was completed the crook could
enter your PIN again and withdraw money from your account without having your card. Crooks could still enter your PIN but
there is the additional step of needing your card to be inserted again.
customers might be concerned about having a limit of five attempts to enter your correct PIN. Well, for legitimate customers
five tries to enter your PIN is enough. If it takes you more than five attempts to enter your PIN you're not in any shape
to be spending your money.
Message about new ATM procedure.
Bank of America ATM in Southern California.
GETTING READY FOR 2016
December 27, 2015 I hope you had a great Christmas holiday
and I wish you and your family a happy and healthy and prosperous 2016. There are several things you can do to start 2016 right for you and your family. You might
want to include these in your New Year Resolutions:
1. Start a savings account. You've heard that before but do you have one? Surveys show that 20% of Americans do not have a savings
account and 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in a savings account.
a family budget. If the kids are old
enough to understand, get them involved. It will help them to understand why you can't buy them the latest video game or
cell phone every six months, and it will also teach them to learn how to budget their own money whether they earn it or
it's their allowance.
3. Improve yourself. That might mean taking a course at a local college, or joining a gym, or
spending time taking a walk every day. Years ago my doctor encouraged me to exercise and he said "join a poor man's
gym if you have to." So what's a poor man's gym? It's a couple of large soft drink bottles or cans of food used as
4. Create a goal for yourself and your family members. I'm not going to tell you what goal because that's up to you. But if you
have a goal it will keep you focused on doing something productive. The goal could be to clean out the attic, or find a better
job, or it could be starting a hobby, or adding to your collection of Lincoln Cents in the blue Whitman folder you started
as a kid.
5. Improve the value of your home. Your home is your most valuable asset so it makes sense to improve its value.
Paint, add something, remodel, upgrade. Improving the value of your home makes your life better and it can improve your
resale value later. But be careful -- not every remodel will increase the resale value so do your research.
6. Have a garage sale or tag sale. A garage sale or tag sale is a great way to clear away things you no longer use and to make some money.
You can advertise your garage sale or tag sale for free on the forum of our website. Click here.
Check your credit reports for free. Be
sure there are no bogus accounts and no one has tampered with your ID. Below, on this page, is an article about how to check
your credit reports for free from the big credit reporting agencies.
WHEN WILL OUR LEGISLATORS CUT AND CAP INTEREST RATES?
Update August 6, 2015 I just can't understand why our legislators -- state and federal
-- are not talking about cutting and capping interest rates on credit cards? When interest rates on certificates of
deposit are at one-percent or two-percent or less, and when mortgage rates on a home are around 2% for homeowners who got
into trouble making their payments, and when money market funds have interest rates of a fraction of one-percent, how can
these legislators allow banks and credit card companies to charge 15% to 30% or even more on plastic?
If the legislators are serious about boosting consumer spending how do they allow these high rates -- which in decades
past would be enforced by the mob with crowbars, tire irons and concrete-filled boots -- to be legally charged?
The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee, the policy making group of the Fed,has
been keeping interest rates at very low levels for years now -- but interest rates on credit cards never came down.
If the Federal Reserve is going to keep interest rates low to help prevent a recession
and to help grow the economy, then it needs to take one more step to fix the economy: the Fed has to make sure there are low
rates for consumers and for businesses to benefit from.
If they really want low rates to help the economy they
should slap the banks and credit card companies with limits on credit card interest rates. Allowing banks to still charge
30% or even 33% is sick when other rates are around 2% or less.
If the banks have a problem with consumers who
are deep in debt, the solution is not to charge them higher interest -- rather the banks should cut off additional credit,
and lower rates so that the debts can be repaid.
We all know that consumers deep in debt will never repay credit
card loans with 30% interest rates.
And while low mortgage rates are being quoted-- even for homeowners who failed
to pay their mortgages for months or even years, there has been no help for consumers who owe money on credit cards.
And if the Fed is not going to do it, then our legislators should reinstate the usury laws that they
repealed years ago that kept a lid on credit card rates.
CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT FOR FREE EVERY FOUR MONTHS
Update July 26, 2011 You know it is important to check your credit report. You
should check it for errors because errors can lower your credit score and could force you to pay higher interest on loans
-- or it could cost you to be denied a loan or even a job. You should also check your credit report for signs that you
are a victim of identity theft-- such as a credit card being issued that you did not receive or you know nothing about.
There is an official website set up by the big credit reporting companies that allows you to get
your free credit report from each of the three big credit reporting agencies once a year. By getting a free credit report
from one of the agencies every four months, you will be able to check your credit three times a year. The reason for
doing this is that you are more likely to catch a problem sooner with a check every four months than one check each year.
And what shows up on one credit report is likely to show up on the others very quickly.
to www.annualcreditreport.com for your free yearly credit report from the big three credit outfits. But as I suggested, get one free report from
one credit reporting agency and then in four months get another free report from a second agency and then another after another
Here are some important facts:
AnnualCreditReport.com is a centralized service for consumers to request
free annual credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
AnnualCreditReport.com provides consumers with the secure means to request and obtain a free credit report
once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies in accordance with the Fair and
Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act).
AnnualCreditReport.com offers consumers a fast and convenient
way to request, view and print their credit reports in a secure Internet environment. It also provides options
to request reports by telephone and by mail.
AnnualCreditReport.com is the only service authorized by Equifax,
Experian and TransUnion for this purpose. The three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies have always encouraged
consumers to regularly review their credit reports, and under various laws if you are ever denied credit you can ask to see
the credit report that caused that to happen.
Please note that, as a security precaution, you should never provide their personal information to any other company or person
for requesting free annual credit reports under the FACT Act. And, AnnualCreditReport.com
will not approach consumers via email, telemarketing or direct mail solicitations. So if someone says they are contacting
you to give your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com it's a lie.
A GASOLINE PUMP PRICE REALITY CHECK
Update June 23, 2012 When I filled the tank of my car today, paying $4.09.09 for premium
gas, I couldn't help but notice the "tax notice" on the pump. The tax notice includes the per gallon state
and federal excise taxes. Not included is the state and county sales tax. What many consumers don't realize is
that there is so much "excise tax" on a gallon of gas. And what fewer consumers will realize is that the "excise
tax" is considered to be part of the "product price" and so the sales tax is levied on top of the excise tax.
So, you are in effect paying a tax on a tax. Below is the photo of the state and federal excise tax notice. You'll
notice that the state and federal excise taxes add up to 54.1-cents and remember that the sales tax is on top of the excise
HERE'S ANOTHER SCAM OFFERING A JOB
Update December 29, 2011 Scammers and identify crooks like to hold out the promise of
a job in order to steal your identity or steal your money. And the promise or lure of a high paying job just might make
some unsuspecting people give their vital information. Look at the email I just got:
To Alan Thank you for your application. Upon review we have found that you may be pre-selected
for high paying roles. The expected pay range for available positions range from $36.77 - $59.62 an hour. Before
being considered, you must finish our internal application. Click the link below to begin:
Below that paragraph was a link to a website that was disguised as a link
to digg.com and you can be sure I didn't click on it. First of all, the email didn't come from a company -- it
came from a Yahoo.com email address. Secondly, I never heard of the person who sent me the email. And thirdly,
I didn't apply for any jobs recently.
THIS EMPLOYMENT SCAM IS TARGETING YOUR IDENTITY
Update December 25, 2011 I just came back from a holiday party and the hostess pulled
me aside to tell me that this holiday week has been a near disaster. It's because her son was approached by someone
who claimed to be a corporate recruiter who was offering a high paying job with an oil company in South America. As
part of the job application process, the "recruiter" said he needed all sorts of personal information not only
for her son, but also about her and the family business. Unfortunately, the guy who claimed to be a corporate recruiter
had served time in jail for financial scams, he did not represent the oil company, and her son did give out vital family information
including social security numbers and bank account information.
So how did the crook
pull off this scam? First, he was well dressed and hung out at bars at high end restaurants and clubs making small talk.
The casual conversations allowed him to find his "mark" and in this case it is some who talked about a family business,
a vacation home, and a desire to find work in another country to have an adventure. Immediately the con artist put the
pieces together and crafted the scam.
The next day the "mark" got a fax
with what appeared to be an official letter from the oil company asking for the personal and family information. The
"mark" responded by email to an email address that was not with the oil company. Later it was discovered that
the "official looking letter" was really a cut-and-paste job using logos from the oil company that were photocopied
to create what appeared to be stationery. When sent by fax, it's hard to tell that the "official looking letterhead"
had been pieced together.
In this tough economy, when anyone is enamored with the
idea of an exotic job or a golden opportunity, they could easily let their guard down. A real corporate recruiter will
understand that you would want to verify who they are so don't hesitate to get an office phone number and then confirm with
the company who this recruiter is. A warning flag should go up when someone out of the blue and a couple of seats away
at a bar picks you for a great job but didn't have a business card or an office phone number that could be verified at the
big oil company he claims to be with.
Now, with vital personal information in the
hands of a stranger, the family is now putting fraud alerts on credit files, notifying banks and credit cards, notifying the
police and hoping that the oil company that had its documents forged will take action. I'm going to follow this case
to let you know what happens.
A NEW SCAM: AN EMAIL SAYING YOUR ACH TRANSACTION FAILED
Update December 19, 2011 I just got an email informing me that my "ACH Transaction
Failed" and I was immediately concerned because ACH stands for Automated Clearing House which is a giant network of banks
for clearing bank transacation, credit card transactions and various cash transactions. So, as anyone would do when
notified that your "ACH Transaction Failed" I opened the email to find out which transaction it was and why?
Well, I didn't have to do anything else to breathe a big sign of relief and realize that some moron
was trying to scam me with a fraudulent email. I knew it was a scam because as soon as I opened the email I saw that
it wasn't just sent to me -- the email was sent to about a hundred other people whose email address started with an "A"
which meant the email addresses came from some email list.
Obviously if a bank or
credit card company or ACH, the Automated Clearing House, was going to notify me of a transaction problem, they wouldn't be
sending copies to a hundred or so complete strangers.
Since I'm a reporter by trade
and tradition, I wanted to find out more. Was this scam artist trying to get my bank info or was the gangster trying
to get my true ID including my social security number? Well, my security software would not allow me to open the link
to get more information. My security software said there was definitely a virus or other malware in the link.
I reported the problem.
Frankly, it is very unlikely that a bank that you have no
knowledge of would ever tell you about a problem with your account or about a problem with your transaction via email.
Your regular bank or a credit card company you regularly use might make some kind of notification by email -- but a "strange
bank" or someone you did not do business with before would likely send you a notice via snail mail. So beware the
emails that say "ACH Transaction Failed" and happy holidays.
DO YOU KNOW HOW TO BUY A DIAMOND RING?
Update November 24, 2011 A diamond ring, including a diamond engagement ring, is one
of the single most expensive things you could buy in your lifetime. It ranks up there with a new car. But you
are likely to keep a car for only three to seven years while a diamond engagement ring is supposed to last for decades and
then can be passed down to a son or daughter or grandchild.
If you make a mistake
buying a car, there mistake will be forgotten with a trade-in and a new car in the driveway. But if you make a mistake
buying a diamond, it's a mistake that may not be forgotten.
The diamond industry
has done a good job telling consumers the importance of knowing the 4 C's when buying a diamond. You should understand
and know the differences in Color and Cut and Clarity and Carat weight. But do we rally know the differences in color
that we can pick out a D diamond that's mixed in with a bunch of E diamonds? Can we tell which diamond is an S-1 and
which is an S-2? How about cut? Do we really know if the angles of the cut are correct? And do we each have
scales at home to measure and confirm the carat weight we were told the diamond has?
is why I think there are two other C's that are equally important when buying a diamond. You should have the C for Confidence
in your jeweler, and you should practice the C for comparison shopping.
6 C's for buying a diamond: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat weight, Confidence in the jeweler, and Comparison shopping. This
way you are more likely to have a diamond that can be enjoyed and cherished for generations.
MONITORING YOUR MOVEMENTS IN A SHOPPING MALL
Update November 23, 2011 Many of the news media outlets here in Southern California were
making a big deal today about the report that the Promenade Mall in Temecula had started a system where they can track where
cell phones are moving about inside the mall. Of course, the mall managers don't care about the cell phones -- what
they are tracking is the owners of the cell phones.
The news media immediately questioned
if this was an invasion of privacy? No, it's not, says the mall. No data is being ripped from the cell phones,
no phone numbers or emails are being detected, but they are just using the electronics of the cell phones to watch where patrons
move about in their mall.
Actually this is a good idea as it could help mall designers
do a better job of creating and managing shopping mall layouts. But it could also cause some problems in the future
for shoppers, and here are some examples:
If the mall detects that we go to malls
first for the food courts or for the coffee shops, they might bury the food courts and the coffee shops deeper inside the
mall so we will have to pass more stores to get there. The same goes for restrooms. And if the mall discovers
that we are going to shoe stores first, the shoe stores might be moved to interior mall locations.
If the mall detects that we are not stopping to look at the advertising signs and banners inside the
open spaces of the mall, they might change the walkways into some sort of maze that would force us to look at the signs and
banners as we go through the walkways.
If the mall detects that we walk quickly
past certain stores, the mall managers might want to take a closer look at those stores to find out why. And if the
mall detects that we are lurking outside the fronts of certain stores but not going in, the mall managers might ask Victoria's
Secret to cover up more of its models. (Admit it, you knew that was coming.)
mall might also be able to determine where it needs more cleaning services, security services, and seats -- or where it should
remove seating areas. If the mall determines that a particular store is getting a lot of foot traffic it might raise
the store's rent. If the mall finds a particular store gets a lot of traffic but that store is near a mall door, the
mall might move that store further from the door so more traffic will pass by other stores.
And if the mall wants its shoppers to stay in part of its mall longer, it might offer some form of entertainment
to keep us there. And if the mall finds we are walking at a slow pace in other sections, it might decide to install
a moving sidewalk.
This kind of research could be done the old-fashioned way, with
managers watching and taking notes. But high tech makes this kind of research easy. If you don't like the idea
of tracking your cell phone signals, the malls could put RFID tracking chips in the shopping bags that the stores use and
get similar information.
THE END OF FREE TV
Update November 7, 2011 Don't tell my friends who own TV stations that I said this, but in the next
few years they may be out of business. It's not that TV is going out of business -- it's that TV stations will be put
out of business.
Now, that's a strong statement, isn't it. But in carefully
planned steps, industry and the government appear to be taking steps to shut down over-the-air free TV as we know it.
Slowly, all TV broadcasts will be moved to the Internet and to cable TV that you pay for, and to cell phones that you also
The government, you see, is starting to take steps to siphon away the TV
broadcast spectrum, and shift those wavelengths to other media including cell phones and data.
What does this mean? Well, it means that perhaps in ten years or twenty years (not tomorrow) your favorite
TV programs and networks will be viewable on the Internet and on special cell phone channels, and of course on Cable and Satellite
systems. For many of us, that will be just fine because we don't watch TV with over-the-air antennas and we watch with
cable or satellite. Now, you can also watch many programs on the Internet and you can access the web with your smart
phone. See? In a few years everyone will have a smart phone so even if they don't have cable they'll be able to
plug their cell phone into a TV monitor at home and dial in whatever show or network they want to watch.
The networks just might not care how their programs are watched. Already the networks are putting
their TV shows on the Internet, and quite frankly they don't care if the programs are watched via cable or satellite or the
web -- just as long as they are watched.
The TV stations will care but already TV
station revenue and eyeballs (the number of viewers) is down because many of us find our entertainment on the web.
And program production companies also don't care how their programs are seen -- as long as they are
seen and that means on the web or on cable or on satellite systems.
Poor TV station
owners are really between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. Nobody really cares if they survive or not because
technology is going to leave them behind.
True, the networks own some TV stations
themselves -- but the networks wouldn't care much if the actual TV stations had to close. After all, when you own a
TV station you have to deal with the FCC and its license requirements, you have to deal with the cost of real estate, you
have to deal with the cost of operating a building. Even the TV stations could adapt to the new technology by selling
their tower land, dropping their FCC license, skipping all the legal requirements of the FCC, and instead of broadcasting
their news and programs just put them on the web instead.
In fact so much of the
TV we watch today is already on the Internet. Even local TV stations put their own local programs -- which is mostly
the news -- on the Internet.
In just a few more years when everybody has a smart
phone with web access, and a video monitor that you can plug your cell phone into, the idea of over-the-air TV will be history.
Oh, if you don't want to watch TV via a cell phone attachment, don't worry. There will be two other options: cable and
And those old TV station signal wavelengths? They'll be used for
carry data for business and government, and more cell phone signals.
And if you don't
believe, check back here in 20 years. And what do you think? Please give your opinion and observations on our
Media Forum by clicking here.
WHAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE A SHREDDER?
Update November 3, 2011 Yes, you should shred your sensitive documents including statements
about bank accounts and credit cards and medical records that you don't need to maintain. But what if a shredder isn't
handy or if you simply don't have one?
Well, you can shred papers the old fashioned
way -- ripping them up by hand. But the key to shredding is to make the pieces very small and without a particular pattern.
The problem with most commercial shredders that you can buy for your home or office is that they cut the paper in a particular
pattern, and all it takes is some work to unshred the shredded papers. It's done, and it's a big business.
Of course, if the paper is pulverized or smashed into tiny squares and then shaken, stirred, and mixed
it becomes that much more difficult to unshred.
I have another idea you should consider:
don't put all of the shreds in the same container. You might consider taking half of the shreds and dumping them in
one trash bin, and taking the other half of the shreds and dumping them in another trash bin a week later. This will
prevent a dumpster diver from getting all of the shreds unless he's also following you -- and in which case you probably have
even bigger problems.
I also like the idea of taking shredded documents and using
them for composting -- turning them into the soil with the help of bacteria and worms. Shredded documents can also be
used for gardening fillers and they can also be used to help start your fireplace for a cozy evening on a cold winter night.
I love what commercial shredders do with shredded documents. These commercial shreds can be turned
into insulation products or toilet paper. Yes, after the credit cards kicked you in the butt with their high interest
rates, you could be using the shreds of credit card statements on your butt later.
before you get shred-happy, remember that it is important to keep some of your sensitive documents forever. Tax returns
should always be kept forever along with supporting documents. Other legal documents should be kept probably for
at least five to seven years -- and some should be kept forever. Utility bills, bank statements, credit card bills,
insurance payments are not among the documents that must be kept for years and usually can be tossed if they have no reasons
to be kept for taxes, or claims, or lawsuits.
RIPPED OFF AND TOO EMBARRASSED TO REPORT IT
Update October 4, 2011 For more than thirty years I was a consumer news reporter
in Los Angeles and Miami and New York, and too often I heard about consumers who were ripped off or cheated in some
scam but didn't report it to police, or authorities, or even to their own family, because they were too embarrassed about
what happened to them.
And it just happened again -- someone who got ripped
off it too embarrassed to report it. And this time the victim is a businessman who is involved in the
medical industry-- he was ripped off with a bait and switch from another company. He told me he is too
embarrassed to report it -- and he's even too embarrassed to tell his own attorney about it.
This is not an unusual reaction. When we lose or get tricked we often feel embarrassed or just plain dumb about
what we did. And we shouldn't feel that way. While we should investigate what we are doing with our money, when
someone lies to us or tricks us or fools us, we have every right to demand that we be made whole by the offender. Bait
and switch is a crime, and this businessman lost several thousand dollars when he paid for a service that he did not
receive and the company selling the service was never in a position to deliver that service.
You should not feel embarrassed about being ripped off. You should feel that you are entitled to get your money
back. The emotion you should feel is anger when you report it to the police or other authorities. Being embarrassed
and being silent only allows the crooks to do it again.
BE VERY CAREFUL BUYING STERLING SILVER SILVERWARE
Update May 15, 2011 A lot of people are now selling their sterling silverware on eBay
and at garage sales and house sales and tag sales and just about every seller is emphasizing the high value of sterling silver
these days. True sterling silver is marked ".925" which means that the silver content is 92 and a half percent
of the weight. Some sellers may try to get a much higher price for their sterling silverware because of the high price
of silver. And this is where you have to be careful.
First, you must be sure
that what you are buying is indeed sterling and not a copy or counterfeit or something "doctored" to appear as if
it is legitimate sterling silver. Secondly, you should know that some sterling silverware may not be all sterling.
In the case of a knife -- it is likely that the blade is stainless steel, attached to a steel shank which in turn is embedded
in a steel base or cement base or a base that is filled with something heavy such as sand. This is done so that the
knife has weight to it and is easier to use and will give the blade support. Unfortunately, I've seen listings for sterling
silver knives on eBay that mention the weight and comment on the silver but make no mention that a sterling silver knife is
also made of material which is not sterling silver.
Forks and spoons that are marked
sterling silver are traditionally all sterling silver. Be careful.
TAKING A TAXI? DON'T GET TAKEN FOR A RIDE.
Update March 2, 2011 It happens a lot -- a newcomer to a city hails a taxi and
gets taken for a ride -- usually a long ride so that the cabbie makes more money off the fare box. Sometimes worse things
can happen, but let's stick with just being taken for a long ride. There are things you can do to prevent being taken
for a ride.
First, have an idea about what route the cabbie should be taking.
You might call ahead to your destination and ask what is the best route to take from the airport? Then, when you give
your destination to the cab driver, you can tell him what route to take.
if you don't know which route to take, have an estimate ahead of time how much the fare should be. Yes, there will be
traffic delays that might increase the waiting time but if you have an estimate and the actual fare is within that estimate,
you'll feel pretty good that you weren't ripped off.
One thing I always do when I
get into a taxi is to look at the cab driver's license and address him by name. This tells the cabbie that you know
who he is -- just in case there is a problem later. It's also a good idea to make a note of the car's license or cab
I was suprised to find out that some taxi companies have the passenger
compartment wired for sound and video. Yes, there may be a recording of what you say and what you do in the cab.
While that can protect the driver in case the fare (the passenger) turns out to be a bad guy, it also can put you at risk.
Be aware that what you say can be overheard by the cab driver. Don't talk about money that you might be carrying, or
exensive items you might have.
And be wary if a cab driver asks you if it's your
first time in town. If you answer yes -- the cab driver might think you're an easy mark for a long detour and a higher
GETTING ROBBED AT AN ATM
Update December 5, 2010 You could let yourself get robbed
at an ATM if you are not careful. We're all busy rushing around for the holidays, but you need to take a moment and
think when you are at an ATM. When I talk about getting robbed at an ATM, I'm not talking about letting someone peek
at your PIN or secret code and I'm not talking about withdrawing cash just as someone reaches for it as it comes out of the
ATM. What I am talking about is leaving your card in the machine, or leaving the machine without pushing the "exit"
button to stop additional transactions.
Twice in the last week the consumer in front
of me at an ATM has forgotten to either remove their ATM card, or to push the "exit" button when they finished their
transaction. If I weren't an honest guy, in both cases I could have walked up to the machine and taken more money out
of their accounts.
Today, at the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City, the consumer
ahead of me at the ATM rushed off after getting her money without pushing the "exit" button. I pushed
the button for her. For this ATM the bank card was swiped at the start of the ATM visit.
In the other instance a few days ago, a customer at a bank ATM left his card in the machine and started walking back
to his car. I saw that the card was not removed, the warning beep was sounding, so it was easy for me to yell for that
consumer to return to the ATM to retrieve his card.
But you can't expect everyone
to be honest. It might seem simple enough but be sure you walk away from the ATM with your card and be sure that you
have pushed the "exit" button to end your transaction period.
SO MANY REWARDS CARDS, AND SO CONFUSING
Updated November 24, 2010 Like you, I like to sign up for
free rewards cards or loyalty cards that stores and businesses offer. My first loyalty program was a frequent flyer
card from the old Eastern Airlines back in the 1980's. I don't fly much now, but I am part of the Southwest Airlines
rewards program now so when I take a trip to Tucson to visit my wife's family I can get a credit towards a free flight.
I am also a member of the loyalty card program at CVS Pharmacy and I am part of the loyalty club program at Cafe
50's which is a local restaurant near my home in the West Los Angeles area. If I eat at Cafe 50's enough, I'm supposed
to get a free meal. So far, I keep paying.
I'm also a member of the loyalty
program at The Haircutters, the Los Angeles salon chain. Since I get a haircut every three weeks I've filled up several
loyalty cards with stamps and I've redeemed them for a free haircut. I still give my usual tip to my hairdresser, of
The loyalty card that my wife and I use the most comes
from Ralphs, the supermarket chain. We regularly shop at Ralphs. And last night, I used my Ralphs loyalty card
to get a 10-cent per gallon discount at my neighborhood Shell gas station. Shell and Ralphs have made a marketing deal
and this is being advertised as a new benefit for Ralphs rewards members. I suspect Ralphs gives Shell a few cents per
gallon so Shell will give Ralphs customers ten-cents off on the price of a gallon of gas. I'm sure it's a win-win deal
for both companies. But is it a winning deal for me?
What I didn't know until
I checked the program's rules on the Ralphs website is that in order to get the discount of 10-cents a gallon at Shell, I
have to redeem 100 points in the Ralphs rewards program. Those points usually give us coupons for payment at the checkout.
This past month, we got a coupon for $6 at the checkout. So now I have to wonder if it was wise to redeem 100 Ralphs
points to get the 10-cents per gallon discount at Shell? I bought 15 gallons which gave me a savings of $1.50.
The trouble is, I don't know if those 100 points in my Ralphs account would have saved me more than $1.50 at the supermarket.
What I also discovered is that when you redeem those 100 Ralphs rewards points for the 10-cent per gallon
discount at Shell, you are entitled to buy 35 gallons of gas at the discounted price. Gee, I wish I knew that in advance
because I would have stood at the pump and had my wife's car follow mine and my son's car follow her car so we could have
used our full allotment of 35 gallons. Had I bought 35 gallons, I could have saved $3.50 with my 100 Ralphs rewards
points. Now I wonder if 100 Ralphs rewards points are worth $3.50 at the supermarket?
Darn, it's complicated, isn't it?
These rewards clubs and loyalty clubs
are a good idea. But they can be too complicated to figure out. Let me give you another example. I belong
to another program that lets you redeem points for gift cards -- but the point value varies for a $50 gift card with one company
and a $50 gift card at another company. In this case, company A's $50 gift card cost 1800 points while company B's $50
gift card cost 1500 points. But that one was easy to spot because the loyalty program's catalogue clearly spells out
the number of points needed for each $50 gift card. But I went with company A at 1800 points because I rarely shop at
When these loyalty programs get complicated I just wish they would scrap
the loyalty programs and simply lower their prices. Lower prices would really get my loyalty.
WHY DO CREDIT
CARD COMPANIES CHARGE SUCH HIGH INTEREST RATES?
writing this on Sunday, January 17th, 2010 just after I took a look at the latest statistics on interest rates published by
the Federal Reserve. I'm not going to clutter this page with statistics but here's what you should know: corporations
are borrowing money at about 5% and mortgage rates are at about 5% and banks are paying about 1% or less on savings accounts.
So why are credit card interest rates as high as 30% or more?
Again, here's the question: Why do credit card companies charge such high interest rates?
The answer is: because they can.
As you know, new rules about credit cards are taking effect but there still is no law saying that
credit card companies must lower their interest rates to match the other low rates in our economy. But I think it's
time that this happened. If the credit card companies say they can't make money charging 10% or 15% interest -- and
they must charge 19% or 30% -- then let them go out of business. And if the
credit card companies say they can't lend money to high risk card users unless they charge those high risk card users 30%
or more, then tell the credit card companies not to make those loans because they'll be doing
those consumers a favor.
interest rates in the economy are so low, and when banks are paying out so little on deposits, it's time to bring back the
usury laws and put a cap on interest rates. The days of credit card companies
charging "mob rates" must end -- and it's time for them to end.
So join our fight--
go to our "Contact Us" page and tell us you're "in" and we'll get the campaign started.
By the way, watch your credit
card statements for a change.
new entry on your credit card statment will tell you "how long it will take to pay off your balance." The Federal Reserve says: "your monthly credit card bill will include
information on how long it will take you to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments. It will also tell
you how much you would need to pay each month in order to pay off your balance in three years." And that info
might get a lot of consumers to wake up about the true high cost of plastic.
TIPS ON HOW TO PURCHASE AND USE GIFT CARDS
cards are always popular gifts and here are some important things to keep in mind. First, store gift cards and
general purpose gift cards which might be issued by a credit card company have different rules
of operation. Store gift cards are good at a particular store or chain of stores. While a general purpose gift
card issued by a credit card company can be accepted wherever that card is accepted. There may be a fee or purchase
price added to the cost or value of general purpose gift cards, but store gift cards generally have no fees. Store gift cards usually have no monthly fees, but gift cards from credit card
companies might have fees that start after six to twelve months.
Consider buying gift cards that
clearly disclose their costs, fees and information about how the cards to be used. Don't leave anything to guess work.
You might want to find out if a refund is available on the gift card balance that is not used.
you get help with your gift card questions? Yes, you can call the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP or the
California Attorney General's Office, but the quickest way to check on the gift card is to get the store's or gift card company's
rules in writing before you buy them.
And remember don't lose the gift cards
-- because they are like losing cash for the most part. Some other tips: try to use the entire balance within
six months because this way you're more likely to use the balance before it's forgotten. Always keep track of your balance -- because it's your money.
Starting in August 2010 new federal
rules take effect on gift cards that prohibit fees if the card is used within the previous 12 months, and cards can't expire
for at least five years.
SHOP CAREFULLY WHEN
YOU BUY GOLD FOR INVESTING
the price of gold now above $1,000 an ounce, many consumers are now interested in buying gold coins for investment -- or selling
the gold coins they have for a profit. It is very important now that you shop around for the best buy and sell prices.
Prices will vary, and you should be aware that certain coins, especially smaller coins, have higher markups than other coins
For example, if you buy United
States $20 Gold pieces issued before 1933 you will pay a larger premium because many $20 gold coins, called "double eagles"
have a numismatic or collector value.
"bullion coins" such as Krugerrands and American Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf gold coins do not have a collectible
value are their price more clearly matches the price of gold. But smaller gold bullion coins have higher percentage
Here is an example:
I called one coin dealer when the price of gold was at about $1,055 an ounce and asked for his price for a one ounce American
Eagle gold coin. He said the price was $1,098.
I asked the price for a French 20-Franc gold coin which contains about one-fifth of an ounce of gold, and he said the price
for that coin was $352. With gold at $1,055 the "bullion value" should be about $210. The difference
between $352 and $210 is about $140 which is the markup on small gold coins. In fact, if you were to buy five of those
French coins to get one ounce of gold, you'd be paying $1,760 while a one ounce American Eagle gold coin would cost you $662
ARE SOME OF THOSE
ARCADE GAMES LIKE SLOT MACHINES?
cameraman and I stopped at a pizza restaurant the other day. The name of the pizza joint is not important but it's part
of a national chain. Anyway, while other lunch timers were waiting for their pizzas I noticed that many of them were
playing the arcade machines in the back of the restaurant. There were the classic arcade games like pinball and air
hockey and arcade games where you can shoot space invaders. But there were also those "skill games" where
if you can maneuver the crane to the right spot you could scoop up a stuffed animal or a bunch of candy or if you didn't have
skill (or luck) you'd scoop up nothing but air.
watched some of the lunch timers lose quarter after quarter and dollar after dollar trying to scoop up a stuffed animal or
some candy or other prize-- but all they got was air. And that made me think these types of arcade games were nothing
more than slot machines but instead of winning quarters or dollars, the jackpot on
these arcade slot machines was a scoop of candy or a stuffed animal.
So I started thinking -- were these arcade games really games of skill or really just games of
chance, like slot machines.
of you might argue that video poker machines are games of skill that start with chance. The skill is knowing which cards to hold and which cards to discard in the video poker game; the chance is the gamble that the machine will give you good starting cards and then give you good replacement
cards after you toss the cards you don't want to hold after the deal.
Those arcade games with the crane are really very much like those video poker machines.
The skill is in maneuvering the crane. The chance is in how the prizes inside the tank are stacked or pushed together
which might make it absolutely impossible to pluck one using the crane.
So I have to ask if those arcade games with the cranes that are used to pluck a prize are legal,
why isn't video poker legal in pizza parlors and stores and gas stations (outside of the usual venues like casinos)?
With both those arcade cranes and those video poker games it's a combination of luck and skill, and in both arcade crane games
and video poker games, it appears to me the house has an edge and the player is more likely to lose than win.
That's my opinion. Alan Mendelson
IT'S TIME FOR
THE YEAR-END FINANCIAL CHECK-UP
financial planner Brian Gilder in the video below gives you some ideas about what financial records you should be checking
as we approach the end of the year. Actually, checking these things now wouldn't hurt. He also suggests checking
your financial safety cushion, your beneficiaries, what stocks you might want to sell at a loss to save on taxes, and carefully
check your insurance policies to see that you are protected against accidents.
FOR BANK ACCOUNT INFO
crooks never give up -- they keep sending out emails asking me to confirm my login information for my bank account.
But these crooks must be idiots, or they can't speak English, because their email notifications always have bad grammar or
misspellings. I am going to highlight the bad grammar and misspellings from the latest "alert" phishing scam
During our usual security enhancement protocol, we
observed multiple login attempt error while login in to your online banking account.
We have believed that someone other than you is trying
to access your account for security reasons, we have temporarily suspend your
account and your access to online banking and will be restricted if you fail to update.
Okay, now for our phishing grammar lesson for the crook. It should be
"multiple login attempt errors to your...." And "we believe that someone other than you...."
And instead of writing "is trying to access your account for security reasons,"
Mr. Crook should have written "someone is trying to access your account and for security reasons we have temporarily
suspended your account, and your access to online banking will be restricted if you fail to update your login records."
Maybe these crooks will learn
proper grammar and sentence construction and spelling while serving long terms in prison.
DO THE MATH,
BECAUSE SOME BUSINESSES CAN'T
May 15, 2011 When I first started in TV as a consumer news reporter, the "hip thing" to do was to expose
businesses for their goofs and for misleading consumers. For example, measuring how much water was in a can of peas.
If you found a company that packed too much water and too few peas in their cans it was a "big story."
Wow, did the consumer advocates on the TV news go hot and heavy with that story. I remember the anchorman on the newsbreaks
saying it -- "our consumer advocate (fill in the name here) says you're paying too much for water in your can of peas.
Film at 11." Go get 'em, you consumer advocates, go get 'em you pitbulls of investigative journalism.
One of my favorite stories was comparing the number of raisins
in different brands of raisin cereal. I actually counted, one by one, all of the raisins in a national brand, and counted
all of the raisins in a "supermarket private label brand" of raisin cereal. The supermarket's cereal sold
by Ralphs had the exact same number of raisins as the national brand "with two scoops of raisins" as was advertised
in its commercials. That was in the 1990's. I wonder what would happen if I repeated that test today? I
hope we'd get the same results.
I must wonder if companies can do the math -- if they can count, if they can multiply, if they can figure out percentages
The reason I am skeptical
is that back in May of 2009 I went to the drive thru of the McDonald's restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard in Century
City and ordered a ten-piece package of Chicken McNuggets. I opened the box and found there were only 9 -- not ten --
McNuggets in the box. Gee, McDonald's has workers who can't count to ten? It wasn't worth driving back to the
restaurant to get my tenth McNugget. So I just ate my lunch with 90% of the ten-piece package of McNuggets I ordered.
A few days before I stopped at the
McDonald's drive thru at Primm, Nevada, in the casino and shopping area on the I-15. This restaurant actually charges
extra for the dipping sauces for those McNuggets (other restaurants usually give one or two packages of dipping sauce at no
extra cost). I ordered two packages of Hot Mustard dipping sauce but when we got the bag at the drive thru window we
checked -- and there weren't any. Gee, all the worker had to do was count "one, two" packages.
I don't mean to pick on McDonald's. Frankly I like McDonald's.
When my kids were young I even bought them shares of McDonald's stock. McDonald's is a great company and a lot of people
must know how to count or else they couldn't post those signs about "billions and billions served." But gee,
did they really serve "billions and billions" or just 90% of billions and billions?
Some other companies don't know how to count, or how to do the math, either.
At least that's what it looks like after buying their products and doing the math myself.
At CVS, the big drug store chain, I bought a big box of their antibacterial
moist wipes. I like them, and always use them. They're handy, especially when I go through a drive thru at a McDonald's.
What I liked about the purchase of this box of wipes is that it had in bold lettering "25% MORE FREE." And
the printing on the box says "60 WIPES FOR THE PRICE OF 45." Well, I did the math and found it wasn't 25%
more free. If the basic box of 45 had 25% more, then the box should have 56 and a quarter wipes. Well, when you
go from 45 wipes to 60 wipes, it's an increase of almost 33%. CVS, thanks for the deal but you are cheating yourself.
You could have said "33% MORE FREE" and you might be selling more of those Antibacterial Moist Wipes.
By the way, CVS, if you reduced your box of wipes from 60 wipes
to 45 wipes that would be a reduction of 25%.
Another company that can't seem to count is Van deKamp's which makes frozen
fish sticks. I love their frozen fish sticks. I've been eating them forever. My wife bought me a large box
of Van deKamp's with 30 frozen fish sticks. Well, thirty is too many for me to eat at any one time, and so I portioned
out my meals. I had ten fish sticks the first time -- and then ten more the second time. That's twenty so far.
And when I made the rest of the Van deKamp's fish sticks I found that 13 remained in the box. Hmmm... that's
a total of 33 fish sticks. I guess I got a deal. Below is the video I made about the bad math.
Here on our new media website "Moneyman" Alan Mendelson who is the original Best Deals TV Show reporter
on KCAL9 and consumer advocate, shows you the best deals on TV, and the best buys, bargains and where savvy shoppers
go to save, and how to get the most for "your money" with the best of Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County,
Riverside County and San Bernardino County. Some content on www.alanbestbuys.com is paid advertising. The Best Buys TV Show is a paid infomercial program which may also include news and information
which is not sponsored or paid for by advertisers.