Archive for the ‘Scams’ Category
I recently sat down with Opinion Corp’s Pissed Consumer to ask what the feedback has been for consumers mattress shopping. Based on customer feedback, I’ve come up with the nuts and bolts every consumer needs to know when buying a mattress. I’ve made my own costly mistakes in the mattress department.
1) All of the major brands of mattress companies put different names on the same mattresses in different mattress stores. This is done so you won’t be able to compare prices when shopping for a mattress. Ask for a spec sheet to compare prices for the same mattress from the same manufacturer.
2) Ask for a short trial period. Many mattress companies say their mattresses compare to a well-known brand, Tempurpedic. You need to really try out the mattress for a night or two to make sure it meets your comfort needs.
3) Ranked from most to least mattress complaints are: Serta, Tempurpedic, Simmons Beautyrest, Sleep Number Bed and Sealy.
For a more extensive list of reviews for all kinds of mattresses, check out Sleep Like the Dead.
Homessesive on AOL.com
By Helen Fields for U.S. News & World Report – USA
Former mutual fund analyst Jennifer Litwin’s frustration with furniture drove her to an internship at Sotheby’s and a career as a consumer advocate. For her book Furniture Hot Spots, she went undercover, visiting and rating hundreds of stores.
What do furniture shoppers do wrong?
“A lot of people feel they have to do their whole house at once and want everything coordinated. But the most important thing is to take your time to watch how you live in your space. And I think people overpay for things like couches.”
Does a good couch cost thousands?
“I saw a couch at Ikea in the $500-to-$600 range. It was very attractive. But the cushions were sort of lumpy. For a couple hundred dollars, a local furniture store can put in new cushion filling.”
So you love Ikea? I’m amazed!
“I [also] love Urban Outfitters. People don’t realize that they sell vintage furniture online at very good prices–really well-constructed furniture.”
Any nightmare shopping experiences?
“At a store in New York, I saw these shabby pink suede chairs that looked like they came right out of the dentist’s office. The guy wanted $6,000. He said they’re by [20th-century designer] George Nelson. I said, “How do you know?” And he said, “They’re signed.” I turn the thing over and, sure enough, no signature.”
And what was his response?
“He looked like he’d just been caught!”
This story appears in the November 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.
CAR RENTAL COMPANIES HAVE INCONSISTENT BILLING PRACTICES
Though I typically don’t have a need to rent cars, I did so recently on a few different trips. My experience with Budget made me want to never rent another car again, and this isn’t the first time that my credit card meant carte-blanche to the car rental company.
CORPORATE CAR RENTAL OFFICES VS. FRANCHISE OPERATIONS
Apparently, when you rent a car from Budget, Hertz, Avis, etc., you are possibly renting from the parent company. However, plenty of franchise operations, privately owned and managed, rent out cars under the names: Budget, Avis, Hertz, etc.
AIRPORT CAR RENTAL AGREEMENTS
Once you book a daily car rental rate online, over the phone or through your travel agent, you must sign a contract at the airport. This isn’t easy to understand, because the rental contract invariably adds airport fees, etc., that you may not have seen on the quote. Then, of course, the car style you expected to rent is probably not even available anymore. You are now forced to spend more money and get a bigger, fancier car; or shift down a gear and get a more modest car that costs almost the same as what you expected to rent.
After signing the contract for the car rental, and hopefully not for additional insurance, a big money maker for the car rental companies, you get to check out your new car. In my case, I was given a van that had 25,000 miles on it and seemed very worn out and dirty on the inside.
But before I could leave a little inspector man came out and asked us to look over the car, as he quickly walked around our car and told us there were just a few little scratches on the bumper—he put the little sketch of the scratches on the contract, mumbled a few words in broken English that we didn’t understand, and sent us on our way, as there was a huge lineup of cars trying to leave the Vancouver airport. I looked closely around the car, and pretty much agreed with the inspector, but it was dark in the garage and we were feeling the need to get out because of the long line of cars behind us. The kids were getting antsy.
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MY SUMMER SPENT TRAVELING, ON THE REQUEST OF MY KIDS
Because I’ve spent the past many years traveling for work, I haven’t had much time or desire for leisurely travel. And traveling with little kids wasn’t always the easiest. But this past summer was different. My son, Edward, told me last year that he wanted to travel, to see the world. Planning the trips wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t sure which hotels to stay in, which places offered the best values, and best times and ways to book our trips.
RECENT TRIP TO THE REGENCY HOTEL IN NY WAS AN EYE OPENER
My brother and sister-in-law recently took my nephew, Justin, to NY for a weekend. They were so proud of the amazing rate they were able to get through Orbitz. For somewhere in the low $200′s, they were able to get a room at one of my favorite hotels, the Loew’s Regency in NY. I couldn’t believe the rate–a rate that I hadn’t been able to secure in years, since right after 9/11.
THE ARTIFICIALLY LOW HOTEL RATE QUOTED BY ORBITZ
Orbitz said in fine print that upgrades may be available upon arrival, but that they couldn’t guarantee the room you get when you book through them. Unfortunately, when my brother, sister-in-law and nephew got to the famed Regency Hotel, they discovered they would be sleeping in a room with 2 twin beds—something unacceptable for the 3 of them. So they went to the front desk, spoke with a reservations clerk and were able to upgrade to a room with 2 doubles—for an extra $100, of course.
PROBLEMS WITH ORBITZ, EXPEDIA, PRICELINE AND OTHER ONLINE TRAVEL COMPANIES
We’ve all had the same complaints when booking trips with the online travel companies, as Consumer Affairs reports:
1) The rate you are promised promises you nothing—wait til you see your room. No online or in-person guarantees of a room type or that your view won’t be the parking lot!
2) When you need to change your travel plans, good luck finding someone who picks up the phone to help you.
3) Changing your travel plans will require you to spend a hefty change fee, with no added benefits.
4) With online travel agencies you won’t usually be allowed to take advantage of all the freebies, miles, rewards and other ways the travel industry is extending to nearly every human being on Earth right now.
5) Travel websites are hard to use and are inefficient when you need to change your plans.
CONSIDER USING A WORLD-CLASS TRAVEL AGENT
I recently asked my friend, Erin, how she always plans the best trips, and how she keeps her kids so happy on vacation, even when traveling great distances. Erin was excited to share her little travel secret with me. As Erin travels all over the world to spend time with her husband and children, as her husband travels a lot for work, she has found that having the right travel agent is key to happy travels. Erin referred me Paul Klein Travel, in Chicago, a corporate travel agency, where I turned over my business and headaches. Through using Paul Klein Travel, I have been able to secure the best seats, best rooms, best hotels, best upgrades and packages, and yes, best prices. I have tried to comparison shop the trips I have taken using Paul Klein, in almost 100% of the cases, Paul Klein Travel has beat everyone.
CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENTS’ VOLUME BUSINESS GOOD NEWS FOR VACATIONING FAMILIES
The beauty of traveling with a corporate travel agency is that you can book great vacations at well-known hotel chains and resorts, and take advantage of the corporate travel agency’s great rates. Paul Klein, as it turns out, is one of only 80 travel agencies that “partners” with hotel chains like the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, among many other great chains–chains that are often expensive and have little in the way of a rewards program. Through Paul Klein, we were able to stay in some great spots and take advantage of the opportunities to see different places we may not otherwise know about.
BENEFITS OF USING A CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENT–WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK FOR
1) Alerts if prices drop or are about to go up so you can secure the best air/hotel packages
2) Resort credits that average between $100-300 per trip—credits that may include meals or spa packages; even high tea and room service breakfasts—free with your travel agent relationship.
3) Instant phone calls made to the manager of a hotel to request a room change or upgrade on your behalf–something you may not be able to secure on your own.
As featured on ABC7 Chicago.
With the real estate market being slow right now, you may be considering some home improvements. But beware of the scams and the contractors you allow to work on your home!
We can all relate to hiring the wrong contractor for our homes, the most intimate place that belongs to us. Getting recourse is very difficult and proving fault is not easy.
MOST COMMON SCAMS
- Asking for $ upfront for supplies, but never finishes the job.
- Bill at the end is higher than originally agreed upon.
- Doesn’t provide a written contract.
- Doesn’t provide in warranty or quote a list of materials/brand names to be used.
- Telling you that your repair issue is urgent so you won’t get other (possibly less expensive) quotes.
- Claiming the material you are buying is more expensive than the advertised price because it is custom.
- Not getting building permit before work begins.
- Demanding final payment before contractor pays subs/suppliers.
- Not correcting problems with the work quickly and without a question.
- Offering you a discount for continued business.
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BASED ON MY BOOK, “FURNITURE HOT SPOTS: THE BEST FURNITURE STORES AND WEBSITES COAST TO COAST”
I recently connected with an old friend/neighbor who had relocated to Atlanta. She saw my book somewhere and immediately recognized my name on the cover. She happened to be at a furniture store; one of the furniture stores I reviewed on my cross-country mission to uncover the best and worst furniture stores across the United States.
“FURNITURE HOT SPOTS” WRITTEN TO IDENTIFY THE HONEST FROM THE DISHONEST STORES AND AWARD STORES WITH EXCELLENT SERVICE, VALUE AND INTEGRITY
Until 2002, the US government had guidelines for selling furniture, and for describing the furniture that stores sold. After that point, the government lifted all restrictions on furniture stores across the country. Stores could call furniture anything they wanted to, and it would be allowable. Until Furniture Hot Spots was published there was no other book reviewing furniture stores across the country, using a system of rating the stores; in my case, the Chair of Distinction.
“CHAIR OF DISTINCTION”
If you see an orange sticker on the windows of furniture stores, with a little picture of a chair, that is the “Chair of Distinction”. The Chair is awarded to stores that I feel go above and beyond, in terms of quality, service and professionalism. Chain department stores and big box retailers, you would think, would have consistency and meet all the requirements of a store with a “Chair”. That logic doesn’t necessarily follow.
Studies have shown that in harder economic times small local retailers provide the most customer satisfaction. Large independent stores also offer added value; take Furnitureland South, for example, the largest furniture store in the world, located in Hickory, North Carolina. Shopping undercover at Furnitureland South was harder than hiking the glaciers—1 million square feet of shopping space. You’d think you would get lost and feel helpless. However, that wasn’t the case. As I pointed out on my recent radio show, with Jason Harris, President of Furnitureland South, the store makes it a point of having weekly classes for all salespeople, to teach them the latest innovations in furniture design and construction. Shopping undercover at Furnitureland South I was impressed with the professionalism of the staff, and indepth knowledge of the vast selection of furniture.
HOW THE WEB HAS HELPED SHOPPERS COMPARE NOTES
While I am not a big fan of shopping for everything online, I do believe that shopping online for furniture will help you determine what you might pay for a particular piece. “Furniture Hot Spots” shares my picks for the best websites designed for real furniture shoppers. What concerns me today is the rise in online auctions, or broker businesses that can charge the consignor up to 50% for selling the goods. Local sites are more cost effective, like Craigs List, where you pay a small percentage, and shipping is usually local. 1stdibs.com offers selection from high end antiques dealers from all around the world, but these dealers charge a lot for their goods because of their high commission structure with 1stdibs.com.
SHOPPING AT AUCTION IS STILL THE FAIREST SYSTEM FOR BUYERS
Yes, buyers (and sellers) pay a commission for buying, but the item sells only for the price people are willing to pay. One of my favorite auctions is the Market Place Auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. At this auction, which takes place several times a year, you can bid on anything from $50 up. If the weather is bad or if there is low turnout for other reasons, you can be the successful bidder who gets a steal. That is a fair system.
THE FAIR AND HONEST RETAILER
I am more impressed with how well retailers stand by their products and work with consumers on price and service. In this economy, service matters most, and the stores that go the extra mile will surpass the high-end antiques shops with bad service and little integrity. During the past two years, I have been extremely impressed with many of the big box stores, like Target and Wal-Mart, who have really stepped up to the plate in terms of competitive pricing, free shipping offers, and value that is so necessary to all families at this precarious time in history.
If you can’t absorb the cost of going to a $60,000 university right now, you may be looking at your online options for the best value. Though online education may cost less than an a physical university or college you have to understand what you are getting for your money and how your degree will be perceived.
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As featured on ABC7 Chicago.
As the mortgage market and economy continues to be weak, there is an increase in the number of mortgage fraud cases reported, and a 48% jump in foreclosures last month, alone.
Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, just filed a lawsuit against Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, for issuing and marketing risky and expensive loans. We have some tips on how to avoid getting into this situation and what to do if you find yourself a victim of mortgage fraud.
HOW DID WE GET TO THIS POINT?
- Lenders qualifying people who didn’t have the income to buy the home, but encouraging them to inflate their income on their application.
- ARMs became popular as “affordability products”– get borrowers in at a low rate but soon after, bump up the rate by several percentage points-resulting in increased foreclosure rates. Borrowers fooled by low teaser rate.
- At Countrywide and other mortgage companies, Madigan is claiming, the lender often didn’t tell borrowers the loan’s true costs, risk and affordability factors. Told borrowers, simply, “there are no closing costs.” This was misleading to the borrower.
- Loan officer’s compensation at many of these places was tied to the volume of loans sold–the goal being to sell as many mortgages as possible within a short period of time. The belief is that employers encouraged employees to sell risky mortgages to unsuspecting victims.
SPOTTING MORTGAGE FRAUD
- Lender encourages you to provide false info about your income, assets or employment. You may sense that the lender just wants you to buy that home that you love, but can’t afford.
- Mortgage broker/lender encourages you to work with his or her appraiser, inflating the home’s value.
- Interest rate is 2-10% higher than market rates.
- True closing costs are hidden, but lender tells you that you won’t be able to get a mortgage elsewhere.
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With the real estate market being in a slump right now, buyers can take such advantage of their strong bargaining position! Trusting the broker can be the hardest part of buying a house. Being a prepared home shopper can be the best bargaining tool you have.
The most important thing you need to do as a buyer is hire a highly skilled inspector. Most homeowners in the state of Illinois require you to have an inspection within 10 days of signing the contract. This doesn’t give you a lot of time to find an inspector.
COMMON MISSTATEMENTS MADE BY REAL ESTATE BROKERS:
- “The mechanicals have all been recently replaced”,
- “This item was just repaired”,
- “The house is environmentally safe.”
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Publisher: Chicago Sun-Times
Title: Safe Shopping
Author: The Fixer
Dear Readers: For those of you opening your wallets in stores or online for the holidays, here are some tips from Steve Bernas of the Better Business Bureau and consumer advocate/author Jennifer Litwin that might keep you from winding up in need of The Fixer’s help:
- Pay with plastic. If you end up having a problem with the product or service, you can dispute the charge with your credit-card company.
- Check out return policies. Many retailers are tightening up and allowing only in-store credit, but no refund. If you’re buying presents soon, some stores’ return periods will expire before the holidays even get here. And, most important, remember that returns are a privilege and not a right, and not all stores offer them.
- Don’t open the box unless you’re sure you won’t have to return it — especially with electronics. Continue reading »