July 22, 2019

Today’s Consumer Better Be Sharp

Never before has there been more deceptive and clever advertising and products that are not what they used to be. If you are not a vigilante, you stand the chance of either over spending, getting a product that you do not want, or to be outright scammed.

Food, unless you live on another planet, seems to be constantly going up in price or the product is getting smaller. Buy a popcycle lately? The size is going down ever so slightly. How about the infamous Keurig coffee cups. The price might appear like a bargain until you realize that you are getting 10 cups and not 12. Ever notice that the center cardboard holders on toilet paper are getting larger. Yep, and that means you are getting less paper. Packaging is very deceptive today. Many products now contain 6 donuts, for example, when previously, they had contained 8 donuts.

Cars ads are fun to watch. Advertised lease prices are based upon what the auto manufacturers call “a low mileage lease.” Turns out to be about 10,000 miles per year. After 10,000 miles the price per mile jumps to $0.25 cents. The fine print which is actually on the TV screen for 4.2 seconds contains all the disclaimers such as the offer “excludes taxes, title, destination, dealer-prep, deposits, on and on.”

How about credit card advertisements. You get 10% cash back except the 10% applies only to mobile telephone purchases. How about 3% back on everything? Yep, except there is a cap of $1,500 per quarter on the cash back amount so you cannot go out and buy a car on your credit card and reap big rewards. And please, do not leave a balance on your “cash back” card at the end of the month as the rate of interest charged jumps up way beyond the rate charged for regular cards. The credit card company has to get its money back some way.

I like the insurance ads the best. You get a new car if your car is totaled. Sure enough if it is within the first year that you own the car and the car has less than 15,000 miles on it plus a dozen other disclaimers. Each insurance company tells you that they are the fairest, most concerned company out there. They will not charge you for your first accident. God help you if you have a second accident as your rates will skyrocket and you will not be able to move to another insurance company during the “accident rate period” as all the insurance companies work together so there is no dropping your provider to move to another insurance company to avoid the excess charges for usually a period of three years.

There are so many pitfalls to buying gold that I caution against it. The biggest headache is selling your gold coins or bullion. When you bought the gold, they did not tell you that the price was inflated by 30 to 50%. You could hold your gold for years and then sell it at a loss. Shipping your gold to an authorized buyer is another headache. It may involve an insured carrier, special handling, special packaging, special insurance, etc. You do not just stick your gold coin or bullion in a box and take it to the local UPS store.

I like some of the department store ads. They seem to have everything on sale until you read the fine print where it details the items that are not on sale or the products in certain departments that are excluded from the sale. So why have the sale at all? The only reason that I could see to have what I call a “limited sale” is to drive store traffic but Amazon has cured that.

Be very, very careful when booking a cruise or an international vacation. Cruise packages now are not always “all inclusive” and your specific cruise plan may contain limited meals and activities. Many deposits are “non-refundable” and fraud reigns with telemarketers telling you about the “free trip” that you have won or how you do have an all-inclusive cruise, but “guess what,” you have to pay the air fare to get to the port of entry and oh, there are also “port fees.”

How about the sneaky little trick by the department stores now. You get your bill and you think that you have 10 days to pay. Yes you do but look closely at the mailing address on your bill. A local department store in New Jersey clears its bills through their Phoenix, Arizona Processing Center and it take 3 to 5 days for your payment to arrive by mail from New Jersey. Great if you pay electronically but look out if you decide to mail your payment. The fine print states that “payment must be received within the specified payment period.” If it is late, you can pay up to $39.00 as a late fee.

Lastly, not all charities are honest today nor are all charities legitimate. Too many charities skim off 85% of the donations they receive through administrative fees, salaries, and advertising. Be very suspect when a charity calls asking for money. It can be a double problem if they want credit card information to accept your donation. My suggestion is always ask for their solicitation to be mailed to you. If you never receive anything in the mail, there is a good chance it was a scam.

It seems like instead of things getting easier today, they are getting more complicated. I hate to say it but trust no one, be cautious and err on the side of caution by always taking time to look every opportunity over and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

View all articles
Written by Donald Wittmer