Adventures in Tooth Whitening
Perhaps I'm just feeling my middle age, but -- even though I know better -- all those ads for tooth-whitening products are starting to work their magic on me. Recently, one came via e-mail, promising that my teeth could be made 7 shades whiter in 7 hours. Yikes: That sounded startling.
And yet I was intrigued: The ad featured Crest logos prominently and promised a free 14-day trial -- plus a Crest toothbrush, Crest toothpaste and Crest dental floss -- for just the cost of shipping, which turns out to be $4.99 (plus a dollar if you want to insure the package).
The product, called Luminous Brites, appeared to be a standard goop-in-trays arrangement, a whitening approach I favor because it keeps the active ingredient, carbamide peroxide (which turns into hydrogen peroxide when it mixes with water) in close contact with teeth for a long time, which is the key to successful whitening.
Thanks to my devotion to coffee, my teeth could use some spiffing up. This Luminous Brites stuff looked as good as anything I'd seen in the store. What did I have to lose?
That's when I put my journalist hat back on. A quick Google search turned up a Web site called Ripoff Report, I found a complaint apparently submitted the day before by someone named Kerri in Sheridan, Ark., who said that soon after she'd received her 14-day trial supply of Luminous Brites, her bank account had been charged $88.97 for a subsequent month's worth of the stuff that she hadn't ordered. Dissatisfaction ensued. ( A similar complaint dated the day before appears to have been posted by one Patricia of Hammond, La.; another's been filed since.)
Who knows if there's really a Kerri in Sheridan, Ark., or if her tale is true. But it sent me looking further. First, I checked the Luminous Brites ad's not-too-prominent "Terms and Conditions" link, which does say that unless a person who has ordered the trial kit proactively cancels her "Value Autoship Program" within 20 days of her purchase, her credit card will be automatically billed for the next month's supply. (It also says that the trial shipment won't be sent unless the purchaser checks the box saying she's read the Terms and Conditions.)
The small print also notes that "Crest is not associated with and does not endorse this product in any way." Funny, because the URL for one of Luminous Brite's Web sites is "cresttoothwhitening.com."
And, oh, by the way: the ad also mentions, almost as an afterthought, that the product shown in the ad isn't the one you're getting: "Actual product is not pictured," it says.
I wanted to know whether the folks at Luminous Brites had heard of Kerri from Arkansas; maybe they'd like to share their side of the story. A call to the customer support line put me in touch with two fellows who made clear that they weren't authorized to speak on behalf of the company; two subsequent calls ended with my being put on hold and then disconnected. One of the men had suggested I e-mail the Glendale, Ca.-based company. I did. A week ago. And again on Friday. But but I haven't heard back.
Meanwhile, I called Crest. The p.r. person I spoke to hadn't heard of Luminous Brites or cresttoothwhitening.com.
So where does all that leave me? With a renewed sense of skepticism about buying stuff online. Even if a product or company looks legit at first, it's worth doing some homework and reading the fine print before giving anyone your credit card number. (FYI: to file a complaint about a purchase gone awry, go to the Federal Trade Commission's Web site. The site also offers lots of useful information about on-line shopping pitfalls and how to avoid them.)
So, have you bought products you've received e-mailed ads for? How has that turned out?
And, for a future blog, what tooth whitening products or procedures have you tried? How easy were they to use? And were you pleased with the results?
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