The Checkout

Archive: June 2006

Tube Kiting Safety Alert

Just before the holiday weekend, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a safety warning about the new but increasingly popular water sport of tube kiting--in which a person flies across water in a large inflatable tube (sometimes 10 feet or more in diameter) that is drawn by a boat traveling between 25 and 35 miles per hour. (You can see how this works by watching some of the videos at YouTube.com--and you have to admit it does look like a lot of fun.) But the agency says tube kiting is "extremely dangerous." The agency said it knows of at least...

By | June 30, 2006; 10:53 AM ET | Comments (13)

Perpetual Spam

Two popular e-mails--both false--are making the rounds again, prompting cautionary warnings from federal officials. Earlier this month, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued an alert about a spam e-mail purportedly from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. "This scheme was originally unleashed in 2004, but it is currently resurfacing," the IC3 said. The e-mail claims that your account has been denied insurance from the FDIC--in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and federal, state and local governments--because of suspected violations of the Patriot Act. To get the insurance reinstituted, recipients are asked to click to the provided link...

By | June 28, 2006; 10:22 AM ET | Comments (2)

Say What You Mean, Please

As I'm still reminiscing about my vacation, I want to share a few thoughts about customer service, especially this one: Why can't hotels say what they really mean? Instead they put sweetly worded messages in the rooms that seem to say one thing but actually mean another. For instance, in my first B&B in Banff (the Blue Mountain Lodge, a friendly little residence near the main drag), there's this note: "We want to respect your privacy. If you would like fresh towels, the garbage emptied, etc., please let us know." The real meaning of this message became clear the second...

By | June 28, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (59)

No Hails for Airport Cab Service

And here I thought the Canadian Rockies had a lot of rain! For the 10 days I hiked around Banff and Jasper, there were showers everyday. Blue skies one minute, an ice squall the next. But that was nothing compared to the deluge that greeted me Sunday night (or rather in the wee hours of Monday morning thanks to all the air-traffic weather delays) at D.C's Ronald Reagan National Airport. And once again, the complete chaos there proves that Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has a long way to go in serving its customers. Hundreds of travelers waited for nonexistent...

By | June 27, 2006; 9:24 AM ET | Comments (17)

CPSC Chairman Has Resigned

We learned in the last hour that the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Hal Stratton, has resigned, effective July 15. The Republican Stratton -- a former New Mexico attorney general -- has been chairman of the CPSC for four years. According to his exceptionally brief letter of resignation (three paragraphs) that was submitted to President Bush, he does not know what his next job will be. Republican Commissioner Nancy Nord will become the agency's acting chairman. Consumer and safety advocates have been sharply critical of Stratton---saying his tenure has produced a lot of motion but little action. During...

By Stacey Garfinkle | June 26, 2006; 3:43 PM ET | Comments (0)

Comcast vs. RCN

In my absence, my editor Stacey Palosky has offered to post an item, giving one more perspective about customer service. I'm in the midst of a big move and have been dreading dealing with the whole cable, phone, Internet conundrum. Do I continue with separate companies, to whom I paid a combination of $141 last month, or fold them all together? Which to choose: RCN, our current cable company, or Comcast, our current high-speed Internet provider? I knocked Verizon, our phone company, out of the picture a year ago, when I tried to switch to their DSL. They mangled the...

By | June 20, 2006; 7:54 AM ET | Comments (50)

Happy Traveling!

I'm leaving on a jet plane--but I'll be back again. I'm going to the Canadian Rockies, where I hope to do lots of hiking and thinking. But as I'm packing, I thought I should leave a few tips behind to help you (and hopefully me, as well) avoid travel scams. These tips come from the Federal Trade Commission, which unfortunately has investigated far too many unscrupulous travel promotions over the past few years: * Buy your travel package from a company with a good reputation. Ask friends to recommend a business you can trust. * Be wary of ads or...

By | June 19, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Still Pestered by Telemarketing Calls?

Has your phone been pretty silent lately? Or is it still ringing regularly with unsolicited calls from telemarketers--even though you've posted your phone number on the national do-not-call list? I don't know about you, but we still get a fair number of calls from telemarketers even though our phone number is on the anti-telemarketing registry--at least one a day, sometimes more. True, that's far fewer than before, but many still seem to be getting through. Of course, most of those calls are from politicians and nonprofit groups, both exempt from the do-not-call rules. We also get several calls a week...

By | June 15, 2006; 8:50 AM ET | Comments (0)

Consumers' Checkbook: Don't Leave Home Without It

For years, one of my most favorite consumer publications has been Washington Consumers' Checkbook. It's where I always go to check on the best car-repair shops, plumbers, furniture stores, doctors, roofers, cobblers, etc. You name the field, Checkbook has price and quality ratings for the companies. And as best I can remember, the ratings have been accurate--they either reflected the experience I had already received or the treatment I was about to get after I used a company suggested by Checkbook. What's more, Checkbook included tons of valuable tips on how to shop, whether I was looking for insurance, funeral...

By | June 14, 2006; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

KFC's Trans Fats Taking Heat

The food fight continues. The perpetually hard-charging Center for Science in the Public Interest has launched another legal battle, this time against KFC. Fresh from its recent victory against Frito-Lay (see my item last week on the company's agreement to post more prominent olestra labels on the Light chip products), the nonprofit group today is filing suit against KFC for its continued use of partially hydrogenated oil, a.k.a. trans fat. In a class-action lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court, the group is asking a judge to bar KFC from using trans fat--or at the very least from requiring it to...

By | June 13, 2006; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

When Should Product Defects Be Reported?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is proposing new factors for determining when manufacturers have to report defective products to the agency. Some industry groups have pushed for and welcome the changes, while one commissioner and some consumer groups warn that the result may be less reporting of safety hazards. Read more in Cindy Skrzycki's "The Regulators" column today....

By | June 13, 2006; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Begging to Serve Myself

I've spent the last few days setting up my home office. Of course, that has meant several trips to Staples to help me create the perfect environment. I needed a better phone, a stand for my computer monitor, paper, pads and pencils--and all sorts of handy little organizational helpers that I hope will actually make me better organized, although I doubt it. Of course Staples had a great selection--in all the things I didn't really need (mostly the more expensive, more frivolous items). But when it came to what I did want and need, I often found empty shelves....

By | June 9, 2006; 8:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

No Longer Making Light of Olestra

There are a lot of people who don't like the Center for Science in the Public Interest. How do I know? Every time I write about this consumer-advocacy group, I get lots of e-mails and telephone calls complaining that the group is just a bunch of officious scaremongers, an obnoxious team of food police who are trying to curb our free choice to eat what we want when we want. One caller always leaves a message that I should identify the group as leftist liberal--and he does not mean that in a complimentary way. Say what you will about CSPI,...

By | June 8, 2006; 6:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Toy Industry Will Delve Into Magnets

Today, the toy industry is setting up a special committee to investigate whether there should be a voluntary safety standard for magnetic toys. The move follows a major recall of a popular magnetic toy building set, Magnetix, after a 21-month-old boy died from swallowing magnets that had broken free from the building set his older brother had gotten as a birthday present. See my earlier item. The toy committee of the international standard-setting organization, ASTM International, is meeting today to discuss the growing use of magnets in toys and will set up a working group that could well conclude that...

By | June 6, 2006; 7:50 AM ET | Comments (16)

The Bye Out

Today is a momentous day for me. I know it's trite, but today is truly the first day of the rest of my life. Why? Yesterday, after 25 years at The Washington Post, I retired. Well, sort of. This blog will continue. I'm taking advantage of an attractive early retirement/buy-out offer that the Post has offered scores of longtime newsroom employees. Nearly 70 people accepted (see the story by Frank Ahrens). It was a tough decision, because I loved my job at the newspaper. I love ferreting out misdoings and helping others steer clear of financial traps and misdeeds. And...

By | June 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (10)

Consumer Hero #3

You've already met Paul English. He was this blog's very first Consumer Hero, thanks to his Web site that tells all of us how to reach a real live customer-service person quickly in hundreds of companies, thus avoiding telephone hell. And you've also met Edgar Dworsky, a former consumer-affairs television reporter and consumer-protection official who currently monitors the world of consumer news and outrage through two informative Web sites: consumerworld.org and mouseprint.org. He calls himself Mr. Consumer and that's certainly a good label from Consumer Hero #2. Now meet Consumer Hero #3: Shawn Mosch. Mosch probably doesn't consider herself a...

By | June 1, 2006; 8:32 AM ET | Comments (13)

 

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