The Checkout

Archive: February 2007

Is Bargain Shopping In Trouble?

There are few things Americans love more than a good bargain. The desire to get more for less has brought us so much: Black Friday, big box stores, a staggering trade deficit and the likes of Crazy Eddie. But it may soon get harder to find a good deal if the Supreme Court rules for manufacturers in a case called Leegin Creative Leather Products Inc. v. PSKS Inc., d/b/a Kay's Kloset, consumer advocates say. (I know. The mere mention of the Supremes has set off the Broccoli Alert, but bear with me, bargain hunters. This concerns you!) A quick summary...

By Annys Shin | February 28, 2007; 9:30 AM ET | Comments (96)

Are You Saving Enough?

This past weekend, my husband and I worked on our taxes. (This is early for us, but when you have a baby due next week, you have a powerful antidote to the procrastinating tendencies that normally kick in.) Eyeballing our form, my better half guessed we'll probably have to pay this year, after a couple years of receiving refunds. This wasn't a surprise. We went to a financial planner who assured us it was better to change our withholding so that we could have money now, as opposed to letting Uncle Sam hold onto it until tax refund time. But...

By Annys Shin | February 27, 2007; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (14)

BW Picked the Best. You Choose the Worst

Business Week for the first time has ranked companies for their customer service. The weekly magazine's timing came close to being laughably off. It nearly went to press listing discount airliner JetBlue as No. 4. Business Week deemed JetBlue's customer service fiasco the week of Valentine's Day catastrophic enough to yanked the company from the list altogether. In addition to well-publicized meltdowns, Business Week based its rankings on a combination of factors: It started with brands already ranked by J.D. Power & Associates, commissioned J.D. Powers to survey customers about brands J.D. Powers doesn't track, and polled 3,000 BW readers....

By Annys Shin | February 26, 2007; 9:15 AM ET | Comments (32)

Bearing the Cost of Stolen Data

TJX, the parent company of discount retailers TJ Maxx and Marshalls, said Wednesday that the data breach it reported last month is bigger than it first thought. As my colleague Ellen Nakashima reported yesterday, TJX initially said it was hacked into sometime between May 2006 and January 2007. Now, however, it thinks its computer system was also hacked a whole two years earlier, in July 2005 and on "various subsequent dates" that year. So much for the laws in more than 30 states that require companies to notify customers as soon as possible after a breach. The company doesn't even...

By Annys Shin | February 23, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Please Act Responsibly Most of the Time

Coming to a screen near you: The payday lending industry asks you not to borrow so much money from them. The industry's lead trade group, a.k.a. the Community Financial Services Association of America, yesterday debuted a $10 million national advertising campaign to better educate consumers about when--and when not--to take out a payday loan. In the ad: Images of average Joes and Janes going about their daily lives flash across the screen. CFSA president Darrin Andersen says: "We want you to always to use payday advances responsibly. Payday advances are never designed to be a long-term financial solution. It is...

By Annys Shin | February 22, 2007; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (23)

Product Safety Agency Needs A Troop Surge

The Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't had a chairperson since July 2006, when Hal Stratton stepped down to return to the private sector. Normally this sort of agency churn would be considered inside baseball, but in this case it affects millions of average consumers. As my colleague Cindy Skrzycki explained yesterday, the panel needs three members to have a quorum to perform certain vital functions such as setting civil penalties or writing rules. It can still carry out those tasks without a third member for six months. But those six months ended in January. The agency tried to get as...

By Annys Shin | February 21, 2007; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

Of Peanut Butter and Paranoia

Today, I have a cautionary tale involving peanut butter and paranoia. Since I started covering food-borne illness outbreaks last fall, I've been afflicted by a certain level of paranoia about what I eat, to the point where, even months after the spinach outbreak, I can't bring myself to buy a bag of Dole fresh spinach. When I do buy non-lettuce leafy greens, I boil them to death before consuming them. Whenever I handle raw eggs now, I wash my hands in scalding water before touching anything else -- you get the idea. Anyway, lately I had actually been trying to...

By Annys Shin | February 20, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

InPhonic Settlement

Ever since the D.C. Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit against District-based wireless phone and service retailer InPhonic Inc. last June, I have received a steady stream of e-mails from unhappy InPhonic customers. Well, looks like the company, while not admitting to wrongdoing, has settled with the city. It has agreed to pay D.C. $100,000 and make restitution to some 9,000 customers nationwide. Just to recap the case against InPhonic: The DC AG alleged the company failed to deliver on its rebates. To plagiarize my own June 2006 Post story for a second here: For example, the suit alleges that...

By Annys Shin | February 16, 2007; 6:45 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Wii Sad Story

Today I bring you a story of one local man's quest for a Nintendo Wii. It's sure to strike a chord with anyone who has spent half a day glued to a Wii inventory tracker, slept outside a store for a Tickle Me Elmo, or simply been mistreated at the hands of Best Buy employees. Our story began earlier this week when Dale Graham and his wife wanted to surprise their 15-year old daughter with a Wii on Valentines Day. Graham owns a landscaping company. He's not a gamer. So he started his journey not quite realizing how popular the...

By Annys Shin | February 15, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

An Unreasonable Request?

A reader named Grace called in this week to raise this question: How far should businesses go to be accessible to consumers with disabilities? It all started when Grace spied an ad for C-Mart, a new discount retailer opening in Landover, Md., this weekend. The store plans to offer boutique designer clothes and furniture at big box prices. In the spirit of the latter, it is a roomy 65,000 square feet. That poses a problem for shoppers such as Grace, who on top of a burning desire to buy a Ferragamo bag for 80 percent off retail has multiple sclerosis....

By Annys Shin | February 14, 2007; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

New Rules on Child Safety Seats By Year's End

Something good may yet come of the controversy sparked by Consumer Reports' retraction of its recent child safety seat report. As you might recall, Consumer Reports made a splash when it said 10 popular brands of infant car seats failed in crash tests done at speeds and in directions identical to the ones used for vehicle crash tests. Vehicles are tested at 35 mph for frontal impact and 38 mph for side impact. Child safety seats, by contrast, are tested only in front-impact crashes at 30 mph. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, uncovered a major flaw in Consumer...

By Annys Shin | February 13, 2007; 9:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Auto Loan Delinquencies

The number of auto loans that are more than 30 days late edged up during the second half of last year. While the figure is still low, the trend, if it continues this year, suggests to some financial analysts that higher energy prices and interest rates may be taking a toll on some consumers. I am trying to find out whether the analysts are right. I'm looking for consumers who may have bought a vehicle in 2006 and found it hard to keep up with payments for whatever reason. I'm interested in talking to folks who financed their vehicles through...

By Annys Shin | February 12, 2007; 2:08 PM ET | Comments (0)

Looking for a Job? Phishers Are Looking for You.

On Saturday, The Washington Post ran a story I wrote on a phishing scheme that targets job seekers who have posted their resumes on popular job sites such as Monster, Career Builder and Yahoo Hot Jobs. This particular scam came with an Onion-esque flourish. One of the supposed employers, USAVoice.org, called itself "the world's fastest growing news organization," and lured aspiring journalists to give up personal information during the application prospect. The news on the Web site, as one victim realized too late, doesn't update as often as, say CNN.com does, and consists of stories with timely headlines such as...

By Annys Shin | February 12, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (22)

Calling Your Neighbor May Cost You

Reader Ruth Skiles of Falls Church recently noticed that the minutes on her prepaid AT&T calling card began rapidly disappearing even though she hadn't made any out-of-state calls. That had never happened before in the four years since she bought the card at Sam's Club. She was used to reloading it with minutes via telehone and paying the same low rate whether she called inside Virginia or out. So Ruth called AT&T wanting to know why a call to her neighbor was suddenly depleting many more minutes than a call to a friend in Florida. AT&T's answer is a little...

By Annys Shin | February 9, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (16)

Top 10 Consumer Gripes of '06

It's National Consumer Protection Week and that means every consumer protection agency under the sun releases its Top 10 list of consumer complaints for the previous year. Mostly, I find these lists somewhat unhelpful in that they're not very descriptive. If I were to make up a list of top 10 gripes of 2006, it would include waiting for 30 minutes to be served at a Verizon Wireless store in Rockville, the ordeal of returning anything at the Potomac Yards Target, E. coli in bagged spinach, and Dreft, which I'm beginning to suspect is part of a conspiracy by Big...

By Annys Shin | February 8, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Teaching Your Kids About Money

Consumer banking site bankrate.com yesterday delved into a topic that totally fascinates me: When to start giving an allowance and how much. I'm obsessed with the topic because I never had really got an allowance. Nor did I have assigned chores. I'd always heard other kids talk about both things, but I could never really contribute to the conversation. Don't get me wrong. I did housework. I learned my way around a kitchen making dinner for my family nearly every night when I was in high school. And my parents gave me money for lunch every day. But the two...

By Annys Shin | February 7, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (11)

Is Identity Theft Decreasing?

I was somewhat relieved when I saw a headline the other day proclaiming that a comprehensive study had shown identity theft was in steady decline. After all, no matter how careful you are about shredding, installing firewalls on your home computer or using different passwords, in the end there's little you can do to stop rings of overseas hackers or the loss of a government or company laptop that happens to have the personal information of millions of people on it. Alas, the study in question, a telephone survey of 5,000 people by Javelin Strategy & Research, and sponsored by...

By Annys Shin | February 6, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (12)

Payday Lending & the Military: Part 2

Just when you thought Congress had dealt with this issue, it just keeps comin' back. A quick recap: After a push by the Pentagon and consumer groups, Congress passed legislation capping the annual interest rate lenders could charge members of the military at 36 percent. The reason: An increasing number of service members were losing their security clearances because they had fallen into debt, in part because of reliance on payday lenders and online lenders that target members of the military, charging them fees and interest rates on loans that, when added up, reach APRs well into the triple digits....

By Annys Shin | February 5, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (16)

Would One Food Safety Agency Mean Better Oversight?

The Government Accountability Office issued a report the other day flagging federal oversight of food safety as a high-risk area. The main reason? No, not the spate of food-borne illness outbreaks we've had in the past six months. Instead, the GAO focuses on the fact that 15 federal agencies collectively administer at least 30 laws related to food safety. Exhibit A for the GAO is a ham-and-cheese sandwich: How a packaged ham-and-cheese sandwich is regulated depends on how the sandwich is presented. USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] inspects manufacturers of packaged open-face meat or poultry sandwiches (e.g., those with one...

By Annys Shin | February 2, 2007; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (13)

Keeping a Low Virtual Profile

On Sunday, my colleague Sara Kehaulani Goo wrote about the growing phenomena of daters running background checks before doling out the first kiss. But just as public sites such as Intelius and US Search allow you to snoop on others, you should consider running a search on yourself to find out how much personal information is floating around out there. There are a plethora of sites that any halfway-thorough Nancy Drew or Hardy boy could mine to build a complete dossier. The Wall Street Journal's Michael Totty recently wrote up a handy guide to opting out of such sites. (Subscription...

By Annys Shin | February 1, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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