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A Black Friday Special: Blumenthal Highlights Laughable, Ludicrous, And Sometimes Dangerous, Deceptive Advertisements

(Hartford, CT) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) highlighted examples of laughable, ludicrous and sometimes downright dangerous and deceptive advertisements in Connecticut that consumers should be aware of this shopping season. He urged consumers to read the fine print on flyers, circulators, and online advertisements as they prepare to shop for holiday gifts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“Retailers this holiday are taking hype to new heights with pitches and promotions fraught with tricks and traps. The ads promise blockbuster discounts and deals, but contain detailed, difficult to decipher fine print and footnotes – turning Black Friday excitement into buyer’s remorse and Cyber Monday into internet regret,” Blumenthal said. “Consumers need to be aware and wary – and peruse the fine print before shopping. They  can protect themselves by out smarting the ads and knowing the real deal.”

Some of the tricks and traps that advertisers use to get consumers into their stores or onto their websites include: deceptive and overly broad advertisements, hidden fees at checkout, and emailed coupons that hide the fine print in links to other websites. For example, a JCPenney circulator advertises, “No interest if paid in full within 12 months.”  However, the extremely hard to read, white-lettered fine print says:  “Must request at time of purchase.  Offer applies to window treatment purchases of $500 or more made between 11/24/13-11/27/13.”  In addition, the consumer must have a JCP credit card or a JCP Mastercard.  And, if a consumer fails to pay off the amount within 12 months or fails to meet minimum monthly payments, the interest rate – charged back to the purchase date – jumps to 26.99 percent. So any small mistake by the consumer, like not asking for a no interest promotion or accidentally missing a payment, would result in potentially huge interest payments.

“Consumer protection agencies ought to be on the job, not on holiday,” Blumenthal said. “The tricks and traps include hidden fees discovered at the checkout counter and emailed coupons that conceal the fine print in links to other websites. Numerous conditions, exceptions, product and store exclusions, charges and fees, make the ads ludicrous, laughable, and sometimes downright deceptive and dangerous.”

The same tricks and traps are used online, especially when it comes to hidden fees. And cell phone companies are some of the worst offenders. For example, Verizon charges current customers $30 and new customers $35 to upgrade their phones – labeling it a one-time “activation fee.” Similarly, both AT&T and Sprint charge customers a cell phone activation fee and phone upgrade fee of $36. Unfortunately, these fees don’t come to light  until consumers are ready to click the “Complete Purchase” button online and their hearts are set on a particular phone. Apple also charges similar hidden activations and upgrade fees, but doesn’t warn customers about them on its website.  

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