Cagey Consumer

Cagey Consumer Hall of Shame

date of membership
how membership was earned
Qwest Communications
(July 2001)
Qwest Communications, which provides local phone service in U.S. West's former territory and inter-lata long distance service in the others, decided to boost rates for customers using its calling card. Those customers, who had been paying 10¢ a minute for such calls, would now be paying 69¢ a minute. A 590% increase in rates may not be enough to enter the Hall of Shame... they made this change without giving customers any prior notice. Read the details in our Press Release.
Capital One
(October 1999)
Capital One provides high school students the opportunity to obtain a no annual fee credit card, provided a parent agrees to guarantee payment. Each month, the statement includes some information on the wise use of credit... or it used to. After having their card for about 6 months, Capital One decided that the use was "too responsible": instead of offering prudent advice on using a credit card, they included a "purchase check," preprinted in the amount of $400.

A person with more experience with credit cards would likely recognize this as just a way to obtain a cash advance, subject to transaction fees and interest. But a high school student whose experience with credit cards is that there aren't any charges incurred in using them, provided the balance is paid in full each month, is likely to think the same rules would apply to this purchase check.

To be fair, the back of the statement to which the Purchase Check is advanced contains a detail description of Capital One's finance charges. But the student could read all 1500 words of that fine print, and still not find out the fees for using the attached check.

America Online
(January 1998)
Joanne's Work-at-Home Page was a unique web page describing personal experiences with a variety of work-at-home programs. Evidently, someone involved in one of these programs complained that the material was libelous or otherwise offensive to them, and AOL blew it away. The result: many people will be taken in by these schemes who otherwise would have read Joanne's page and wisely held onto their money.
(October 1997)
In northern California and western Nevada, Safeway ran a heavily-publicized promotion announcing
Earn 5% OFF your groceries.
To receive the 5% off, customers had to first spend $250. But instead of receiving 5% off of the $250 already spent, the $250 expenditure entitled customers to a 5% savings only on the purchases made on a single subsequent shopping trip. For customers spending $50 on an average shopping trip, the promised savings would amount to $2.50 on $300 of purchases, or less than 1% of their total purchases.
Qwest Communications
(August 1997)
Qwest Communications offers long-distance service promoted through a dial-around service known as Just Dial 10056. Their mailing includes the headline "Just 10¢-A-Minute on State-To-State Calls". If you read past the headline, you will find that during the day, the rate is 12¢ a minute, and that there is a 10¢ per call surcharge on all completed calls. But if you begin looking at the rate comparison brochure they include, you will be unlikely to find mention of this per-call surcharge -- it's buried among several footnotes on the back page of the brochure, where few consumers are likely to notice it.
Brittan Communications
(June 1997)
Brittan Communications (a.k.a. BCI) distributes "drop boxes" to local businesses throughout the U.S. that contain forms for authorizing the change of long distance carrier to BCI. They deceptively induce people to authorize the change by including the authorization as part of a contest entry blank. It is not unusual for contest entry blanks to contain much legalese, so many people fill out the forms without realizing what they are agreeing to. But just in case one wants to find out what the charges for long distance service will be with BCI, they don't offer any way to do it; however, according to newspaper reports, it's approximately three times what AT&T charges.
BCI agrees to change practices in Texas [10/22/97]
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Updated July 8, 2001