Tag Archives: consumer reports

Consumer Reports finds problems with 4G LTE on some iPhone 5 phones

Courtesy Apple

Consumer Reports is finishing up its testing of the iPhone 5, and engineers said they found problems with the phone on the Verizon and Sprint network. The testing organization said the Verizon and Sprint phone can’t support a phone call and an Internet based connection over the network.

Consumer Reports said the iPhone 5 appears to be the only Verizon or Sprint phone running on the newer 4G LTE network with limitations.  The agency said the other phones it tested from the carriers on the 4G LTE network allow you to talk and surf at the same time.

Not sure what 4G LTE is? It’s the new system marketed as a way to boost data speeds. See the difference for yourself. I put it to the test for NewsChannel 5.

You need a Wi-Fi connection to make it possible to talk and surf at the same time on the Sprint and Verizon iPhone 5. Consumer Reports said otherwise you receive a message that reads “Cellular data connections are not available during this call” when you try to get on the Internet.

It works the other way as well. If you get an incoming call, your browsing will be stopped. This includes navigation. Just hope nobody calls you while you’re driving. Testers found the navigation gets stuck recalculating the route even after you hang up.

You can still call and text, but Consumer Reports feels this limitation on the Sprint and Verizon network should make you reconsider your thoughts about getting this phone on either network. This comes after first weekend sales topped 5 million.

Consumer Reports: Expensive oil used in some new cars

Using a funnel to refill the motor oil in an a...

Using a funnel to refill the motor oil in an automobile as part of an oil change. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The surprises for new car owners continue. First, automakers got rid of the spare tire creating a headache for drivers with a flat tire. If you don’t have AAA or towing through your insurance, which you likely won’t with a new car, you’ll pay to have your car towed if air and Fix A Flat don’t work. Now, the sticker shock may extend to the service center when you get an oil change.

Consumer Reports recently found a problem with the oil in some new cars its testing. They take extra-thin 0W-20-weight synthetic oil which is hard to find if you change your own oil. If you have your car serviced when it’s time for an oil change, you may pay twice as much. Consumer Reports said Jiffy Lube charges  $30-40, but the prices vary depending on the location and car.

This oil is being used to get the car’s fuel economy up, but Consumer Reports believes it’s minimal compared to the price to the consumer.

At least you can drive your car longer before you need an oil change. I just wish service stations would update their sticker inventory to 5,000 or 7,5000 miles depending on your car. So many still have the old 3,000 mile stickers. I watch my mileage go far beyond the sticker on my window before I take my car in for that fresh oil.

Before you buy a car, it might be worth reading the owner’s manual to see what’s changed. Oh wait. Those are disappearing too.

What do you think about these added costs to driving? Click comment below.

Do data breaches lead to identity theft or fraud?

UPDATE: Security breaches are becoming all too common and costly for consumers. Global Payments is the latest company hit. The company says less than 1.5 million Visa and MasterCard account holders may be impacted. Global Payments says while credit card data was compromised; individuals names, addresses and social security numbers were not accessed. While the company says the incident is contained, does a security breach increase your chance of becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft? According to Javelin Strategy & Research, Inc., the answer is often yes when data is breached.

Javelin conducts an “Identity Fraud Survey Report” each year.  The company says analysis of surveys from 2008 to 2011, found those notified of a breach have a dramatically increased chance of becoming a fraud victim.

The company looked at those consumers who said they were notified of a breach and those who became actual fraud victims. Four years ago, if you were notified of a breach you were three times as likely to become a identity theft victim. In subsequent years, your chances rose. By 2011, the fraud rate for those who received a letter notifying them of  a breach was 9.5 times higher than the rest of the population.

It appears from this analysis of over 5,000 people that the fraud chance gets worse as time passes. Just as you let your guard down, the thieves may strike. Plus, most companies only give you six months or a year of free identity or credit monitoring if any at all.

These are simply statistics from one research group. Fraud is dependent on the extent of the breach and the thieves intentions. It’s why consumers need to be vigilant all the time. Most credit card companies protect you from fraudulent purchases, but identity theft goes much deeper and it’s much harder to correct.

I advocate checking your credit report year round. It’s advertised that you have access once a year for free from the three credit reporting agencies via Annual Credit Report. Instead of checking all three at once, check one every four months. For example, in January check Experian. In May, check Equifax. In September, check TransUnion. Then repeat the cycle the following year. You can check the reports in any order you wish.

I think it’s a little overzealous to buy identity theft insurance or monitoring. If this is really something you feel you want for peace of mind, ask the financial institutions you already do business with if they offer the service. It’s often cheaper and prevents you from giving your information from another party. That won’t hold truth, though, if a third-party offers the service through your financial institution.

Just shop around and do your homework if you choose identity theft protection or credit monitoring services. Not all services are created equal and consumer advocates often find they’re not really worth your money. Click here for Consumer Reports analysis of the industry.

Related links you may like:
Report: hacking is the source of most security breaches
Citigroup says breach impacts 360,000+ customers
Cyber attack hits Zappos customers
Recovering from identity theft
Top identity theft services
Free identity theft help

Free access to your credit score?

You have a right to your credit report every year for free, but not your credit score. This confuses a lot of consumers who don’t really understand why you get one and not the other. What’s the difference? It’s all personal information about you. Now, Consumers Union is leading the charge to give you access to your score as well as your report.

Your credit score is the number most people associate with their credit since it’s pulled when you open a credit card or get a loan. It impacts the price you pay for these products and can even impact your insurance rate. Under the law, you can get this score when it’s pulled since it impacts the products you’re approved for and the price you pay. Some companies simply send it to you when they pull it. Others make you request your score within a certain timeframe after it’s pulled. Shouldn’t it always be available to you?

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, launched a petition to help consumers gain access to their score through the website “Defend Your Dollars.” The campaign is called, “Know Your Score,” and it’s an online petition consumers are asked to sign if they want free access to their score once a year.

I think it can happen, but it will take a lot of effort before consumers are given access to the score for free. Consumers got access to their reports, so click here to sign the petition and start the movement for a free credit score.

Related stories you may like:
Keep tabs on your credit report year round for free
How your credit score is calculated
Getting a free credit score
10 consumer reports you should get
Keeping your name off a sucker list

Free phones and tablets offered at T-Mobile

Need a new cell phone or want a tablet? This Saturday, T-Mobile is offering free devices. The deal is good for new and existing customers who sign a two year contract.

T-Mobile says the deal will be extended to all phones. Usually these deals are reserved for lower end models.

Before you buy, make sure T-Mobile offers the best service in your area. Talk to other T-Mobile customers and see if they are happy. Also, do the math. Will you pay more or less each month for a T-Mobile plan compared with a competitor? Over the course of a year, which option is cheaper when you take into consideration buying the phone as well.

The offer runs on Saturday, February 11th while supplies last. To avoid the lines, you can order online.  Thirty phones including brands like HTC, Garmin, Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung will be offered in the deal. Click here for a list of phones and tablets included in the deal.

Some of the phones offered are top rated in Consumer Reports latest rankings. However, Consumer Reports says T-Mobile ranked nearly last with consumers for cell phone service.

There is also a $35 activation fee and you need to pay for the phone upfront since the deal is a rebate offer. Expect six to eight weeks to get your money back.

It appears this is a deal T-Mobile ran last year as well on both the Friday and Saturday before Valentine’s Day weekend. This year, the deal is just one day.


Light bulbs changes mean purchasing one may cost you up to $50

Who knew there was so many changes happening with light bulbs? I was blown away when I recently met with Consumer Reports in their Yonkers, New York light lab. The technology, labels, and price are all changing and it will mean a different experience the next time you have to replace a bulb.

How about paying $50 for a bulb? It’s not out the of the question. LED or light emitting diodes are the latest technology in light bulbs and expected to surpass compact fluorescent bulbs or CFL’s. LED’s can be found for as cheap as $10 but range up to $50. Some of the better performing ones in Consumer Reports tests are the more expensive ones.

Readers have reacted on my NewsChannel 5 Facebook and Twitter page about the high price tag. $50 i s a lot of money to pay, but the good news is the prices are dropping dramatically. A good bulb will still cost you $15-25 which is a lot more than we’re used to paying. The big upside — these bulbs last 40 years! Imagine never having to change a bulb that long. One reader said the next trend will be to take your light bulbs with you when you move from your home. No joke!

The push is on for LED’s as incandescents are phased out beginning in January. The bulbs will slowly disappear with the phaseout happening on various watts over the next few years. Stores are already telling you to stock up now.

Interestingly, the LED’s are in the big box stores but I went to a small mom and pop hardware store the other day and the bulbs were all incandescents. I couldn’t find an LED which I needed for my story. I was shocked! Frankly, I think it’s the price point and inventory for a small shop. They have to sell out of what they have before they can stock it with new, more expensive product. The bottom line – you’ll still be able to find incandescents at some stores but the inventory will be dwindling.

There are reports of people stocking up on incandescents because they’re a familiar bulb people like. There’s been a lot of controversy with CFL’s and Consumer Report said they really weren’t ready for prime time. They hummed, buzzed, and gave off an unflattering light in their early days. Those pitfalls have remained with the bulb all these years. However, CR says the technology is improving and their rankings reveal that.

Still, I think the bad reflection of CFL’s is making this phaseout of incandescents a little tougher especially since the other option is still costly. A lot of people are fussing that the government is forcing this phaseout to a more energy efficient bulb. The government in some last minute political maneuvering actually stripped funding for the Department of Energy. Consumer Reports says it won’t stop the phaseout because manufacturers have been planning for it for years. It just means the Department of Energy won’t be able to enforce the new rules until the end of September.

Whether you like it or not, changes are coming. Click here for a good timeline from one light bulb manufacturer of the phaseout dates and things you need to know before you buy your next bulb. It’s going to take some adjustment to pay so much more upfront. The bulbs are guaranteed to last much longer and save a lot more energy. Consumer Reports tests show these newer bulbs, CFL’s and LED’s, really will trim your bottom line.

Label lingo changing too
There are also changes with the lingo and marketing. The word “watts” is being phased out. Now you will buy a bulb based on the lumens and color temperature measured in Kelvin. You want the number to be higher for lumens and lower for Kelvin to get a good bulb.

There’s a lot of marketing with all these new changes, so it can get confusing. Bulbs say daylight, bright white, and so on. While you may think daylight is the best light for you, Consumer Reports says it’s not because the light will be too blue. It’s too high of a Kelvin number. You want the lower Kelvin number around 2300 Kelvin. That will be a more yellow light.

Confused? For now, there will be a cheat sheet on light bulbs to help with all this transition. Click here to look at the new label that helps explain all these changes. Consumer Reports says look beyond the marketing and understand the label to truly get the bulb that’s perfect for your living condition.

Behind the scenes at Consumer Reports – what happens to all the products tested?

Consumer Reports tests thousands of products a year and helps us find everything from the best printers to paper towels. Did you know they name the machines that tests those products? During a recent visit to Consumer Reports in Yonkers, New York, for a NewsChannel 5 story, I found a side of CR that’s rarely seen on TV.

So, what happens to all those products? The baked goods like cookies and brownies are left in the hallways of CR. As soon as we arrived, we noticed this plate of sugar cookies at like 9 A.M. Sure enough they were testing sugar cookies that day and the leftovers were there to grab.

Other items are auctioned off to employees. This generated some fun on Twitter when I named the story, “Consumer Reports tests cars, bras.” Yes, really they test bras. It was a big topic of conversation during my visit because they were looking for testers. Would you let your colleagues see you testing a bra? It has to be tested they told me. So, maybe they don’t auction off the bras but everything else is up for grabs and sold to the highest bidder.

Click here to watch that story

Some of the labs are a little strange. The anechoic chamber made my ears hurt. It’s a sound-proof roof filled with fiberglass on the walls, floor, and ceiling. You really can hear a pin drop in this room.

The location of camcorder and camera testing looks like a movie set.

It really is a place like none other I’ve ever visited. To be honest, it’s a very unassuming building from the outside. It doesn’t look big or significant. On the inside, you really are blown away by the labyrinth of labs. Thanks to CR for opening their doors and showing and allowing me to show people another side to the great consumer testing facility.

RoboStir put to the test

There are new kitchen gadgets that promise to do the stirring for you. You simply put the automatic stirrer in your soup or sauce and it spins the mixture. For a story on NewsChannel 5, we tested the RoboStir, to answer the question “Does It Really Do That?”

We had foodie, Sue Carrara, test the RoboStir. It costs just under $10.

You turn it on and off, and select the speeds by pressing a button on top of the RoboStir. It’s a feature Carrara didn’t like because you have to go through all three speeds to turn it off so it can cause splashing if the high speed is too much for your liquid.

It worked great with gravy, but did not work with her preserved strawberries.

“That’s strawberries and sugar that’s it,” Carrara said pointing to the strawberry preserves she poured into a pan to heat.

“These strawberries are cooked they’re soft it should be no problem,” Carrara said.

Consumer Reports tested RoboStir and a similar product called StirCrazy. They had similar problems when they tested the products with cheese sauce, tomato sauce, and sauteed onions and garlic.

Sometimes the stirrers simply stopped, and other times the sauces burned.

If you want a gadget for once in awhile, spend the $10. Otherwise, just use a spoon.

Free extended warranty if you pay with an eligible credit card

Warranties are big selling points for manufacturers, but they often offer little protection for consumers. Most warranties are a year or two, and so many products break at the two and three year mark so the basic, free warranty doesn’t apply. So, should you buy an extended warranty? There may be a better, free option.

Consumer Reports typically does not recommend extended warranties, and I agree with them with the exception of newer televisions. I’ve done too many stories on slick new TVs that break or don’t function properly in just a few years. Do your research before you buy a TV. Understand the new technology is not as good as the old technology. My tube TV is still going strong 12 years after I bought it, and it survived a plunge to the ground. Yet, I’ve done plenty of stories with owners of plasma, LCD, etc. that have problems within a year of purchase. With a TV, consider the extended warranty. Plus, consider another FREE option.

Extend your warranty for free
With most credit cards, you can get extend your manufacturer’s warranty up to one year if you make that purchase on your qualified credit card. American Express offers protection on eligible purchases that come with a valid U.S. manufacturer’s warranty of five years or less. The warranty is extended for the same length of time as the original warranty up to one year. To qualify, just charge the product to your card.

Make sure you keep all your original receipts in case you need to file a claim. With American Express, you’ll need original store receipts, AMEX receipt, original manufacturer warranty, and the product requiring repair. AMEX will decide if the item will be repaired, replaced, or if the original cost will be refunded. The service does not pay shipping and handling fees, installation, assembly, or other service charges. It’s still better than nothing. To file a claim, call 1-800-225-3750.

Visa Extended Warranty Options
Visa Signature offers warranty registration and extended warranty protection. The extended warranty is doubled up to one year on eligible purchases that come with an original manufacturer’s warranty of three years or less. Visa makes it easy to file a claim, because the company offers to keep track of the important information for you.

There are exceptions to what’s covered including boats, automobiles, aircraft, and any other motorized vehicle and their motor, equipment, or accessories, resale items, items for professional or commercial use, real estate and items like garage doors or ceiling fans that become part of real estate, computer software, rented or leased items, medical equipment, and used or pre-owned equipment.

When you buy a product, send Visa your sales receipts and warranty information and register your product. Then, when you have a problem you don’t need to search for your paperwork. Just call 1-800-882-8057. You don’t have to register your product, but it’s a good second layer of protection. I’d still keep your own documentation just in case it gets lost at the credit card company.

Visa Signature cardholders have up to sixty days after the product fails to notify the card company of a claim. 

Visa also offers an extended warranty you can buy 
Visa also offers its own extended warranty called Visa Performance Guarantee. It allows you to extend your warranty up to five years from the date of purchase. Just understand that you are not buying a five year extended warranty, but probably just a three year extension because you automatically get the standard one year warranty and the one year credit card warranty.  It doesn’t appear to be five years on top of the built-in warranties. This is a common practice in the warranty business. Just understand what you are buying.

The price of the extended Visa warranty depends on the price you paid for the item. For an extra three years, you’ll pay $40.99 for a $150-250.99 purchase and $58.99 for a five year extension. You’ll pay slightly more for computer equipment.

MasterCard options
MasterCard also doubles warranty coverage up to a year on eligible purchases, but you need to call for details of the plan.

Make sure your credit card is covered by these FREE extended warranties before you make your next big purchase.

Related links you may like:
Could warranty paperwork be a thing of the past?
Fake invoice for consumer advocate used to sell warranty?

Figuring out the best time to buy a product so you don’t overpay

People love their debit cards even though there are far more protections when you swipe credit over debit. There’s a chance anyone can drain the checking account linked to your debit card, but there are built-in protections with credit.

Whenever I buy a product, I shop around to see who is offering the cheapest price. With new technology, I always worry that I’m buying right before the price is expected to drop.  I was working on a story the other day about electronics, and the salesman was telling me about this brand new netbook. I looked at the price and laughed. It was almost $700. Later in the conversation, he told me the price was dropping more than $150 in the next few weeks. I’d be frustrated if I bought it today and then the price dropped that significantly.

Most stores offer a 7 or 14 day price protection guarantee that allows you to a refund of the difference if a product goes on sale or drops in price. The leniency of the policy depends on the store, so it can be a lot for a consumers to track. There’s an easier way to get even more price protection. Look no farther than your credit card.

If an item you bought with your MasterCard goes on sale within 60 days from the date of purchase, you may be reimbursed for the price difference.

Visa also offers price protection on items purchased with your Visa card in the U.S. It works when there is a printed ad for the identical item you bought within sixty days of the purchase date. Visa will refund you up to $250 for the difference in price, and every cardholder’s refund is capped at $1,000 total each year.

Check with your credit card before you buy, and check price comparison sites like PriceGrabber. It makes it easy to track price trends. You can see if the price of an item is on the way up or down and track it over a period of days, weeks, or months. It’s a great starting point to decide when to buy.

You might also take a look at Consumer Reports money saving calendar. It breaks down when things go on sale so you know when you’ll get the best deal on electronics and so on. In case you’re wondering, Consumer Reports says you’ll get the best deals on air conditioners, backpacks, dehumidifiers, lawn mowers, outdoor furniture, and snow blowers in August.

Related links you may like:
Can’t return an item to the store? Return it to your credit card