Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Neighborly Chat: Watch Those TV Scams!

By Rich Smith
I probably watch too much TV, which is to say that I also watch too many commercials. I can’t tune in to Discovery, the Science Channel, CNN, or Fox News without a deluge of commercials, mostly designed to sell products I don’t need and which separate me from my money.

On occasion, I have been lured into buying some of those products that promise to change my life. Had I asked myself, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” I would have saved myself from disappointment and money down the rat hole. Nevertheless, lured by smooth- talking pitch men, I am now stuck with an electronic air purifier that wouldn’t purify the air in a small closet, a cordless soldering iron that won’t solder anything larger than a 0. 2mm wire and a dog brush that gathers little hair and needs batteries. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about ordering products advertised on TV, but like millions of others, I have experienced weak moments.

For your enjoyment and education, here is my list of most the outrageous TV scams.

1) The iRenew Bracelet: This product takes the top spot in my list of dumb, worthless products offered on TV. The device is a bracelet. The ad claims it will improve muscular strength, correct vertigo and balance problems, and provide a feeling of exhilaration and well-being for the wearer.

Who in their right mind would pay $19.95 plus $6.95 shipping for such quackery? Many people must have done so because the company continues to spend millions on these ads. Perhaps the money-back guarantee convinces technologically challenged folks to try it, or more likely, desperate hope that a magical cure for their ailments is only a few dollars away.

The iRenew advertisement is as brazen and misleading as those promoters of snake oil and electronic brain stimulators marketed early in the last century. Out of curiosity, a disappointed customer pulled the device apart and discovered all it contained was a wire encapsulated in elastic and plastic.

2) Solar Generator from Solutions for Science: This $1,700 product, advertised as a backup power system, “can get you off the grid”. “It’s like having a secret power plant hidden in your home,” or so the ad goes. I don’t know why this generator would be a secret or that you would have to hide it, but the hype contained in the advertisement should be hidden.

The device consists of a 90 watt solar panel plus a 12v, 60 ampere-hour lead-acid battery, and a 1,800 watt (peak 1440 watts continuous) 115 v ac inverter housed in a 200 pound box. There are two questions to ask about this device. How long will it take the 115 volt ac charger or 12 volt solar panel to charge the battery, and once fully charged, how long can the generator supply backup power?

Examining the specifications answers both questions. The charge time from household current is 15 hours, and in full summer sunlight, the solar panel can charge the battery in about 15 hours (one day). The 115v system can supply 1000 watts to household appliances for approximately 12 minutes and 300 watts for 1-hour. It could power your refrigerator or a TV for perhaps 1 or 2 hours in an emergency, but hardly a power system that can get you off the power grid...

3) $2 Bills: The New England Mint is offering $2 bills for $10 (plus S & H). What a deal. To be fair, these are genuine U.S. $2 bills, freshly printed and never circulated. They come in a fancy transparent case with a certificate of authenticity. The $2 bill is worth its face value, exactly. $2. Anyone have two Tens for a Five?

4) Lipozine: Diet pills and weight loss products are always popular; although few if any of them are as effective in losing weight as exercise and diet. “Now for only $29.95 you can lose weight like magic,” or so the ad brags. “Take these pills, continue your present (couch potato, beer and chips) life style, and the fat will simply melt off.” Melt off? Yeah, sure it will. The before and after pictures of happy customers testify to the product’s effectiveness, yet a close examination of the photographs suggests makeup, a trip to the beauty parlor, and a new wardrobe had more to do with the transformation than the pills. Perhaps Photoshop created some of the “after” photos.

How do the pills work to help you lose weight? They swell up in your stomach “like a sponge”, making you feel full and reducing the food you are tempted to eat. The exercise gained by pushing away from the table is more effective of a weight loss program than a bunch of pills. Besides, I have nightmares about some little pill swelling to the size of a golf ball in my stomach.

Before making a purchase, potential customers should read the forced FDA disclaimer in 4 point print at the bottom of the ad. “The product and the claims made in this advertisement have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease nor has it been proven effective in a controlled weight loss program.”

5) $20 double Eagle U.S. Gold Coins: It used to be illegal to mint, photograph, or reproduce U.S. currency in any way, but now it is only illegal to pass off such reproductions as legal tender. The U.S. Mint Inc. (not the real United States Mint) is selling $20 pure gold (clad) double eagle coins for the amazing price of just $19.95 (plus S & H). Their ad begins by explaining that this coin is America’s rarest gold piece and worth thousands of dollars, which is true for genuine coins. Coin collectors consider reproductions or “tribute” coins worthless. And the “pure 24K” gold electroplated on the coin is measured in micrograms, perhaps $0.25 worth. Nevertheless, the coin does come in a fancy display case that includes a certificate of authenticity, whatever that means for a “tribute” reproduction.

6) Pet Groomer Pro2: If you own a dog that sheds, this product sounds like a lifesaver. For only $19.95 plus $6.95 S & H, the Pro 2 electronic brush with the IONIC breeze generator is guaranteed to remove fur like a hair magnet from any mutt. The device needed a 9 volt battery, which I borrowed from a smoke detector, and then sat Molly down for a good brushing. When I turned on the Pro2, it made a hissing sound and smelled like ozone. Molly appreciated neither the noise nor the smell, but reluctantly sat still for her brushing.

After a few dozen strokes, the brush had gathered a handful of dog hair, but nothing like the gobs of fur promised in the TV ad. After several more vigorous strokes, the brush hadn’t collected enough dog hair to cover a dollar bill, and this from a dog that normally produces a bucketful daily. I returned the brush to Home Pet Devices ($4.50 shipping) and demanded “the money-back no questions asked” guarantee. That was three months ago and I have not yet seen a check.

Another TV sales pitch “closer” is the, “But wait…we will double our offer and send you a second product free, just pay separate shipping and handling." The ad for my soldering iron offered an extra soldering tip free, except for separate S & H. The tip was about the size of a 2 penny nail, and could easily been sent in the original box with the soldering iron, but it came in a separate package for an extra $6.95. So my purchase totaled $33.85, without batteries.

The soldering iron now sits unused in my tool chest.


  1. It has been a while since I’ve seen my favorite commercial. “Head On” I think is what it is called. You rub this product on your head and it takes away your head ach. When I was a kid I laughed with my brothers about the Ronco Battery Tester. I recently bought an Hp printer/ scanner at $29.00 I thought I was getting a great deal. Turns out the ink cartridges are small and cost around $40.00 to replace. On top of that, every time I print something, the computer flashes a warning that my ink cartridges are low on ink and if I’m on the internet it will automatically give me an option to buy new ones on line. Come to find out the cartridges are only about half empty when the warnings start.

  2. Mom, my husband refers to that printer marketing technique as "Giving away the razor and charging for the blades." Fairly common practice. I heard about HP selling a printer so cheap that folks were buying the printers and throwing them away just to get the ink cartridges included in the package to use for their existing printer!

  3. At the risk of seeming like a disloyal former HP employee who worked developing the ink jet cartridge and laser printer, your comments are on target. And HP is not alone in overcharging folks for their product specific ink and toner cartridges. Considering the fact that the throw away cartridge costs only a few dollars to manufacturer and market, there are big profits in those cartridges. A company will eventually come forward and offer a low cost cartridge that will put an end to this extortion. Cartridge refilling services are available, including at Walgreen’s. You take them your empty cartridge and they give you a refilled one for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Pay no attention to the manufacturer warnings about not refilling cartridges. Most cartridges can be refilled two or three times with out print quality degradation. Happy printing!

  4. DUH! Really Rich? I can refill my cartridges? My daughter used to call me a "two-shoes"--I think I now know what she meant!

  5. Did you heard what Rob Matts said about that?

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