Consumers should be wary of telemarketing

Posted June 28, 2009, at 8:03 p.m.

A consumer from central Maine wrote to us recently saying she had ordered a lot more from Telebrands than she intended and wondered what to do. The order started with a simple $10 windshield cleaning device and eventually totaled several hundred dollars worth of jewelry.

She explained that the person who took her order seemed not to want to take “No” for an answer. Once the salesperson had her credit card number, our consumer says she believed she was “tricked into accepting” many add-on items she could not afford.

Insult was added to injury when she received a call, asking if she wanted to buy more jewelry; she replied with an emphatic, “No.”

There’s a happy ending, but first here’s a little background about a company that’s well-known in the world of infomercials.

Telebrands is one of television’s more active marketers, sellers of such indispensable items as stairs for dogs and the roll-up piano. In 1996 Ajit J. (Ajay) Khubani, the CEO of Telebrands, settled civil fraud lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys general for a half million dollars over the marketing of a hearing device.

In 1996, Khubani and his company paid $95,000 in civil penalties for failing to fill orders promptly, not notifying customers of shipping delays, and not giving refunds on canceled orders.

Last December, Telebrands agreed to pay $7 million to settle FTC-initiated action over claims about the Ab Force. Ads by Telebrands claimed weight loss through electrical stimulation of the belt; the FTC ruled the claim could not be substantiated and therefore was false and deceptive.

Consumers purchased more than 700,000 Ab Force devices before the settlement kicked in. The point of the settlement was to have consumers reimbursed, and we can only hope that most of those who bought the things actually got their money back.

Speaking of which, back to our consumer’s happy ending. Telebrands dropped the cross-sell charges, but only after she made her complaints known to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office and that of the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. Northeast CONTACT had urged her to do that, along with sending a certified letter-return receipt requested to Khubani. Putting your complaint in writing is still the best way we know to dispute charges.

To those who wrote last week defending telemarketing as providing needed jobs, we can’t dispute that. We do recommend that before you spend $10 plus $7 shipping and handling for that windshield washer, you check it out in a local store. Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Rite-Aid often carry telemarketed products. You can hold them in your hand to see if they’re what you really want. And you may get them for the same price minus any shipping charges.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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