Archive | Watch Out

Choice or Confusion – too much of a good thing for consumers?

We’re told competition and choice is a good thing – that it allows consumers get better value for money. But we all know businesses are out to bamboozle us – the greater the confusion, the greater chance we’ll end up spending too much money.

One only has to think about the last time we tried to pick a mobile phone deal or health insurance plan to understand that amount of choices provided will almost certainly lead to confusion among many consumers.

Dishwasher Tablets

A very simple example is illustrated below.

Vast choice in dishwasher tablets will lead to consumer confusion over best value available

Back in November, I just needed to buy some dishwasher tablets. Simple? The image above shows the choices available FROM ONLY A SINGLE BRAND in a well known supermarket multiple. There are thirteen different options below, broken down as follows:

  • 5 different price points, €10, €16.43, €20.01, €20.02 and €26.30
  • 5 different numbers of tablets per box. 30, 38, 40, 51, and 74
  • 6 different price / number of tablets combinations
  • 2 of the combinations are 50% off, but no deals available on the rest
  • 6 different average price per tablets

Unit Pricing

Interestingly, none of these price stickers show any of the 6 different unit price per tablet for any of the combinations. According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission:

Unit pricing is a useful way to compare prices of groceries that come in different sized packages.

I guess dishwasher tablets don’t fit into the “groceries” category.

Which would be useful for consumers because depending on the pack chosen above, you could pay anything between 25c and 55c per tablet – a difference of 220%.


The “new” HMV is honouring vouchers from the “old” HMV. What should you do next?

Run, as fast as you can, into your nearest HMV and spend them all. Get rid of them as quickly as you can. If you still have HMV vouchers, you’re extremely lucky that the new HMV are doing this – they’re not obliged to do this at all.

Though, one wonders if there isn’t all that many vouchers outstanding that haven’t been ripped up. It’s a nice gesture, but businesses don’t normally go for nice gestures if it’s likely to cost them a lot of money. I haven’t seen any of the newspaper coverage of this story actually ask the question as to what value of vouchers is outstanding.

Anyway, what should you do now?

  1. Spend any vouchers that you have as soon as you possibly can
  2. Search your house high and low for any other vouchers you have, gather them all together and spend them as well
  3. Learn your lesson from the HMV debacle and don’t buy any more vouchers – for yourself or for anyone else – and if you do receive vouchers as gifts, spend them as soon as you get them

Vouchers are evil – particularly so these days given the perilous state of many businesses, so you could lose your money. They’re also a really lazy present and could cause the recipient of your present to lose out as well.

Finally, click here to read plenty more reasons why vouchers are so evil and should be avoided.


Northern Ireland Consumer Council produces very useful table of “Airline Charges at a Glance”

Recently, I warned of the potential issues for licencing and bonding for Irish consumers choosing to fly out of Belfast where their travel agent isn’t licensed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. You can read that post here again – Dubious advice for prospective holidaymakers in The Irish Independent.

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of the consumer council airline charges comparison table.That advice still stands.

However, what I’m highlighting here is an excellent, yet very simple, table of airline charges on flights into or out of Northern Ireland. This table was produced by the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland, and is available for download here.

In a very simple presentation, that would be great if one of our supposed consumer advocacy organisations could replicate for flights in and out of Ireland, you can see for example that the charges for pre-booking seats ranges from free with British Airways to £16 with Flybe.

It goes through other charges such as baggage charges and weight limits, cost of airport or online check-in, and booking charges. One thing it seems to be missing though, is how much passengers would be charged for reprinting of boarding passes.

Even if you’ve no intention of flying out of Northern Ireland any time soon, it’s worth a look at the table just to see the huge variety of charges imposed by airlines, and the differing terms and conditions that will apply for nominally the same particular charge.


Government proposal to have NCT checks catch clocked cars is a joke

Though published on April 1st by Fiach Kelly in the Irish Independent, his story under the headline “NCT check will uncover ‘clocked’ cars in new plan” doesn’t appear to be an April Fool. I do think, however, that the proposals from the Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar, will be about as useful as an April Fool prank.

According to Mr. Kelly, the Irish Independent has learned that 10% of cars checked by the NCTS have been clocked, and that the Department of Transport has helpfully “suggested there is a problem”. This means that their response will be that:

Under new plans, cars will have their mileage cross-referenced with their NCT history every time they go in for the test.

The aim is to have the system rolled out within around two years, and motorists would be able to check mileage history.

Effectively, they will check your mileage each time you send your car for its NCT, and if the mileage is less than the previous NCT check, you – the car owner – will be prosecuted. According to the article:

And it would become a crime to have your car clocked. At the moment, it is a crime only to sell a clocked car.

Bear with me here, but I don’t think that these proposals are going to have much effect at all. And worse, they have the potential of penalising consumers a whole lot more than garages who clock cars who may actually do the car clocking.

Won’t work in all instances (1)

Let’s take an example car, owned by Joe Bloggs, a travelling salesman, who does 100k miles every year selling widgets to €1 stores. Joe has the car for 2 ½ years and has put up 275k hard miles on the car. He trades it in for the newest model, and the car is taken in and tidied up by the dealer.

“Tidied up” just so happens to involved rolling back the mileage to somewhat more than the average annual mileage for a car in Ireland – 60k miles (2.5 times 10,837, plus change for good measure). That’s still a damn site less than the actual mileage, and something that the NCT won’t catch after the car was bought by Mick Smith, driven only 5k miles for 6 months, and subjected to the first NCT.

Won’t work in all instances (2)

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of the odometer in a carLet’s assume instead that Mike Smith buys the car first. He owns it for 3 ½ years, and does his usual circa 5k miles per year, and decides to upgrade after successfully passing the first NCT on the car. The car is sold with 20k miles on the clock to Joe Bloggs who drives the wheels off the thing for 2 more years, putting up his circa 100k average each year before deciding to upgrade the car before the next NCT is due after 6 years.

Now, the car has circa 220k on the clock, is 5 ½ years old, and in “tidying up” the car, the less than scrupulous garage owner decides that he could only ever sell the car and make money on it if there’s less than 100k miles on the clock, needing to wipe off over 120k miles.

And like magic, Mary Murphy who bought the car next, submits it innocently for NCT, and successfully passes the test with flying colours. There’s 95k miles on the clock, there was 20k on the clock at the last NCT, and no one is any the wiser.

Useless NCA must change approach too

Let’s now say that the car hadn’t passed the NCT, and Mary Murphy is told that the car she bought had been clocked. She’s now in possession of a clocked car, for which she’ll be liable for prosecution. By whom, we don’t know yet.

And for selling the car, the unscrupulous garage is also liable for prosecution. By the National Consumer Agency. Who rarely prosecute garages who clock cars, merely settling on “working with them” to make sure they don’t do it anymore.

So, there we have it. Yet another scenario in the making where big business, or any business for that matter, in Ireland will get away with anything, while it’s we, the ordinary punters, who always end up paying the price.



Dubious advice for prospective holidaymakers in The Irish Independent

Under the headline “Holidaymakers can save €140 each by flying from North“, Aideen Sheehan relays to us statements from an online travel agency telling us that:

Sluggish demand in the North means flight prices there are currently cheaper than from Dublin, resulting in significant savings for identical holidays.

SUN holidays can be up to €140 cheaper per person if you fly from Belfast instead of Dublin.

Presumably coming from a press release, the story is from travel operator and is effectively free advertising for them through the remainder of the article.

Buyer Be Very Careful

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of the logoWhat Ms. Sheehan fails to tell her readers is that anyone in Ireland booking their holidays with and flying out of Belfast won’t have their travel covered by the normal licencing and bonding arrangements under the Commission for Aviation Regulation rules that they’d have if flying out of Dublin, for example.

They are, however, covered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority equivalent bonding scheme.

According to the Commission for Aviation Regulation website, who oversee licencing and bonding:

Under the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982, (the “Act), Tour Operators and Travel Agents are required to be licensed and bonded in respect of the sale and offering for sale, of travel originating within the State to destinations outside the State.

You’ll see that this says “within the State”. For the purposes of licencing and bonding, no matter what your politics are, flying out of Belfast means you’re not originating your holding from “within the State”, and therefore you’re unfortunately not covered unless there is the UK Civil Aviation Authority cover instead.

Independent Newspapers has “form here”

Back in 2009, Dan White gave travel advice in the Evening Herald which necessitated this warning post from me for consumers, Incorrect advice on Travel Agents in the Evening Herald. The key advice at that time, which is again relevant in light of this more recent article, was as follows:

If you book a holiday with an Irish travel agent, but if you’re departing from an airport outside the Republic of Ireland, then you are not covered by the Commission for Aviation Regulation bonding scheme. You would be covered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority scheme – assuming your travel agent has signed up to it (and many Irish travel agents don’t).

So, if you book your holiday from a Dublin travel agent but fly out from Belfast, you’re not covered by the Commission for Aviation Regulation scheme.

Another thing to be careful of – the Commission for Aviation Regulation only covers anything booked from a travel agent that includes travel (i.e. flights). If you book a villa in the south of France, but decide to book your flights with Ryanair, then your villa booking isn’t covered by this scheme either.




Hard lesson learned on the pointlessness of paying for mobile phone insurance

There is a regular segment in the Irish Times Pricewatch column each Monday that this week is likely to fall foul of misleading descriptions regulations in the 2007 Consumer Protection Act. The Consumer Protection Act prohibits a consumer from being misled in relation to “the main characteristics of a product” (e.g. a newspaper article).

Under the headline “Your consumer queries answered”, with the tagline “Conor Pope answers reader’s queries”, an unfortunate reader went to extensive lengths to describe an issue she had with iPhone insurance.

The particular article concerned, Insurance upgrade did not come with iPhone upgrade, ends:

“She would like to know who is at fault here. “Am I stupid to think Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse should have updated the files at the time of the upgrade?”

And that’s it. The article ends. Journalist gets copy, but reader’s query not answered.


Or maybe, since the answer to the readers query is “yes, you are stupid”, Mr. Pope decided to spare their blushes. The situation the reader found themselves in was as follows:

  1. Bought iPhone in June 2010 from Carphone Warehouse on a Vodafone contract
  2. Insured iPhone for €13.75 per month via Carphone Warehouse with Lifeline, New Technology Insurance.
  3. Upgraded iPhone with Vodafone in November 2011
  4. February 2013, child drops iPhone and breaks screen
  5. Reader tries to claim on insurance, but can’t because new phone wasn’t insured

Which led to the readers query again – “Am I stupid to think Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse should have updated the files at the time of the upgrade?”

And the answer, yes, you are stupid to think that.

Basic rules of Insurance

You insured phone A with Lifeline in June 2010 for €13.75 per month (now that’s stupid right there before going any further).

You bought phone B in November 2011, and you didn’t ask for it to be insured. You assumed it was covered, but we all know what assuming does.

When you trade in your Ford Mondeo for a Volkswagen Passat, you don’t assume that the insurance passes from the old car to the new car automatically – you have to ring your insurance provider and have cover switched.

Just because mobile phone insurance is cheap, stupid and a waste of money doesn’t mean that the same basic rules of insurance don’t apply.

It gets worse?

We’re not told, but based on the readers own assumptions, they have been paying insurance on phone A at a rate of €13.75 per month since November 2011. A phone that’s most likely being used as a paperweight, or has already been chucked in the bin.

That’s 16 months of pointless premiums. Or €220 wasted.

Or look at it another way. It’s quite likely to be more than the cost of an upgrade of a broken iPhone to a brand new one on Vodafone.

It’s just a pity that Mr. Pope didn’t highlight the mistakes that this particular reader made so as to enlighten others who may be in the same situation.


Now NoNonsense are trying to convince you not to shop around for car insurance

Ignore them as well. We’ve already had Aviva try this last year.

It’s all very cheeky.

If these companies really think they’ve got the best deal, people will find out by shopping around. And, when you think about it, consumers will be happier with the better deal when they know it’s a better deal, rather than simply trusting a big faceless insurance company.

So, as a wise man once said, don’t believe what you see on the TV. And as I’ve written about before here, there are very good tactics that can be employed when it comes to shopping around for car insurance. Shamefully however, these are legitimate consumer tactics that NoNonsense are trying to get their current and potential customers to avoid.


New phishing e-mail, referring to Arnotts, allegedly from Bank of Ireland 365

This is a new one on me – a phishing e-mail referring to a bank (Bank of Ireland 365) and another company (a refund from Arnotts apparently).

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of a phishing e-mail allegedly from Bank of Ireland

Phishing email allegedly from Bank Of Ireland

There are two key thing to watch out for here to confirm that it’s a bogus phishing e-mail. Firstly, the image that’s supposed to be in the e-mail with (probably) the Bank of Ireland logo isn’t showing up properly. And secondly, by hovering your mouse over the link that you’re supposed to click, you can see that it isn’t anything to do with Bank of Ireland, or Arnotts.

Definite scam!


New Aviva car insurance advert is discouraging shopping around – ignore them

Lots of people had a good laugh at Mary Harney way back when she encouraged us all to shop around. Now though, at a time when our choices for buying financial products is reducing all the time, we’ll only be the poorer for the less choices available.

And as I’ve written about before here, there are very good tactics that can be employed when it comes to shopping around for car insurance. Shamefully however, these are legitimate consumer tactics that Aviva are trying to get their current and potential customers to avoid.

I really hate this kind of advertising, trying to treat us consumers as if we’re idiots and pretending that they, big business, really only have our interests at heart.



Last time I saw this was when Advance Pitstop ran an advert in 2005 entitled “Shopping Around Leaves me Exhausted”, trying to give the same discouraging tone towards shopping around. And even back then, I was able to find that shopping around only amongst their own outlets, I could get hugely varying prices.

As consumers, we have to stick to our guns and play these companies at their own game. We should be ringing up Aviva, getting the 10% discount offer, and then using that price to try to get another better offer from another company, or another broker.

Get at least 5 car insurance quotes before buying or renewing. If Aviva are still cheaper after that, go with them. But I’d be surprised. If they were going to be cheaper anyway, they wouldn’t need to resort to this crass type of advertising.


Bin collection services – are you being scammed?

I had a conversation with one of my elderly neighbours last weekend that raised a couple of questions in my mind regarding how the current manner in which our bins are being collected – at least in Dublin – could potentially leave people open to being scammed.

I’d love to hear what people think about this. It’s just some thoughts and assumptions based on what I know and have been able to find out. If anyone can expand further on this, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Identifying Bins

For anyone unfamiliar with the process involved, when you sign up for a bin collection service, you’re provided with a bin (or a number of bins), and you’re then given a set of barcode stickers that you put onto your bins. Those barcode stickers will identify your bin when it’s emptied so that the collection company can charge you accordingly.
Most people will also paint their house number onto the bins as well, but according to the bin collection company, it’ll the barcode sticker that will identify your bin, rather than what’s painted on the side.

Unscrupulous Neighbours

So, what would happen if some unscrupulous person on the same street as you was to swap the sticker from their bin with the sticker on yours? As far as you’re concerned, from a distance it’s still your bin because it has your house number on the side.

But with the barcodes swapped, every time they put their bin out in future, you’re charged. And every time you put your bin out, they’re charged.

And if you’re an old lady living on your own, putting your bin out once every couple of months, but they put their bin out every two weeks, then they’re getting the extra three bin collections for free – you’re paying for their extra waste disposal. And if you’re a good bin company customer, you’re paying by direct debit and you might not notice this scam for some time.

Basis for my Assumption

The above is my assumption of what could be done within the bounds of the existing systems set up by the bin collection companies.

My thinking was triggered by the fact that my neighbour received a call from her bin company telling her that her bin had been “swallowed” the previous week (I presume this means damaged somehow in the collection process) and that they would be sending out a new bin to her in the coming days.

But her bin was securely stored away, undamaged, in its normal place. As far as she was concerned, her bin was fine – it had her house number on it.

So what if?

What I do know is that, somehow, the bin company had a bin in their possession that was “swallowed” by the bin truck last week. And they thought it was my neighbours bin.

I can only surmise that they thought it was her bin because of the barcode identifier on whatever bin they did find.

And if her barcode was on someone elses bin that was swallowed, and there was no problem with her bin collection because it had a valid bar code on it, but probably then someone elses barcode, then that means there’s been some funny business going on somewhere in the neighbourhood with the bins.


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