Shop Smart: Tricky ad claims that companies use

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Whether it's an ad for a giant blowout sale or a TV pitch promising to save hundreds on car insurance, some advertisers have a way of stretching the truth to get consumers to open their wallets. ShopSmart, a magazine published by Consumer Reports, highlighted tricky ad claims and offered advice on how to avoid getting suckered in.

Claim: Save big at our giant blowout sale.

Translation: It's sale after sale around here. If you ever buy anything at full price, you're a fool.

Warning: Don't be blinded by a sea of "sale" signs in many stores. Just because an item is supposedly offered at a discount doesn't mean it's a good deal.

Claim: Free Bahamas trip, no strings attached.

Translation: We'll put you up in a skeevy hotel if you attend our all-day sales pitch.

Warning: Offers for free and discounted trips come in many varieties. Some are used to entice you to buy a product or service or to sink your money into dubious investments that earn big commissions for the people who sell them. Others are outright scams to get you to turn over a credit card number. Bottom line: Skip free trips!

Claim: This product has a lifetime warranty.

Translation: As soon as the product is no longer available or we stop carrying it, the "lifetime" is over.

Warning: Generally, there's no legal definition of what "lifetime" means in warranty-speak. ShopSmart recommends reading the fine print before you buy.

Claim: Buy one of our new cars, and we'll pay off your old car loan.

Translation: We'll combine the amount you still owe on your old car with a loan for the new one. And we'll make the term so long that you'll be paying it off for the rest of your life, during which you'll mostly be broke.

Warning: Don't get a new car until you've finished paying for the old one, especially if you owe more than its trade-in value. And avoid car loans with terms longer than 48 months.

Claim: We'll help you get rid of your debt.

Translation: After we get our fee from you, the only debt we'll eliminate is our own.

Warning: When you owe money that you can't pay, your first move should be to try to work something out with the creditor (even the IRS), such as a payment plan. ShopSmart also suggests developing a plan to get your spending under control. A nonprofit credit counselor can help, but don't assume that it's legit just because it's not for profit. A good first step is to check a program's reputation at BBB.org and search the program's name and complaints online.

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Visit Consumer Reports online at www.consumerreports.org.


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