Category Archives: Scrimping and saving

LUX HD450 clip-on phone lens; irate customers

Here is a summary of incidents I’ve been told about in replies to my posts about this lens set.  Most replied to my initial post about this product on WordPress; others posted to the “Skeptics” Facebook page I created about the product.  Some people reported more than one of these incidents.

incidents

spider-linkResearched, decided not to order; 8 people.  Good for you!  Reasons given included the countdown timer on the vendor’s website, the pressure to buy multiple units, blurry images of credit cards on the order form and unbelievable reviews.

  • “Did some digging to find some reviews and found exactly what you found; a bunch of vague overenthusiastic posts on a bunch of ‘planted’ web sites.”
  • “Everybody, please do due diligence when shopping for any products, online or face-to-face!! Much easier to keep your money safe and in your account if you don’t click that online link and fall innocent prey to these unscrupulous online scammer con-artists lowlifes!”

Read post, decided not to order; 16 people.

  • “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! They almost got me. Will spread the word.”

I’m glad I was able to help.  Typically, about 4% of people respond to a query.  So I’m hoping that my posts dissuaded 400 (or many more) people from getting entangled with the HD450 outfit, and generally encouraged consumer wariness toward the Internet.

Read post, cancelled order; 1 person.  Shad o’Hayes managed to reverse the charge after reading the post.

  • “As soon as it clears, the B of A is going after them, hopefully with snarling bulldogs.”

Unexpected/unauthorized charges; 5 people.  These stories told of a combination of bait-and-switch marketing, mysterious charges and delivery of unordered products.  Several people were confused and thought their problems might be their own fault.  But to me it looks like confusion is a strategy of the HD450 outfit.

  • “I just purchased this product but found I was billed for five of the items when I know I purchased only one. In addition, I was charged $72 for a warranty, that they called an upgrade.”
  • “I thought … that I would be paying 29.95 only to find out that would be the cost for each item if you ordered 5 (very fine print). I contacted the company and was told … the cost for one box was 58.00 and since there was an error I didn’t have to pay for the shipping and handling. to my suprise not only was I charged 85.00 (shipping and handling) for the product but I was also sent 5 items and was charged 185.00. (double charged).”

BTW, Amazon sells the same lenses for $9.99 plus shipping.  You’ll deal with a reliable company, and you’ll only have to buy one set to get that price.  But, as they’re identical, the lenses from Amazon are no better than the overpriced ones from HD450.

Poor service; 3 people.  Service seems to get especially poor once they have your money.

  • “My card was charged at two locations. Said I would be getting an email receipt with information within a few minutes. Still haven’t heard from them via email. No answer calling customer service for two days. Finally got a real person who said he would see I got an email right away. Nope. I’m beginning to doubt there actually is a product.”

Received product; 2 people.  Delivery is slow, and the product is toy-quality at best.  Review to come.

Critical Facebook post was deleted; 2 people.  When I started looking into this product, the HD450 outfit had a “fan club” Facebook page.  Facebook’s TOS requires that pages that appear to host user discussions about a product not be owned by the vendor.  Wildlife photographer Lee Duer and I posted critical comments on it; they were promptly deleted.  So I created a “Skeptics” Facebook page to host real customer posts where the vendor couldn’t censor them.  The “fan club” page soon disappeared.

“Infuriates me that these low-lifes get off with no consequences on taking folks’ hard-earned money!”  My feelings exactly.  There’s nothing practical we can do about HD450 and the like but warn each other and learn.  Buyer beware.

If you’re already a victim, here are some thoughts about getting your money back.


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Pros and cons of vacation rental homes

Staying in motels is something unpleasant that you have to do in order to be someplace that isn’t home.  Rooms that parse your group into couples, regardless of your relationships.  Beds so hard that you sleep on them, not in them.  And little room to do anything other than sleep or watch TV.

But wait–there is another choice.  Try renting a cottage, cabin, condo or private home instead.

A vacation rental condominium on Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho.

A vacation rental condominium on Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho.

Now you can adjust the size of dwelling to suit your group.  Beds are usually softer, because the owner probably bought them for his family to use, not for their industrial strength.  And you can expect a real kitchen, a living room, and more isolation from neighbors.

Here’s my rundown of the pros and cons of vacation rentals, based on several trips:

Pros

  1. For three or more people, the cost is less than staying in a motel.  Most motels put two people in a room.
  2. Vacation rentals are available in places that don’t have motels.  They’re anywhere that people live.
  3. You’ll get more space and amenities than a motel offers.  You can count on a full kitchen, and you’ll usually get a living room and access to a yard or other outdoor space.
  4. Many vacation rentals are stand-alone structures.  They’re more quiet and isolated than a motel.
  5. You’ll save money on meals you prepare yourself.  This makes following dietary restrictions easier, too.
  6. Many homes have a washer and dryer.  So, on a long trip, you needn’t spend hours stranded in a laundromat.

Cons

  1. For only one or two people, staying in a vacation rental often costs a bit more than staying in a motel.
  2. Owners often charge a one-time cleaning fee.  I’ve seen it vary from $25 to $125; the higher fees look like rental fee top-offs to me.  They often don’t mention it on their web sites.
  3. It’s harder to find and book a vacation rental online than a motel.  There are no equivalents to Best Western, with a sophisticated web site and branches that can take bookings for each other.  Often I can’t tell online whether the home is available on the dates I want.  I have to e-mail or call the owner to check availability and book it.
  4. Unlike American Automobile Association-rated motels, vacation rentals can vary in quality.  Online reviews help make up for the lack of AAA support.
  5. A vacation rental may be off the beaten path.  It’s helpful to have a GPS or mobile computer that can navigate to an address.  You may have to drive someplace else to pick up the key before you drive to the home.
  6. Most vacation rentals have no onsite staff.  The owner is often in another town or even another state.  When necessary, I’ve been able to reach owners by telephone.
  7. Many vacation rentals only provide you with starter consumables such as toilet paper, etc.; when they run out, you need to buy your own.  Also, don’t count on kitchen spices beyond salt and pepper.

Suggestions if you decide to try vacation rentals

A waterfront cabin in Gualala, California.

A waterfront cabin in Gualala, California.

  • Find them online.  Search for “vacation rental” and the location you want.  I’ve found searching for “cabin”, etc. to be less productive.
  • Ask the owner or property manager if there are cleaning fees and any other fees not shown on the web site.
  • Try to pay by credit card, so you have a record of the payment and you can get it reversed if the deal doesn’t work out.
  • Travel with a mobile device that can navigate to an address.  Also bring a mobile phone.
  • The longer you stay in one place, the fewer cleaning fees you have to pay.

I think that, if you’re a large group, or you want to cook your own meals, or you want to relax in the place you’re staying and not just sleep there, a vacation rental is the way to go!

Shop around for magazine subscriptions

Now that I’m retired, I’ve discovered a new interest in not spending money!  One small way is this; when you get a magazine renewal notice in the mail, don’t just stick a check in it and send it back.  Shop!  It’s not a lifestyle-changer, but I think I can guarantee that if you’re subscribing to a few magazines, you’ll be able to take your sweetie out to (a modest) dinner on the money you save.

Just say “no”

A renewal notice from National Geographic.

A renewal notice from National Geographic.

This is the easiest way to save the most money on a subscription; just don’t renew it, if nobody in the house reads it very often.  What to do; recycle that sucker.

Check Amazon

To proceed, you’ll need a credit card and an internet connection.  If you’re wary of buying stuff online, try Amazon.  I’ve dealt with them since the last century and they’ve been totally reliable.  And while there are usually lower prices to be found on the web, Amazon sometimes has good deals.  What to do:

  1. In Amazon’s magazine section, search for the magazine.
  2. Compare the price to the renewal notice you got from the magazine.
  3. If you buy a subscription renewal, make sure to create a new shipping address that is precisely the same as the mailing label on the magazine you’re receiving now.  This way, the magazine will match your shipping label to its address database and realize this is a renewal.

    National Geographic on Amazon.

    National Geographic on Amazon.

Note that the high-level listing for the magazine may mention “Eligible for super-saver shipping.”  “Super-saver shipping” means Amazon won’t charge for shipping if your order totals $25 or more.  But, this is an error; Amazon doesn’t service subscriptions, the magazine publishers do that.  So, Amazon doesn’t have a shipping charge for a subscription, regardless of the price, as the detail listing for the magazine and your checkout will show.

On the other hand, I see that Amazon now collects sales tax, even for a magazine subscription.  So your final cost may be slightly more than advertised.

Find a magazine discounter

If you’re a bit more daring and are willing to do a few more minutes’ work, you may save more by buying your subscription from a third-party service.  What to do:

Searching for a company that offers subscriptions to Discover Magazine.

Searching for a company that offers subscriptions to Discover Magazine.

  1. Use a search engine such as Google to search on “<name of magazine> subscription“.
  2. Ignore the sponsored links in the shaded area at the top of the search results.  (In fact I always ignore them; when I’ve tried them they’ve always either been sleazy deals or broken links.)
  3. Compare the prices in the pages you find to the renewal notice, Amazon, and each other.
  4. When you find a discounter you’re interested in doing business with, search for reviews of that discounter; for example, “<name of company> review“.  If they’ve burned people, some of them will post about it.  Also, the Better Business Bureau rates magazine discounters.
  5. If you decide to buy a renewal, make sure the address you supply precisely matches that on your magazine’s mailing label, as explained above.

Subscribe online?

This is the most dubious alternative, but I’m including it here for the sake of completeness.  On my iPad 2 I subscribed to one magazine on Zillo.  What I got; a bunch of photographs of print magazine pages, with a minimal indexing system for navigating between them.

Another way; look in the iTunes App Store for the magazine.  Typically, you’ll find a free app.  (must there be a different reader app for every single e-publication?) After you’ve downloaded it and started it up, you’ll discover that you have to pay for the magazines you read with the free app.  Most of the magazines I’ve checked want the same money for an online subscription as for a print subscription, even tho their online costs are a fraction of print costs.  I expect this to change in the next couple of years.  But for now, the often poor reading experience and lack of savings are discouraging.