The Office of Consumer and Business Education, within the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, has recently released a Holiday Shopping Alert entitled: "Computers for Next to Nothing: What's the Deal?" The alert provides information about ads for computers that are supposedly "free" or cost next to nothing. According to the FTC, there are some important facts to keep in mind when considering one of these offers. Perhaps most important, consumers should find out the total, up-front cost of the computer and determine if a rebate is involved. If one is, it is essential to also determine whether you are required to sign up for a long-term Internet service contract, and do the math to see if it will cost more than you will get back through the rebate. Second, the alert cautions consumers that most rebates must be mailed in to the manufacturer and then returned by mail. That is, you often must pay the entire cost of the computer up front and then wait up to 12 weeks for the rebate to arrive.
The alert also contains several questions consumers should consider before signing up for Internet service, such as: Do you have to sign up for Internet service and for how long?; What's the total cost of the Internet service contract?; and Will you have to pay long distance charges to access the Internet. Once such questions have been answered, FTC officials say, consumers will know whether the conditions of the particular offer "suit their needs and their wallet."
For more information about seemingly low-cost computer offers and rebates, contact Michael Dershowitz, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3158; or call the FTC toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to www.ftc.gov.
Following a public comment period, the Commission has made final a consent agreement with the following: WebTV Networks, Inc. The Commission vote to finalize the consent order was 5-0. (File No. 972-3162; staff contacts are Joel Winston or Dean Forbes, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3153 or 202-326-2831; see press release dated October 25, 2000.)
Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at https://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.
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