Business bureau warns of misleading converter box scam
The Better Business Bureau wants consumers to beware of a misleading advertising campaign by an Ohio-based company called Universal TechTronics.
Ads are running across the U.S. promising free television channels, services and digital TV converter boxes, but are really a bait-and-switch tactic that prey on consumers’ lack of knowledge about digital TV conversion requirements.
In 2009, television stations will stop analog broadcasts, and exclusively broadcast in digital.
Viewers who get reception with rabbit ears or an antenna, or who don’t have a digital TV, will need a digital converter box to receive television programming.
Television sets made after March, 2007, already have digital tuners built into them, as required by federal law.
Also, analog sets hooked up to cable or satellite systems will not be affected by the switch to digital TV and won’t need a converter box.
An investigation found that Universal TechTronics is peddling “five-year warranties” for $59 that must be purchased with their “free” digital TV converter boxes.
With shipping and handling fees rolled in, the total cost per box is nearly $100.
BBB believes these are the same boxes consumers can buy in electronics retail stores across the country using $40 in government coupons that make the total cost to consumers about $20 per box.
“The bottom line is that these ads confuse and mislead consumers,” said Michael Clayton, CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Southeast Texas.
“Unfortunately consumers who do respond may find that not only will they not receive free products and services as implied by the ads, but they will end up paying more than they would have by taking advantage of the really good deal being offered through the DTV coupon program.”
Universal TechTronics’ ads imply that their converter boxes are free and will provide free channel reception, similar to the type of services consumers receive through cable or satellite providers.
Ads state, “No Bills: New ClearView TV receives free channels, no need to pay for cable to get the new digital picture quality and sound,” and “Public to Get Free TV Without Gov’t Coupon!”
Additionally, the ads use the term “Miracle ClearView TV” to disguise the product and further deceive consumers.
Universal TechTronics has several product lines and also does business under the name Heat Surge LLC. Overall, in the past nine months BBB has received nearly 200 complaints about the company’s business practices.
The company has received an unsatisfactory bureau rating because of the pattern of complaints. To date, complaints against the company concern slow delivery or non-receipt of product, difficulty reaching customer service representatives, delays in obtaining refunds after returning merchandise, product quality issues and advertising claims. The BBB Reliability Report on this company is available at www.bbb.org.
Nationwide, 70 million televisions rely on antennas to receive over-the-air signals, making about 34 percent of all U.S. households at risk of losing broadcast reception to at least one TV set as a result of the digital transition according to the Leichtman Research Group. And nearly half of the households that could lose television service after the transition in 2009 are not prepared for the switch says a recent report from the federal government.
“Digital TV conversion may seem like a complicated, confusing issue,” added Clayton. “But there are a number of easy-to-use resources that consumers can turn to for reliable, trustworthy information to make digital TV conversion a painless and inexpensive process.”
The National Association of Broadcasters has a DTV Speakers Bureau composed of broadcast experts from over 650 local television stations nationwide.
The NAB is working with Better Business Bureau to ensure consumers get the facts about the upcoming transition to digital television. To request a local broadcaster to address groups or organizations, people call 1-877-693-8809 or go to www.DTVAnswers.com. Access the bureau’s Web site at www.bbb.org.