Category: Shopping

Refill Your Inkjet Cartridges at Costco

Costco offers so many different services and perks to its members, that many go unnoticed. If you use your inkjet printer a lot, then you should know about their unsung inkjet refill service. At the photo counters of many Costco locations, you can save a lot of money by having them refill your printer cartridges.

Prices vary from one cartridge to the next, and range between $7-12 per refill. Cartridges must be empty, as their equipment is not designed to refill a half-empty unit. And this service is typically performed in less than an hour (while you shop!).

Some caveats: Not all Costco locations offer this service, so call ahead before you make the trip. Not all cartridges can be refilled; use their website to look up your printer model for eligibility. As with all inkjet refills, there is a small chance of leaks, so be careful as you transport and install your refilled cartridges.

Caveats aside, this is a fairly safe service to try out, because Costco is super-easy to work with, and they will make it right if you’re not completely happy. Please read over their FAQ or talk to them at their stores if you have any other questions.

Dark Patterns: Auto-Renewal Traps

ABCMouse was recently punished by the FTC, to the tune of $10 million. They were fined for a variety of deceptive practices, including recurring charges to customer credit cards for membership renewals that were either not disclosed or difficult to terminate.

Auto-renewal traps are nothing new. ABCMouse is certainly a big name, but many other companies do business this way. They store your payment info and charge you periodically, even after you’ve stopped using the product. They sign you up for automatic payments, and create a confusing or complicated process for defeating that feature.

These dark patterns are widespread on the web, and I encounter them most commonly with antivirus companies and other software services. But to focus solely on auto-renewal traps, here’s what I can recommend:

  • Review your credit card statements every month, to catch unexpected charges.
  • Track down and disable any renewal options you don’t want, by logging in to your account at the relevant company website. Don’t remember your account password? Use the Forgot Password tool at that website to get logged in.
  • If using the website proves difficult, instead chat or call the company and ask for auto-renewal to be turned off. Expect that they will try to dissuade you. Repeat your request as often as you need to, don’t let them sidetrack you, but also don’t mistreat the agent. They are programmed to act in their way, and you should persist as you would against a stubborn computer.
  • When all else fails, or if you simply run short on patience or time, disconnect and then call your credit card company. Explain that you tried and failed to work with the company. Ask to dispute the renewal charge and they should promptly help you get your money back.

And if you feel any company is breaking the law or hurting people with their tactics, report it to the FTC.

Fake Flash Drives for Sale

1TB or 2TB flash drives are not cheap! If you’ve seen an ad or an offer for a Terabyte Flash Drive for a low price ($20-50), it is a scam. While terabyte-sized flash drives are finally coming to market, they are still expensive (~$200).

Consider this legitimate flash drive, made by PNY. It’s a known brand-name at a significant price, $189. I can assure you: You can trust in this product and its pricetag.

Now regard this no-name 1TB flash drive for $30. Seem too good to be true? It is! The listing is deceptive and a scam. Here’s how it works:

If you buy this flash drive and plug it in, your computer will report a 1 or 2TB capacity. But the flash drive has been programmed to lie to your computer. There’s only about 16GB of space on there, and the dishonest programming will cause you to lose data as you fill this thing up with files. Once you reach the true capacity of the drive, it will self-corrupt and the drive will become unusable.

Unfortunately, this scam is common on Amazon and eBay. These scam listings often have decent reviews, but if you look, you’ll see warnings of fraud in some of them. And many people might honestly buy these flash drives and use them without problem, if they only store small amounts of data on them.

Don’t risk your data! It’s best that you avoid these deceptive products. I recommend that you stick to well-known brand-names when buying flash drives (e.g.: Sandisk, Samsung, PNY, Corsair, HP, Microcenter). Those companies will always be truthful with their technology items.

UPDATE: I bought one of these drives, to get some first-hand experience with them. For $30, I received a 2TB drive (even though I’d ordered a 1TB), but the packaging was devoid of any words or info. My computer told me the FALSE capacity:

There are no tools or ways within Windows 10 to determine the truth, but a nifty program called ChipGenius quickly revealed that the drive’s TRUE 16GB capacity:

I’ll soon have a conversation with the vendor, to get my money back and report the fraud.

SECOND UPDATE: Amazon appears uninterested in pursuing this issue and has not removed any fake flash drive listings. I have pressed their agents to give me contact info for fraud specialists in their company. And they have grudgingly given me some email addresses to write to. But when I send detailed info to those addresses, I get robo-responses back that are off-base, and to which I cannot reply.

I made one final attempt (just now), and spoke with an honest-seeming Amazon rep. He agreed with me that the items may be suspect, but he could only “report the sellers” of the items. When I pointed out that the sellers change from week to week, while the items stay the same and remain listed for sale, he had little else to add.

So I have reported this issue to the FTC and the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection division. We’ll see if that does any good…

When shopping online, most people rely on product reviews to determine whether to buy something. But some sellers seek to game the system and generate (numerous!) fake reviews on their product listings. Maybe they do this to offset negative reviews or to create false demand; regardless, it amounts to deception.

And it’s such a widespread problem that the big companies often can’t keep up! Since fake reviews are usually hard to spot, here’s a tool that can help:

Fakespot wants to give you their opinion about *all* the reviews for a given product. If an item has a lot of fake reviews or if they detect anything else suspicious going on with a product listing, Fakespot will tell you! All you need to do is copy a link to the product page and paste it into Fakespot’s website.

Fakespot currently works on website listings for: Amazon, BestBuy, Sephora, Steam, TripAdvisor, Yelp & Walmart. Others may be added in the future, too!

If you end up using this site a lot, they also offer a Chrome extension you can add and use for free, so your browser “spots fakes” automatically for you.

One last thing: It’s important to know that Fakespot is not reviewing the product itself. They only review the reviews!

Please Don’t Buy That Laptop

Just don’t. It’s a trap. No good can come of it. It’ll all end in tears.

I’m talking about the Windows laptops that are out there for $200 (or less). They look and sound awesome, from the marketing! Especially on Black Friday, but you can find them everyday, at the back of your local Buy n Large store.

If you want an exhaustive write-up on how bad these laptops are, check out this article over at Ars Technica:

But here are the problems more concisely: manufacturers can’t build a $200 laptop to run Windows 10 properly. For $200, a Chromebook would be great, but Windows 10 demands a lot more of the hardware.

In a $200 traptop, the 32GB of storage is too small for Windows 10. Yes, the manufacturer can cram Win10 in there, but the first updates from Microsoft will gobble the remaining free space on the drive. Within a few days of you unboxing the computer, you’ll be seeing messages about “Low Disk Space on Drive: C.” For a Windows computer, I would suggest 128GB or more for the main storage drive.

The RAM is the next shortcoming. 2GB is enough in a Chromebook, but not for Windows 10. 4GB is enough for very basic needs on Windows, but I personally recommend 8GB of RAM or more to run Windows.

There are more downsides to these laptops, but the final nail in the coffin is that they are usually non-upgradeable. I’ve torn into some of these laptops to find that the storage drive is soldered to the motherboard (not removable). Or the system cannot accept more RAM. This means that even a professional technician will be unable to improve the PC for you.

I see solidly-built Windows computers available for $400-600 these days. Plan on spending in that range. If your budget only allows for $200, then please consider a Chromebook.

Woot! & Meh.

I’d like to mention a couple of my favorite “daily deal” websites, and . started some 16 years ago as a site that sold just one item, each day. That item changed everyday — today it could be a vacuum, tomorrow it could be gourmet coffee from Guatemala. Whatever it was, it was offered at a truly low and incredible price.

But in 2014; Amazon bought Woot, and the site branched out, offering a greater number of daily discounts, as well as other bargains and flash sales. It still offers many good deals, but Amazon did manage to kill off a lot of the site’s quirk and charm.

Following the acquisition, the former owner of bided his time and later launched a new site. became his new project, and it is a revival of the original Woot. Only one item a day, at a crazy unbeatable price, take it or leave it.

I think both sites have merit and are worth visiting each day, just to see what’s offered.

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