Consumer Confidential With David Lazarus
Canada sets an example for a la carte pay-TV pricing

Here in the Land of the Free, the telecom industry has fought aggressively for years to make sure people keep getting hundreds of pay-TV channels they don't want, rather than just the ones they watch.

Up in the Great White North, which would be Canada, telecom companies were told by government regulators the other day that they'll have to unbundle pay-TV packages by next year and switch to a la carte channels.

And guess what? The Canadian telecom industry is basically cool about it.

Brad Shaw, chief executive of Shaw Communications, western Canada's largest cable company, said the new a la carte rules "will give Canadians increased choice, while providing producers, broadcasters and distributors more freedom and flexibility to innovate."

Contrast that with the hand-wringing of U.S. telecom companies, which argue that unbundling pay-TV channels would mark the end of civilization as we know it.

"A la carte would destroy a model that produces the best TV available anywhere in the world,"...

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Credit card issuers shouldn't bully customers into arbitration clauses

Credit card companies say you can't sue them and you can't join other customers in suing them, and if you don't like it, tough.

Federal regulators finally have reached the obvious conclusion: That's not fair.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released a study showing that so-called arbitration clauses in credit card service contracts frequently prevent consumers from having a grievance adequately addressed.

"These arbitration clauses restrict consumer relief in disputes with financial companies by limiting class actions that provide millions of dollars in redress each year," said Richard Cordray, director of the watchdog agency.

"Now that our study has been completed, we will consider what next steps are appropriate," he said.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that he's talking about new rules for the industry.

Arbitration allows businesses and customers to sidestep the court system and have a dispute resolved by an independent arbitrator who listens to what...

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Social Security email doesn't pass scam smell test

David received an email purporting to be "a special message from Social Security" about new online benefits. It included a link to sign in.

"Is this spam?" David wants to know. "I did not click through but it looks really good."

It does. The email seems legitimate at first glance.

ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

It tells recipients that "you may be able to use a new online service that helps people who receive Social Security benefits and Medicare have the information they need to file their tax returns."

But if you hold your cursor over the link to sign in to the website, you see a really long URL that begins with "links.govdelivery.com."

This is a big red flag. A government website should have a "dot-gov" domain, not "dot-com." And any URL with dozens of characters suggests things aren't on the up and up.

I contacted Social Security and asked about the email. Is it spam? Is it a phishing scam?

"This is a legitimate email," said Patricia Raymond, an agency spokeswoman....

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Big pay-TV bundles going the way of the dinosaurs

Anyone who's been thinking about cutting the pay-TV cord now has more food for thought.

Apple made headlines this week with plans for an online TV service featuring 25 channels. Sony took the wraps off its PlayStation Vue video service. And HBO revealed plans to make its new online service, HBO Now, available directly to consumers on various devices.

These are some pretty major developments, showing that consumers no longer have to be held hostage by conventional pay-TV companies and their bloated bundles of hundreds of unwanted channels.

But we still have a ways to go before people can purchase only the channels they watch.

"Programmers see the writing on the wall," said Jim Nail, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "They know that bundles are going away. But they're going to hold out for as long as they can."

Apple pioneered the iTunes model that offered users only the music they desire. The fact that the tech giant can't do the same with streaming TV shows how tough it will be...

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Credit-reporting firms' accuracy push? Finally — but it's still not enough

The heavyweight companies that keep credit files on about 200 million U.S. consumers are patting themselves on the back for unveiling steps to improve the accuracy of their records.

This would be laudable if it weren't so laughable.

The reality is that credit-reporting firms have been required for decades to ensure the accuracy of consumers' files.

They're not doing us a favor. They're just finally saying that they'll follow the law.

"For years, the credit-reporting agencies have scoffed at the law," said Scott Maurer, a law professor at Santa Clara University. "What's different now is that someone has said they're going to enforce it."

That someone is the New York attorney general, whose investigation into the credit-reporting firms' practices since 2012 led to a settlement last week with the industry.

As part of the deal, the top three credit firms — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — agreed to streamline their procedures for resolving errors in their credit files. They also said...

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Working from home: Separating the real gigs from the scams

Janette is wondering about all those ads that promise lucrative pay for working from home. "Are there any jobs that are legitimate?" she asks.

Answer: Yes. But you'll have to traverse an obstacle course of illegitimate ones.

ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

A Google search for "work from home jobs" pulls in more than a billion results, which gives an idea how many scammers are out there trying to sucker the unwary.

First rule of thumb: Run, don't walk, away from any at-home gig that requires you to pony up some money up front.

More specifically, be wary of jobs that require you to assemble things, stuff envelopes, process claims or track refunds. Scammers typically require that you pay them in advance for training or supplies, and then you never see them again.

Bankrate.com surveyed the work-at-home horizon and settled on 10 jobs that have a better chance of being legit. They include medical transcriptionist, Web designer, tech support and document editing.

The most...

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