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7 Major Consumer Rip-offs to Watch Out for in the Holiday Shopping Season

From phony ice cream to Machiavellian movers, here are some scams to avoid.

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Nobody likes getting fleeced and flimflammed, but the scammers are out in full force ready to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Here are some common rip-offs to watch out for, from phony ice cream to Machiavellian movers.

1. Online shopping clubs.

‘Tis the shopping season, and everybody craves a bargain. Online shopping clubs advertising awesome deals and killer discounts are popping up like mushrooms on the web. Many are rife with unsavory practices that can lighten your wallet.

Sometimes the “discount” prices are misleading, and can even be higher than retail prices. Common issues include poor or nonexistent customer service, poor quality products, tacked-on fees, and bait-and-switch scams in which you purchase an item for someone else with a credit card and subsequently find yourself signed up for a “rewards club” that charges your card a monthly fee.

Recently, I became registered with a Montreal-based company called “Beyond the Rack” which offers “flash sales” on clothing items, despite the fact that I don’t recall having signed up. Nevertheless, I received an email from the company telling me that I owed it $15. When I called the number provided, an associate told me that the email had been sent in error and was supposed to say that my “account” had been “credited” for $15. A strange error! Turns out that Beyond the Rack has made this error repeatedly, and online forums are filled with reports from pissed-off people who have received similar emails. Customers have complained of slow delivery, items delivered that are different from what was shown on the site, and failure to refund for broken or faulty products.

Be wary of signing up for any online club before you have researched the company, and make sure you compare listed prices on discounted items and report any discrepancies. Also, beware of any discount offer that pops up after a purchase has been made. Know that the data you enter, even on a legitimate site, may be shared with less reputable partners, and that even includes credit card information in some cases.

2. Ice cream that isn’t ice cream.

You buy a pint of ice cream and rush home to be transported by the creamy goodness. Then you take a bite. What’s this? The product is gooey and gummy and odd-tasting. Maybe that’s because what you purchased isn’t actually ice cream.

Breyers has been making ice cream since 1866, and was famous for its Pledge of Purity guarantee and simple ingredients. But Breyers has done a little under-the-radar switcharoo, turning many of its products into something called a “ frozen dairy dessert,” complete with nasty gums and corn syrup and unpronounceable ingredients. The company can no longer legally call such products “ice cream” because there’s not enough cream or milk fats to meet the standards set by the USDA (score one for government regulation).

But you’d have to read the fine print on the packaging to know that your beloved Butter Pecan ice cream is now a chemical swamp.

In what appears to have been a cost-cutting move (using less dairy fat is cheaper), Breyers has been selling this gunk to unsuspecting customers for a few years now. Despite shrunken packages and cheaper ingredients, the price has only gone up.

Breyers is not alone in this hustle, though its brand image as something pure and wholesome makes it particularly obnoxious. Turkey Hill, which lures customers with images of friendly Amish farmers, is also in on the game, sneaking out a line of products called “Stuff’d” which are stuffed with things that aren’t ice cream. The Turkey Hill website sings the praises of these frankenfoods: