Tired of receiving unsolicited telemarketing phone calls? Frustrated with a defective product you recently purchased? Ever been the recipient of an error on your credit report?
Take heart. Several consumer rights organization now provide information on what action you can take and what a consumer can look out for, on their Internet Web sites.
Here is a selection of places you can turn to in coping with a consumer-related problem:
Consumer @ction -- www.consumer-action.org -- This site contains a host of multilingual information related to consumer protection topics.
Consumers Union -- www.consunion.org -- A consumer advocacy group that provides info on health care concerns, financial services and food and product safety. Also, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
The State Public Interest Research Groups -- www.pirg.org -- A national nonprofit organization comprised of state-based groups that monitors consumer affairs and rights.
The National Fraud Information Center -- www.fraud.org -- Site that offers consumers an avenue in battling unwanted telephone solicitations and telemarketing fraud.
The Law Office -- www.thelawoffice.com -- Contains an extensive list of links to consumer-related reports and articles that address many different problem areas.
Picking well-managed companies
Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. , Inc. (800-523-8425) is smallish, but over the past year it has whipped the 15 largest brokerage firms in one key category: the returns that its recommended stocks have achieved. LT was up 57 percent for the 12 months ending June 30, according to Zack's Investment Research, compared with 30 percent for the S&P. The secret? "We are management-obsessed," research director Barry Sahgal said. Great companies have great CEOs.
The eclectic LT list includes: Bluegreen Corp. (BXG), timeshare resorts; Candies, Inc. (CAND), women's shoes; Converse Technology (CMTV), voice mail; Evergreen Resources (EVER), natural gas; Hot Topic, Inc. (HOTT), music-related products for teens; Imax Corp. (IMAXF), big-screen movies; and TMP Worldwide, Inc. (TMPW), Internet advertising.
How to cope with sales calls
Eileen Harrington of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers these tips for dealing with uninvited pitches:
Beware of direct-mail approaches that disguise themselves as prizes or sweepstakes offers. Stop and think: How can a company stay in business by offering valuable goods or services for free?
FTC rules call for telemarketers to promptly tell you why they are calling and what company they represent. If they don't, hang up.
If you don't want to receive any more calls from a particular company, ask to be added to its "do not call" list.
Don't put up with high-pressure sales tactics. Legitimate companies won't demand that you make a purchase decision under pressure.
Analysts chose 'action' stocks
Wheat First Union of Richmond recently published its annual fall list of "action" investments -- favorite stocks of its analysts. It's a good mix of mid- and large-caps from different sectors:
Big Flower Holdings, Inc. (symbol: BGF), advertising inserts, with a P/E ratio, based on projected 1998 earnings, of 13; Capital One Financial Corp. (COF), credit card issuer, with profits growing at 19 percent; Circuit City Stores-Circuit City Group (CC), consumer electronics chain whose shares have dropped 37 percent since July; Federal-Mogul Corp. (FMO), fast-growing precision parts maker; Human Genome Sciences, Inc. (HGSI), biotechnology firm that's down 25 percent since Jan. 1; Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), pharmaceuticals; NIPSCO Industries, Inc. (NI), well-run Indiana utility yielding 3.2 percent; Tellabs, Inc. (TLAB), voice, data and video network systems, with fast growth and relatively low P/E; Texas Instruments, Inc. (TXN), semiconductors; and Tyco International, Ltd. (TYC), fire protection, security, health and telecom products.