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Watch out ?for slick ?sales pitches

My niece, Hannah, loves infomercials.

Despite being just 7 years old, she regularly requests such "As Seen on TV" gifts as ShamWow cloths, Topsy Turvy gardening containers, the "uncrushable" Aluma Wallet and the space saving Buxton Bag purse.

Can you blame her? Ad agencies spend millions of dollars to make their pitches so believable and appealing.

But the makers of infomercials aren't the only ones using trumped up sales pitches to push less-than-stellar products and services.

The July issue of ShopSmart ?magazine attempts to take the shine off slick and misleading ads, compiling some of the most common deceptive tactics companies use to snare ?consumers. ?Those include:

*Lifetime warranties. They go a long way toward instilling peace of mind, until you realize that there is no standard legal definition for "lifetime," no laws or penalties against misleading lifetime warranties and that a lifetime warranty can mean almost anything (or more likely, nothing).

*Car dealerships that offer ?to pay off the old loan on your trade-in. What they actually do is roll whatever is left on your old loan into your new loan. They also tend to stretch the payback term years beyond what is reasonable.

*Gas and other credit card rebates. Some of these offers are ?legit and consumer friendly but, more often, the rebates have terms that make them difficult or impossible to collect. Some rebates apply only to certain categories, such as gas, and those ?categories change every couple of months. That wouldn't be so bad, but you're required to sign up for the ?different category rewards every time they change. If you don't, your rewards are voided.

*Debt elimination/negotiation/consolidation services. These companies are big on promises, small ?(or absent) on delivery.

Instead, put that money toward your debt and negotiate directly with your creditors. If you need help, seek it from Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo or a nonprofit credit counselor with a long, excellent reputation and good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

*Free trips. These are usually offered through letters in the mail and phone calls letting you know you've "won" a free trip somewhere. If you bite and take your "prize," one of two things will happen: you'll be put up in a flea bag hotel in exchange for sitting through daylong sales pitches or you'll have your credit card information stolen with nothing in return. Neither option sounds good to me.?

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