Times Squared

Beware the deals in NYC's land of lights, where bargains bite back

 Q. I just saw a super-cheap iPod in the window of one of those Times Square electronics stores. Been wanting one for- ever, and the Apple Store's always sold out. But aren't those gadget shops supposed to be shady? Or is that bit of wisdom outdated?

A. Let Mr. Roboto put it this way: He wouldn't be caught dead shopping in one of those joints, unless he knew the owner personally. And even then, it'd be a stretch. It's probably not impossible to get a deal in Times Square, but there's just too many horror stories about bait-and-switch scams, hard sells on ghastly warranties, and various other shyster tactics to justify the risk. Oh, and that urban legend about the foreign couple that ended up paying $1,600 for a $400 camera? 'Tis true, 'tis true.

The Department of Consumer Affairs is well acquainted with the Times Square scene. It receives numerous complaints from people who were lured in by a hot deal displayed in the window—like that fairly priced iPod—only to be told by the salesman, "Sorry, sold out of that one, but I've got this Brand X'er over here for an exorbitant sum!" They'll bring the price down when you balk, but it'll never come down to the suggested retail—especially if you commit the consumer faux pas of saying you're only in town for a few days.

illustration: John Ueland

The stores are also known for pushing extended warranties that are scarcely worth the paper they're printed on—for 30 percent of the purchase price, you'll have the "privilege" of sending your product to some god-awful repair place in Delaware, where it'll remain until President Van Damme takes office. (Read: forever and ever.) Mr. Roboto has previously inveighed against the lunacy of third-party extended warranties, but if you must, never pay more than 10 or 12 percent of the purchase price, and make sure that the repair facility is somewhere you can easily visit.

Other shady practices that the DCA's heard about are refurbished merchandise being passed off as new, and an extra zero being surreptitiously added to the credit card receipt. A lot of the most devious tricks are reserved for foreigners, who may not realize the swindle until they're halfway back to Ghent.

The bottom line is that, if you're an informed consumer, all of these machinations are easy to catch. For starters, always look up the manufacturer's suggested retail price before you hit the stores. According to state law, a salesman must inform you when he's asking for more; if he doesn't do so, you best skedaddle. The truth is that, unless an item is surrounded by a Furby-like craze, you should never, ever pay more. Nor should you deal with any store that has a no-refunds policy on new merchandise—a policy, by the way, that it's required to post by the cash register.

As for that famous tale of the $1,600 camera, Mr. Roboto always thought it was just a cautionary tale cooked up by the DCA. Turns out that it really happened to an English couple who walked into a store to inquire about a cell phone and walked out deep in the financial hole. There's a happy ending—a rep from the Times Square Business Improvement District got them a refund—but the moral is clear: Times Square is for gawking, not for shopping.


Rid of it

The numero uno question that Mr. Roboto receives from readers is, "How can I get rid of this spyware I accidentally downloaded?" Sometimes, alas, SpyBot and Ad-Aware aren't enough to do the trick. When that's the case, your next move should be a visit to the SpyWareBeWare! Forum (maddoktor2.com/index.php), which contains a searchable database of spyware topics. Can't get rid of that AT-Games folder in your Favorites menu? Stymied by heretofind.com's hijacking of Google? The solutions await.


Thought for food

How does Mr. Roboto miss such must-attend events as the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists (ift.org)? The late report is that the highlight was a new astronaut snack called Veg@eez, a delicious mixture of spinach, chard, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and radishes. Just perfect with a glass of Tang.


bkoerner@villagevoice.com

 
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