It's A Miracle! This Free Digital TV Converter Box Will Cost Me $100

We know you’re too smart to fall for this ridiculously fraudulent digital TV converter offer, but maybe you know someone who’s not wise to the facts of the upcoming switch to digital TV—specifically that converter boxes cost less than $100, and that you can get a government coupon to offset $40 of that cost. Universal TechTronics—the same scam outfit behind those “Amish” Heat Surge miracle fireplaces—is now conning the less knowledegable with their “free” converter box offer: pay nothing but a warranty and shipping, bringing the total cost to anywhere between $68 and $97. The Los Angeles Times says this is “the first large-scale [converter box] scam the Better Business Bureau has seen.”

Universal TechTronics calls the converter box the “Miracle ClearView TV,” and promises “No Bills: New ClearView TV receives free channels, no need to pay for cable to get the new digital picture quality and sound.” These guys really like the word “miracle.”

“They’re really targeting the senior citizens who are going to be confused and not up-to-date on the technology,” said Alison Preszler, a spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The ad is designed to look like a news article and features that smiling older gentleman displaying his actual warranty certificates. The Better Business Bureau has seen the ad appear in newspapers in Portland, Ore.; Memphis, Tenn.; Atlantic City, N.J.; Charlotte, N.C.; and the state of Ohio.

“Think twice before buying a digital TV converter box from this man” [Los Angeles Times] (Thanks to Paul!)
RELATED
“BBB warns of DTV converter-box scam” [Consumer Reports]
“A Sucker Is Converted Every Minute”
(Image: Los Angeles Times)

Comments

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  1. PHX602 says:

    It’s a miracle they’re not in a Federal Pound-Me-In-The-Ass Prison.

  2. Gopher bond says:

    Is that really a scam? If I try and sell you something that you can get elsewhere for free or a lesser price then I’m really just looking for one of the suckers that are born every minute.

    Tons of websites sell free-to-download programs.

    Is that explicitly illegal?

  3. SexierThanJesus says:

    I won’t go overboard and say this is despicable, but it’s certainly shady, and I’m (falsely) hoping nobody falls for this.

  4. SexierThanJesus says:

    @testsicles: Calling something a “scam” does not automatically make it illegal. This is still a scam, regardless of legality.

  5. Mira Mi Huevo!!! says:

    Taking advantage of the “Viejitos”… That is not new, we all know that many of these scams are targeted to senior citizens.

  6. MercuryPDX says:

    I have huge issues with ads that disguise themselves as legitimate news articles, and the newspapers that run them that way. I would hope the conversation went down like this…

    Newspaper Editor: “Hey, you know this looks like an article and people might confuse it for something we’re reporting as legitimate news. I don’t think we can run this unless you make it look more like an ad.”

    Marketing guy: “Well they’re paying us a lot of money. How about if we put the word advertisement in 6 point type at the top? Otherwise we’ll be cutting your reporting staff because we’re a little low on money.”

    Newspaper Editor: “Sigh…”

  7. lalaland13 says:

    Oh geez I hate crap like this that’s designed to look like a “real” article. Thank goodness for the “advertisement” note, but still, I wonder if some will fall for this. My favorite remains the lesbian fireplace ad.

  8. lalaland13 says:

    @MercuryPDX: I would hope anyone who regularly reads the paper or any paper would know that is not what most articles look like. But you never know. And newspaper’s editorial departments rarely, if ever, have any control over what advertising does. I know you were probably joking, though, and that could be a real convo with slight variants like “We’re putting a front page ad on! Or more cuts!” Blurg.

    But those are my least favorite kind of ad because they’re so grating and annoying and cheesy and just plain bad.

  9. jflash972 says:

    One of our local tv stations also found that the prominent notice in the ad which reads “Box Certified by U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunication & Information Administration” is false as well.

    This marketing behind this ad is much like the ads that appeared in magazines and newspapers several years ago for “miracle” (fancy that!) satellite-dish-shaped set-top antennas which allowed one to receive tv broadcasts “for free!”

  10. dman19 says:

    its sad, they put a senior citizen in the picture. so then senior citizens themselves will think “hey that old guy just like me did it so i can too!” its pretty bad people do these kinds of things.

  11. LostAngeles says:

    OK, we need to do a little better than just having in tiny words, “Advertisement.” I remember the first time I came across such a thing and I was wondering what the hell was going on with a page devoted to this tripe. Then I saw the word, “Advertisement,” in teeny letters at the bottom.

    We really need to work on strengthening people’s bullshit detectors and not allowing advertising to look like a real news story would be nice as well. They’ve got plenty of other false positions of authority (celebrity, 4 out of 5 doctors, Dr. Jarvik, more than 1 billion served…) they don’t really need this one.

    This reminds me, I recall a story over on Jezebel about an abstinence-only, pro-life, propaganda-zine, with “Advertisement Supplement,” on every other page. I’ll be generous and say it skims along the accuracy edge at some points, provided you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  12. LostAngeles says:

    @testsicles: It might actually violate IP at the least. I’m a knitter and there’s a growing concern of patterns that people put up for free that are being swiped and then put on E-bay or something of the like. I’ve heard that it’s part of those scams that advertise home-based business but with a different web address each time, but I don’t know how accurate that info is.

    Nevertheless, I’d imagine that someone’s software that they made to be free being sold for someone else’s profit is a fairly big no-no, just not as attention grabbing as the reverse.

  13. Notsewfast says:

    Ok… I’m gonna say it. That old guy looks like Stephen Colbert in an old man costume.

  14. sean77 says:

    @SexierThanJesus: A scam by definition is fraud, making it illegal.

    This is a ripoff, not a scam.

  15. gmoney says:

    @Secret Agent Man: holy crap you are so right! Fitting, no?

  16. Nytmare says:

    The definition of fraud I’m looking at says “unfair or unlawful”. It is a scam.

  17. Angryrider says:

    With all those advertisements on the TV, and the fact that PBS airs those announcements every 30 min, you’d think some people would already know about DTV. If people get fooled by this, they deserved to be scammed.

  18. resonanteye says:

    “Advertisment” always to be printed in small fonts, in order that people with failing vision will not be as likely to see it. Sounds despicable but it’s the logic.

    It’s amazing what you learn when you work in advertising design for a few years.

  19. donopolis says:

    @Angryrider:
    Yes, being uninformed is an unforgivable sin. You’re right let those easily confused, fixed income, seniors that are being targeted get their just desserts.

  20. poornotignorant says:

    I wish someone would do something about saying something is free, and then charging for shipping and handling. It’s like saying I’ll give you a free meal and then requiring you to tip the server $100. Free means free, period.

  21. Skipweasel says:

    Out of interest, how much does a set top convertor cost on the open market in the US?

    In the UK they’re usually called FreeView boxes and are under £20 (that’s about $40) but sometimes hit the shops for £15.

  22. antennaguy says:

    Chris:

    Consumer Reports has rated some of the available converter boxes at:
    [www.consumerreports.org]

    TV reception starts with the right antenna. Viewers should certainly try their old antenna first. Any older antennas will pick up some signals, maybe all the broadcast signals a viewer wants to receive, depending on their location. If they’re getting all the OTA channels they want and almost completely uncompressed DTV and HDTV, unlike cable or satellite, they’re good to go.

    But many of the TV antenna designs now in use and on the market today such as the Yagi and rabbit ears have technology roots going back 30 years or more.

    Most designs in use now were developed prior to the advent of much of the computer technology, software and algorithms in common use today left open numerous avenues to improve upon tried and true designs and develop new ones. Recent regulations and standards opened new doors for antenna engineers to develop much smaller antennas with greatly improved performance and aesthetics. Welcome to the digital age.

    While it’s correct that antennas can’t tell the difference between analog and digital signals, there are definitely certain models which have higher DTV batting averages than others. Not all antennas are equally suited for DTV. A percentage of viewers will require something a little more tailored for DTV reception.

    While cable and satellite program providers will continue to serve the great majority of homes as the primary signal source, missing HD local reception, compression issues, higher costs, billing add-ons, service outages, contact difficulties, in-home service waits and no shows have left many of these subscribers looking to OTA antennas as a good, alternative and Off-Air viewers happy with their free programming.

    With one of the newer and smaller OTA antennas, with greatly improved performance, power and aesthetics, viewers may also be able to receive out-of-town channels, carrying blacked out sports programs, several additional sub-channels or network broadcasts not available locally. And for those with an HDTV, almost completely uncompressed HD broadcasts.

    OTA viewers can go to antennapoint.com to see quickly what stations are available to them, the distance, UHF or VHF and compose heading to help in choosing and aiming their antenna. And if they decide to buy a newer antenna, they should buy it from a source that will completely refund their purchase price, no questions asked, if it doesn’t do the job for them.

  23. TVGenius says:

    They’re also running ads for some kind of fan device you put a bunch of ice in and supposedly it cools your entire house (for just ‘pennies’). Yeah right. And they’re still doing those ‘bricks’ of golden coin ads too… just saw one the other day. All the same people.

  24. ThePantsParty says:

    @TVGenius:
    I work for Infocision Management Corp. (a telemarketing/inbound customer service company) We are the ones that take the calls for all of their BS products. It really is a complete scam and the things we are scripted to force on people are pretty unbelievable. Like the amish heaters, we are actually instructed to tell everyone they’re ordering 2 of them (and then wait and see if they object). There are a few different kinds of coins they sell (under the shell company name ‘The World Reserve Monetary Exchange’, to try to sound as ‘government affiliated’ as possible.), and we are supposed to get them to commit to subscribing to *2 sets* of *10 years* worth of minting for about $300-$400 for each set. The entire company is based on scams, and they seem to think of a new one every couple of months.