Teresa McUsic

Consumer Reports releases annual Naughty and Nice list

FedEx continues to charge fuel surcharges even though diesel prices are way down, Consumer Reports says.
FedEx continues to charge fuel surcharges even though diesel prices are way down, Consumer Reports says. AP

The holidays are over, but that doesn’t mean companies can’t still be naughty or nice.

Consumer Reports released its sixth annual Naughty & Nice list of consumer policies. Companies on the naughty list engaged in price gouging, illegal fees and poor marketing practices. Companies on the nice list had transparency, generosity and other practices that benefited consumers. Texas companies showed up on both lists.

First up, the “naughty,” listed in alphabetical order.

Citibank. The megabank has engaged in deceptive marketing and unfair billing for credit card add-on products and services in 2000-13, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The watchdog agency ordered Citibank to pay $35 million in civil penalties and an estimated $700 million to millions of consumers harmed by the illegal practices.

Costco. The warehouse club chain is facing a jury trial soon for trademark infringement for selling diamond engagement rings it called Tiffany in display-case signage, even though the jewels didn’t come from that upscale jeweler.

FedEx and UPS. Both shippers are still imposing fuel surcharges even though the price of diesel fuel has fallen sharply and isn’t expected to rise again soon. FedEx rates are coming down slightly with a surcharge for ground shipping services declining to 4 percent in January from 4.25 percent. UPS is holding firm at 5.25 percent.

LifeLock. The personal security service will pay $100 million to settle contempt charges with the Federal Trade Commission for violating a 2010 settlement with the agency and 35 state attorneys general, including Texas’. The government says LifeLock continued to make deceptive claims about its identity theft protection services and failed to take steps required to protect user data.

Sprint and Verizon. The phone companies billed customers for millions in unauthorized third-party premium text messaging services, a fraudulent practice called “cramming,” and were ordered by the Federal Communications Commission to pay $68 million and $90 million, respectively, in penalties and restitution.

Tom’s of Maine. The company, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to create a $4.5 million fund to settle claims in a class-action lawsuit alleging that it mislabeled personal care and beauty products as natural when they contained chemical ingredients including the sweetener xylitol and cleaner sodium lauryl sulfate. Consumers can claim a $4 refund on up to seven Tom’s products (without a receipt) by going to www.tomsproductsclassaction.com.

Volkswagen. After notice by the Environmental Protection Agency in September, the company admitted that it cheated by installing software on more than half a million four-cylinder diesel vehicles, including Beetles, Golfs, Jettas, Passats and the Audi A3, to pass emission tests while emitting up to 40 times the permissible U.S. levels of nitrogen oxides. In November, the EPA cited six models fitted with V-6 diesel engines as not complying with emission regulations.

Whole Foods. The Austin-based grocery chain was caught twice overcharging customers by selling products with the weight incorrectly labeled. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that the grocer routinely overcharged customers by overstating the contents of prepackaged foods. The agency also said that 89 percent of the packages failed to meet the federal standard for the maximum amount that a package can deviate from the actual weight.

And now for companies on the “nice” list.

Brinkmann and Home Depot. Testing by Consumer Reports uncovered a safety issue with a Brinkmann grill and gave it a Do Not Buy designation last spring. While Brinkmann challenged the safety threat, it did make available an easy-to-install, do-it-yourself fix for grill owners. Home Depot, which sells the grills, put a freeze on their sales until the grills were fitted with the new part.

Subway and Panera Bread. Panera announced that the majority of its meat and poultry is now produced without routine use of antibiotics. Subway also announced plans to eliminate use of antibiotics in its meat supply. All of its chicken products will be antibiotic-free by the end of this year; beef and pork by 2025.

Dish Network. The satellite TV service has a new online appointment tool called My Tech that allows customers to receive personalized information about their service appointment including the name and a photo of the technician, and his or her proximity to your home.

JetBlue. The carrier offers free broadband Internet access, available on most aircraft.

Procter & Gamble. A voluntary industry standards-setting committee, co-led by Procter & Gamble, has set new standards for laundry detergent pods that were making children sick because they looked like candy and children ate them. The new standards include applying a bitter substance to the outer layer and making the packet stronger to resist a child’s squeezing.

Southwest Airlines. The Dallas-based carrier provides the most frequent flier award program trips of any big airline, according to a recent Consumer Reports analysis. It also provided the highest percentage of award-seat availability on 72 percent of the 25 most popular U.S. award routes. Every seat is available as an award seat.

Target. The retailer has expanded its price-match policy to include all major in-store and online competitors, including warehouse clubs, Amazon and Wal-Mart, and has doubled (to 14 days) the time frame to seek a price adjustment. Target also revised its policy on shipping, lowering the purchase minimum to $25 from $50, required for free year-round shipping on online orders. The chain extended the return period for all gift registry items from 90 days to one year from the event date.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears on Saturdays. TMcUsic@