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Protecting yourself

Do warranty cards warrant your response? Not if you don’t want junk mail

Connie Prater

Some of you may still be tossing out boxes, cartons and the foam packaging that cushioned your cool, new holiday gifts: digital cameras, MP3 players or maybe the latest version of the Guitar Hero video game. If you’re like me, you set aside the instruction manual and other papers and material packaged in with your cool gift to “read through it when I have time.”

My iPod — now more than 1-1/2 years old — still has the documentation disk and papers inside the box. Was there a warranty card or production registration card? I didn’t even notice. But I can tell you this much: I didn’t fill it out. Privacy experts say if you’re smart, you won’t bother filling out your warranty cards this year either.

I have a cabinet where I toss the owner’s manuals and other “stuff” (translation: marketing materials, warranty cards and the rest) for all of my appliances and electronic equipment. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken the time to fill out a warranty card in the past three decades.

By federal law, manufacturers can require customers to fill out and return warranty cards if they want the benefits of the limited warranty provisions. Some states, however, prohibit making the registration cards a condition of granting warranty safeguards. Manufacturers typically honor the warranty even if you don’t fill out the cards.

Recall notices
So why bother? If the item you’ve purchased is ever recalled, then filling out the contact information on the card will allow the company to alert you of potential hazards. My experience is that major recalls are broadcast on the media and sent out by organizations such as ConsumerReports.org — perhaps more efficiently and faster than manufacturers (especially if you’ve moved several times since you submitted the registration information).

The primary purpose of these cards is to collect marketing information about buyers that manufacturers then use to try to sell you other products or sell to telemarketing outfits who try to sell you their products. When you submit warranty cards, you open yourself up to spam (if you give them your e-mail address), junk mail (if you give them your home or work address) or phone calls (if you gave up your home or, gasp, cell phone numbers).

The problem is that the registration cards often go well beyond the basic contact information and solicit information about your income, family size, number of cars, if you smoke, how many pets you have, how often you purchase electronic equipment or appliances and if you own your home or rent. The list can and sometimes does go on and on.

Getting to know customers
The makers of a glucose meter (used by people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels) tells new owners that some information on the warranty card is optional and “helps us to get to know our customers better.” Yeah, right.

I bought a vacuum cleaner over the holidays and the owner’s manual directed me to an online warranty registration site. The 27-question form asks for specific details about the vacuum as well as:

  • How did you become aware of this product?
  • The three most important factors influencing my purchase of the product.
  • What other brands I considered purchasing.
  • The vacuum brands I’ve previously owned and other brands currently owned.
  • How often I or anyone in my home vacuums (is my mother behind this questionnaire?!)
  • If anyone in the house has allergies.
  • My occupation and employment status, annual family income and education level.
  • Whether I own a Plasma/LCD TV, High-Definition enabled TV, game system, satellite radio, wireless internet, home theater, GPS, MP3 player or digital camera. (Please tell me what this has to do with vacuuming!)
  • If I buy new products as soon as they are available on the market (are they planning to launch a GPS-controlled vacuum cleaner?)
  • My home life, sports, fitness, outdoor, travel, investment and leisure activities.

The manufacturer attempts to entice me to submit the form by sponsoring a sweepstake. All forms are entered for a chance to win some of the $100,000 Give Away pot.

A “product information card” for a microwave I bought the other day asks 22 similarly invasive questions, including which credit cards I regularly use.

Keep the receipt
If you are a warranty card rebel, keep the receipt as proof of purchase on those gadgets (and make a photocopy of the receipt in case the ink begins to fade on it). If something happens to the product and it is covered by the limited warranty, you have evidence that you legitimately bought the item.

 

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