Ask Laz: David Lazarus answers consumer questions

Are cable companies double dipping with local commercials?

You're watching TV. A commercial ends and you see just a glimpse of some other ad. Is the cable company selling two ads for a single spot?

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TV commercials

Can your employer force you into Obamacare?

Sarah has a healthcare concern: Can her employer drop coverage for her and her colleagues and force them into Obamacare?

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Health insurance

Your rights as a renter if your apartment building is sold

Rudy is a renter in Los Angeles. His building is for sale. He wants to know what rights he has under the circumstances.

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Renters' rights

Do disability payments turn up in a background check?

Matt has been out on disability for the last three years. He's finally ready to return to the workforce. His question: If a potential employer does a background check, will it learn that he's been receiving disability payments?

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Disability payments

Never mind the Clippers. What about Chuck E. Cheese's?

Jorge went to a Chuck E. Cheese's outlet recently and noticed that his money wasn't going as far as he remembered. Game tokens cost 33 cents each instead of the 25 cents he recalled. Jorge asks: Has the company been sold? Has it changed its prices?

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Chuck E. Cheese

Obamacare pushes health insurance costs up: Where to take your gripes

Kathleen says the cost of her health insurance has soared. She wants to know why -- and who she can complain to.

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What to do if your Saturn isn't part of the big GM recall

Karen drives a 2003 Saturn Vue. She says it's experiencing the same ignition troubles that have resulted in the recall of about 2.6 million General Motors vehicles.

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Auto recall

How to cut the best possible deal for cable or satellite service

Larry wants to know if any cable or satellite companies have deals similar to those from T-Mobile, which pays to get people to sign up. Well, not usually, but here's where you can strike a deal.

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Cable deals

Deaf college student: Is there an app to follow lectures?

Marc's daughter is attending college in Michigan. She's also deaf. Sign-language interpreters have been provided for classes, but Marc wants to know if there's a more high-tech solution.

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Deaf app

When a mail carrier spends too much time on the cellphone

Stephen's new mail carrier spends so much time on her cell phone, she sometimes delivers mail to the wrong house. She also frequently uses the F-word. What's the U.S. Postal Service's policy on this?

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Mail carriers

When a rent hike's too much, who you gonna call?

Adik has leased a beauty salon in La Crescenta for 20 years, and the rent is now going up 10%. Adik wants to know how he can complain.

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Rent hikes

The best way to find an affordable accountant

Jeff says he owes money for missed tax payments. He met with an accountant who quoted a fee of $350 an hour for about 10 hours of work. How can he find an affordable tax pro?

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Your rights when an employer demands a background check

Employers certainly aren't shy when it comes to getting into the lives of job applicants. Dave wants to know: Can an employer require a background check as a condition for getting a job?

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Background checks

The not-so-secret truth about those secret 770 accounts

Robert says he's heard about secret "770 accounts," also sometimes referred to as "presidents accounts." Supposedly, these are super-sneaky tax shelters for the super-rich, but the reality is a bit more mundane.

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770 accounts

Same ingredients, different prices. What's up with that?

Pearl visited a Wal-Mart looking for healing ointment. Original Aquaphor was $14.26, while Baby Aquaphor was $14.97. Are these not the same products?

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If you drop U.S. citizenship, can you still collect Social Security?

Lee wants to know what happens if he renounces his U.S. citizenship and becomes a citizen of the Philippines. Can he keep receiving Social Security checks?

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U.S. citizenship

A smartphone dilemma: The HTC One versus the iPhone 5c

Raphael wants to know: Which is more powerful, the HTC One or the iPhone 5c? Let's consider what's really important when choosing a smartphone. Raw power? Available apps? Look and feel?

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How to get rid of an unwanted time share

Judith inherited her parents' time share and she doesn't want it. Can she offload a time share onto someone else, and would that affect her credit score?

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Time share

Rethinking the decision to receive checks at 62

Thomas is wondering: What if he starts receiving Social Security payments at 62 but then has a change of heart? Could he give the money back and restart the clock to receive bigger payments down the road?

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Social Security

How a crime can affect your car insurance

Valerie saw the recent reports about a fatal crash in Southern California involving a wrong-way driver, and she got to thinking about car insurance. Specifically, if a crime is committed as part of an accident, does your insurer still cover things?

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Drunk driving

Car taxes: State officials forgot to mention one small thing

Is the sales tax on your car determined by the sticker price, or the price you land on once you've haggled with the dealer? Here's clarification from the Board of Equalization.

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Car taxes

Getting out of a timeshare deal can be no holiday

Janet and her husband enjoy their vacation time share, but the annual dues have risen to $3,500. If they stop making payments, can the time share company place a lien on their home?

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Leaving time shares

When it comes to free trials, watch out for costly renewals

Joe bought a new car and received a few free months of the satellite radio service Sirius XM. He agreed to a $25 six-month trial, lost track of time, and was dinged for over $100 afterwards to continue his subscription. Is that legal?

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Free trials

It may be your phone, but do you own the number?

Psi is wondering: Who owns phone numbers? The customer? The phone company? He said he asked his service provider, but couldn't get a straight answer.

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Phone numbers

Paying extra to fix a buggy video game console

Eugene is thinking about buying an Xbox One game console, but he's worried about extra charges if the device turns out to be all buggy.

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Game console

Determining the sales tax for a new car

Robin is buying a new car. She's done her best to haggle the price down, but she's being told that she has to pay sales tax on the full sticker price of the vehicle, rather than the discounted price. Is that kosher?

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Car tax

When a landlord just says no to tenants smoking pot

Dave is a landlord, but he's not a dope smoker. When he has an opening, Craigslist users routinely flag his postings for being discriminatory. Can't a landlord just say no to drugs?

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Just say 'No?'

How to record TV programs without a cable or satellite box

Craig has a fancy flat-panel TV at home, but no cable or satellite subscription. He wants to know if he can digitally record programs without a cable or satellite box.

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Finding a cure for herpes

I get asked a lot of consumer questions. This one was a first. Laura wrote in asking: "Can you please find out what's taking scientists so long for a cure to herpes?"

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How to cut your cable bill

David wants to know if there's an effective way of haggling with the cable company.

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Cable bill

Keeping gremlins out of a repair job

Tony's chairlift was broken, and the repair work was expensive. The company refused to make the affordable switch available so Tony could handle the fix himself. Is that fair?

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How to avoid a bruising if you want to go cruising

David wants to know if there's a best time to buy cruise tickets. Do you get the best deals if you dive in early, or is it smartest to wait until the last minute?

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Cruise tickets

Target's free credit monitoring: How do you know it's legit?

Like millions of other Target shoppers, Janet has received an offer from the company for free credit monitoring. She wants to know if she can trust it.

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Credit monitoring

Accessing a lender's phone records

Julia wants to know how long mortgage lenders have to maintain phone records.

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Lender records

When a lender won't even discuss a foreclosure notice

Jean and her husband are struggling with two mortgages on their home their foreclosing lender is unwilling to work with them. How should she handle that?

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The loophole that allows higher pump prices for plastic

Rick went to the gas station and saw two different prices for paying with cash or plastic -- and the plastic price was 10 cents a gallon higher. Is that legal?

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Charging for gas

Staying wired for the Net without the phone line

Ron's Wi-Fi Internet service is bundled with his phone service. He wants to ditch his land line, which he seldom uses. Can he still have Wi-Fi in his home?

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Wifi without phone

'Spoofing': The cloaking device of telemarketers

Roselind's beef is knowing who to report to authorities. Increasingly, telemarketers are masking their true phone numbers or misleading people with bogus numbers. What can you do?

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Telemarketer cloaking

Do those annoying magazine subscription cards really work?

Godfrey is fed up with those subscription cards that come tumbling out of magazines. Why do publishers bother using them?

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Subscription cards

The bogus-check scam that won't go away

Kya sells ceramic masks online. A buyer recently instructed her to cash his check and then allow him to pick up his mask later. She asks: Is this some kind of scam? Probably.

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Bogus-check scam

Used car nightmare: Does California's 'Lemon Law' apply?

S.C. purchased a used Jeep with 50,000 miles on it, which soon developed transmission problems that the dealer refused to fix. Does California's "Lemon Law" apply here?

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California's 'Lemon Law'

Bitcoins: I'd buy that for a dollar

Fred says he doesn't have any bitcoins. But if he did, he wants to know if he could exchange them for real dollars.

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A fee-only financial planner? Here's how to find one

Jared wants to know how he can find a certified financial planner who doesn't hit clients for huge commissions but instead wants only a fee for his or her services.

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Financial planner

Coping with door-to-door salespeople

AT&T has been sending salespeople to Shirley's home to make the same pitch that telemarketers are making over the phone. Is there any way to keep the company's salespeople away?

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Avoiding salespeople

If you donate to a store, does the store claim a tax deduction?

When money is donated to supermarkets -- in this case, Safeway -- are the contributions claimed as a tax deduction?

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Supermarket donations

The skinny on 'smart' gas meters

Jon was notified recently that SoCalGas would be installing "smart meters" in his neighborhood. He's got some questions about that. Is the wireless technology safe? Can you opt out?

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Smart meters

Not all websites are equal when it comes to free credit reports

Willie wants to know where you can go online for free copies of your credit reports. The major credit reporting companies are mandated to provide a free one each year, but some businesses have tried to exploit that law.

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Free credit reports

What happens to your credit score if you cancel unused plastic?

Michael has a credit card he hasn't used in about two years. It has no balance, but it does have a $6 monthly fee. If he cancels the card, will it affect his credit score?

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Unused credit card

How to stop your cable company from spamming you

Kyle receives a lot of unwanted email from his cable provider, Time Warner Cable. He also says the company appears to be sending him email from other companies. Are they spamming him?

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Cable spam

Go phish: How to tell if an email is legitimate

A recent email informed Jane that she'd won a pile of money. She knows she almost certainly hasn't won anything, but she wants to know if there's an easy way to tell if an email is legit.

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How to get off all those mailing lists

Dottie works hard to protect her privacy. Yet she finds she's constantly being put on different marketers' mailing lists? How does this happen and what can she do about it?

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Mailing lists

Should you pay more for 'advanced' toothpastes? Maybe not

Howard took a close look and noticed that the ingredients of various Colgate Total toothpastes are almost identical, yet the prices vary. Are those price differences justified?

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Advanced toothpastes

The danger of clicking that 'unsubscribe' email link

Manuel wants to limit all the messages spilling into his email inbox and asks whether it's worthwhile clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of many emails. It is, but be careful for this scam.

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Clicking unsubscribe

Work-from-home scams: Uncle Sam wants to know

James receives lots of emails offering him big bucks for working from home, and he suspects they're not on the up and up. Where can he report bogus work-from-home pitches? First of all, not all such emails are scams.

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Work from home

When it comes to online banking, you don't want to take chances

Jutta wants to know: How safe is online banking? It depends on whom you bank with; as with all things Internet, what counts is the company you keep.

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Online banking

How insurers figure out how much you're driving

Lewis noticed that when his insurance company sends him estimates for his auto coverage, it always has a really good idea of how much he's been driving. He wants to know whether his car dealer is routinely ratting him out each time he takes in his car for service.

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Mileage estimates

That hospital 'facilities fee'? Our healthcare system in action

Bob is accustomed to a $50 co-pay whenever he sees the doctor. But a nearly $200 "facilities fee" from a local hospital took him by surprise. Bob's question: What the heck is a facilities fee?

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Hospital facilities fee

Chicken nuggets: Do you really want to know what's in them?

Laura wants to know what happens to the rest of the chicken when a fast-food restaurant makes nuggets. But that's not the real question here. The real question is: What's in a nugget?

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Chicken nuggets

When a home warranty is as leaky as the plumbing

Bill's daughter purchased a house that came with a home warranty. She took a shower and discovered that water was seeping out of the walls. The warranty provider said the policy didn't cover plumbing. Is that how these things usually work?

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Home warranties

If a store asks you to donate, it should know where the cash goes

Andrea's husband was asked if he wanted to donate to breast cancer research at the supermarket checkout. The cashier couldn't tell him where the money goes. Andrea thinks customers are entitled to that info.

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Donations at checkout

Rounding off bill payments: No harm, no foul?

When AT&T charged Bill $150.05 for wireless service, he rounded that down to $150. He was then dinged with a $5 late fee for the missing 5 cents. Is AT&T being unfair?

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Rounding off bills

What to do if stains turn up on your stainless steel fridge

John noticed stains on his Sears-bought refrigerator. He'd also purchased an extended warranty, and contacted the company to explain. But his warranty didn't cover cosmetic issues.

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Warranty limits

A shared credit card might sound like love. It's not

Jose' girlfriend ran up $40,000 in debt on their joint credit card, didn't pay it off and the couple split. With creditors knocking at his door demanding payment for his ex's spending sprees, what's Jose to do?

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Joint credit cards

When a lifetime subscription comes to an abrupt halt

David purchased a lifetime subscription to a magazine that switched from being a print to an online-only publication, and his lifetime subscription vanished. But isn't a lifetime subscription forever?

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Lifetime subscriptions

The toilets overflow. What's a renter to do?

The toilets in Mark's daughter's apartment building backed up and her unit was flooded with some not-so-pleasant business. The building manager didn't do much to help. What responsibilities do landlords have in such situations?

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Renter's rights

That official-looking letter probably isn't very official

Linda says an entrepreneurial relative received an official-looking letter seeking additional funds to register a trademark. Is this kosher? Almost certainly not.

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Junk faxes

How to remedy a wrong number painted on your curb

Nina wants to know what you can do if someone paints your curb -- without permission -- and puts the wrong number there. The trick is being able to identify and contact those responsible for the screw-up.

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Fixing the curb

Planning a cruise? You'll want some protection

Maridean's daughter and son-in-law were booked on a Caribbean cruise and missed it through no fault of their own, but had to swallow the cost. Travel insurance probably could have helped.

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Travel insurance

Is there a cheap, easy way to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Jane is behind with her debt and is looking into Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. While there's nothing stopping her from filing it on her own, experts don't advise it.

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Chapter 7 bankruptcy

The ins and outs of a health savings account

As pre-enrollment begins for Obamacare, Albert is exploring his options and wants to know more about health savings accounts. While they can be a good fit for some, HSAs are not for everyone.

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Health Savings Accounts

What you pay for the honor of a directory listing

A directory called "Leading Physicians of the World" is reaching out to top doctors asking if they want to be included. There's no charge to enterundefined8212;but there is a catch.

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Directory listings

How to tell if a debt collector is legitimate

A debt collector called Coco's husband threatening jail time if he didn't pay part of a claimed $800 owed. It wasn't until after he hung up that he and his wife wondered, "Was that a legitimate call?"

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Debt collector scam

Higher minimum wage: Lower tips for restaurant workers?

Now that California is raising its minimum wage from $8 to $10 an hour, how will tipped restaurant workers be affected?

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When the coupon says 'free' but the business says 'no'

Nikola's Supercuts offer said buy 12 haircuts and you'd get the 13th free. But when he went in to redeem his card, they said the offer was no good -- even though the card had no expiration date.

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Refused coupons

One Target store may have higher prices than another

Brooke shops at Target, and she's noticed that prices at one store can differ from prices at another, sometimes significantly. Why?

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Different Target prices

Not all TV services carry Pac-12 football

Brian is a UCLA grad and big Bruins backer, but his subscription to Verizon FiOS doesn't allow him to see Pac-12 Network football games. How can he tune in to see his team?

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Pac-12 carriers

You don't have to pay the people painting your curb

Michelle found a notice outside her home saying her house number would be painted on the curb, and a "donation" of $20 was requested. Don't do it, Michelle.

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Curb painter donations

Can you trust that sweepstakes offer on your receipt?

Some retailers like to throw a sweepstakes on their receipts as a way to connect with the customer post-purchase. Much of the time they're legit, but there are a few instances where you should be wary.

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Receipt sweepstakes

Who audits California's state auditor?

It helps to be aware of the state's whistle-blower hotline, which allows state workers and others to report instances of fraud or waste. But who audits that?

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Audit the auditor

Unwanted catalogs: Get off the mailing lists

Like many people, Tammie receives catalogs she doesn't want. How did these guys find her, and what can she do to get rid of them?

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Stop the mail catalogs

Rachel at Cardmember Services is not your friend

Lori has been receiving calls from "Credit Card Services," a.k.a. "Cardmember Services," a.k.a. Rachel. What can Lori do to keep Rachel away?

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Credit card telemarketers

Cruise line's attitude makes former passenger jump ship

Rochelle had a really bad trip aboard a cruise ship, so what she should be asking about is travel insurance. But her question concerns customer service.

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Customer risk and reward

Is there an identity alternative to Social Security numbers?

Companies have made a habit of demanding our Social Security numbers. But when did these become our personal identification numbers?

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Social Security number as ID

Airline miles: Credit card offer comes with ticking clock

Citibank would give Ole 50,000 American Airlines miles if he took out a new credit card. The catch: He'd have to spend at least $3,000 over three months.

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Airline miles

Time Warner Cable and CBS: What happened to public airwaves?

The hissy fit between the two giants makes us think about why we have to pay extra to get certain channels from Time Warner—or any other pay-TV company.

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'Public' TV airwaves

Banks claim a right to share customer info with others

Donna keeps her money with Bank of America and receives a lot of solicitations from lenders and other financial companies. What can she do to stop BofA from sharing her personal information with others?

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Banks sharing personal data

Fuzzy math: Paying the full sales tax for a discounted item

Heesook noticed that when she buys a discounted item, sometimes she's charged sales tax at the undiscounted price and sometimes she's not. Why is that?

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Unequal sales tax

If Time Warner Cable won't give us CBS, can we give them a lawsuit?

Like a lot of Time Warner Cable subscribers, Ruben is pretty cheesed about the ongoing spat with CBS over how much money should be changing hands between the two media giants. He's wondering: Can't we just sue Time Warner for breach of contract?

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Cable company loopholes

Do not call: Keeping pesky contractors at bay

Contractors calling your home looking for work are annoying, but they're not acting unethically. When the do-not-call list isn't enough, how do you get them to stop?

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Pesky contractors calling

Taking foreign entities to U.S. Small Claims Court

Sharon lost her luggage on the way to a European cruise and had to go without her bags for the whole trip. She wants to sue -- which is not impossible but can be tricky.

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Suing over lost international baggage

Bundled mortgages: Legal, or evil?

The idea of "securitized" mortgages—when several people's mortgages are bundled together and sold to investors—can be flummoxing. Is this legal, and can it contribute to housing bubbles?

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The legality of "securitized" mortgages

High wireless phone bills don't have to come down

If you've paid off a wireless phone and you've noticed your monthly bill is still high, there's a reason. Before you begin a payment plan, you may want to shop around.

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Wireless phone bills not coming down

Dealing with safe-deposit boxes after a customer dies

A bank can continue to dole out fees to a customer who has passed away for up to three years. Does the same apply to safe-deposit boxes?

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Safe-deposit boxes after death

Determining your home's value at any given moment

You may feel your home is a castle, but the market may have another opinion. Here's how to understand the value of your residence and how nearby homes might affect it.

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A home's true value

Universal phone service fee: No longer for phones

The charge for universal phone service was established to help every household gain phone access. Now that that's pretty much been accomplished, the fee has shifted its priorities.

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Universal phone service

Civil servants and Social Security taxes

What obligation do civil servants have when it comes to Social Security? Aren't all workers obliged to pay into the federal retirement program?

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Civil servants and Social Security

Canceling a gym membership shouldn't be so tough

It can seem as though some gyms go out of their way to make canceling a membership as difficult as possible. What can you do to make things go more smoothly?

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Canceling a gym membership

State officials aren't shy about taxing cable bills

Fees and taxes make up a hefty portion of your cable and satellite-TV bill. Is the state allowed to just slip new taxes in?

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Cable taxes and fees

It's possible to reach hard-to-get companies

Some businesses are notorious for being unavailable to answer your questions. So how do you contact a company that doesn't want to be contacted?

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Reaching a human at a company

Paying extra for a TV channel NASA offers for free

Why should NASA-TV be considered a premium channel when taxpayers have already paid for it?

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NASA-TV fees

Utilities take their best guess at your monthly bill

Estimated bills are utility companies' answer to a growing customer base and a shrinking staff.

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Utility bill estimates

Protecting your credit score from aggressive lenders

Unresolved issues involving your credit files can have effects that last for years. What can you do to protect yourself when things happen that are out of your control?

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Protecting your credit