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Television Media Technology

Scammers Exploit DTV Coupon Program 219

Posted by kdawson
from the old-bait-and-switch dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Analog TV users must purchase a DTV converter box before broadcasts go digital in 2009, and the US Government is offering $40 coupons to support the transition. The coupon program requires retailers to become certified by the NTIA (the Government body running the program) before processing orders for the boxes. Apparently the certification program is a bit lax, as the frenzy to purchase DTV boxes using these coupons seems to have drawn unscrupulous fraud artists into the mix. Memsen, via its web site convertmy.tv and its hardware partner Maxmedia, partnered apparently to pull a bait-and-switch game on unsuspecting consumers and the US Government." Read on for details of the scam claimed by this anonymous reader.


Maxmedia and convertmy.tv (CMTV) together promoted the Maxmedia MMDTVB03, which appeared to be the most feature-rich of the coupon-eligible converter boxes. The box drew public interest and even coverage by 3rd-party review sites.

CMTV quickly took pre-orders for the box, and promised delivery first in April, 2008, and later pushed the date back to May. The company immediately redeemed the Government coupons (in violation of the program rules, which prohibit back-ordering) and charged customer credit cards. Early-adopting consumers were willing to overlook these practices, feeling they would eventually own the best box on the market.

CMTV yesterday announced that they would not be shipping the MMDTVB03 at all — it would be replaced by the MMDTVB02, which they claim will have a better picture. Of course, the "new & improved" box will not ship until June. As an alternative, CMTV indicated it would allow customers to switch to an inferior box for $5 less.

Consumers are outraged by CMTV/MaxMedia's bait-and-switch tactics but are having difficulty finding out who these companies really are. Neither company publishes physical addresses or phone numbers on their web sites, and consumers have resorted to their own detective work to find the info.

As of April 8, 2008, the convertmy.tv web site is still accepting and processing orders for the "new" MMDTVB02 — in clear violation of the NTIA program rules, which only allows coupons to be applied to DTV boxes on its approved list.
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Scammers Exploit DTV Coupon Program

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  • Misleading summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:08PM (#23006614)
    Analog TV users are not REQUIRED to purchase a converter box. A converter box is needed if you wish to continue to view over-the-air TV after the transition. Big difference. It's not like Europa.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:16PM (#23006674)
      Good point. You should attempt no landings there.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        We on Uranus do not have TV. We'd get sh*tty reception, anyway.
    • Offtopic, but I can't seem to find out enough about this from my local electronics stores. I have a non-HD TV with no cable, satellite, or rabbit ears. We've opted for DVDs instead. With the switch to HD-TV signals, I registered and received my coupons. I realize that with the converter, I still need to have some kind of antenna. I recently saw the Philips MANT310 at my local Walmart (can't find a link to just the product, so I'll post the Radio Shack link: http://www.radioshack.com/sm-philips-mant310- [radioshack.com]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fo0bar (261207)

        My question is, since this [antenna] receives HD-TV signals, do I still need the converter box for my non-HD TV? Would there be a benefit to getting the converter box? Thanks.

        Yes, you still need the DTV receiver. The DTV receiver is what actually processes OTA signals. The whole "DTV-capable" antenna marketing is largely a sham, like ethernet cables that say they're "broadband ready". Any standard VHF/UHF antenna is usable on your DTV receiver.
      • by antdude (79039) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @08:29PM (#23007278) Homepage Journal
        First, go to TVfool [tvfool.com] and Antennaweb [antennaweb.org] to find out where all the transmitters are and how far. Then, you need to see what type of antenna to get. Good places to discuss about DTV are at: news://alt.tv.tech.hdtv [tech.hdtv] (newsgroup) and AVS Forum [avsforum.com]. I am not an expert and still learning, but these places are useful.

        I couldn't use my old fashion rabbit ears since they were too weak and they were decent for analog feeds.

        For those who can't decide which converter boxes to get with the coupons, then see Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and here [freelabs.com]. I still haven't ddecided what to get and I need to get them before May 27th, 2008 (should had waited to get better models). :(
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You should get an antenna and a converter box.

        The antenna will receive the Over-the-Air television broadcast, but will not convert the DTV signal for your analog TV. You need a Converter Box to convert the DTV broadcast and output the signal your analog TV.

        Also, you need a good VHF/UHF antenna for DTV signals. With Analog TV, a poor signal meant that the picture was snowy, contained echos, or is poor quality but still watchable. With DTV, a poor signal *may* make the broadcast unwatchable (the digital TV wi
      • Re: WAY off (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Woooo, way off on the knowledge base there. The switch is to DIGITAL tv transmissions. Nobody ever claimed the switch is to strictly HD tv.
    • by sjames (1099)

      Analog TV users are not REQUIRED to purchase a converter box. A converter box is needed if you wish to continue to view over-the-air TV after the transition. Big difference. It's not like Europa.

      I suppose they COULD just turn the TV into a planter...

      They ARE required to buy a converter if they wish to maintain the same functionality they have now. There are people who don't have cable for various reasons. There are even some that can't get cable. Others may wish to watch one thing over the air and rec

    • ...Analog TV users are not REQUIRED to purchase a converter box. A converter box is needed if you wish to continue to view over-the-air ...

      Quite right.

      And also it should be said that the converter box is not going to turn your grandmas old black and white into HDTV which is a completely different standard and not designed to be backward compatible with current analog sets. The big bro ha ha here is only older sets that don't have a digital tuner that they need to pull off air signals. If you have Dish or c
  • by faedle (114018) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:10PM (#23006626) Homepage Journal
    So, let me get this straight.

    You gave your credit card information to a company you've never heard of that has no contact information on their website that you did not validate?

    Hahahahahahahahaha.
    • by Bryansix (761547) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:19PM (#23006700) Homepage
      Seriously. Everybody who ordered one should just dispute the charges with their credit card company. The massive influx of disputes will make the merchant bank close their merchant account and then their out of business like they should be.
      • by faedle (114018) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:28PM (#23006768) Homepage Journal
        Problem. They have already "redeemed" the $40 coupons issued by the US Government, and it would appear that consumers are out the "money" (on both counts: the NTIA has paid the retailer, and the consumer doesn't get their $40 off the converter).

        It seems doubly stupid, given the fact that a lot of people have had good luck with the Zenith converter being sold at your corner Radio Shack store.
    • I don't disagree with you that people should be more careful shopping online. But in their defense, convertmytv.com is listed on the official gov't coupon site [dtv2009.gov] as a valid online retailer, which might give one the impression that they're legit.
  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rastoboy29 (807168) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:13PM (#23006644) Homepage
    Don't do business with internet sites that don't have any possible non-internet based mode of contact.  Like a phone number.  Or an address.

    Interestingly, as an aside, all the credit reporting services run sites like that.  Which makes them pretty shady in my book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      Interestingly, as an aside, all the credit reporting services run sites like that.

      Huh? Each of the 3 major credit reporting companies (transunion, equifax, and experian) have 800 numbers, and physical addresses to contact them at. I'm not sure if they're such great companies, but there's nothing particularly shady about them.
      • Re:Yep (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @09:15PM (#23007578)
        Do they really need that many numbers??
      • Each of the 3 major credit reporting companies (transunion, equifax, and experian) have 800 numbers, and physical addresses to contact them at.

        I don't think he meant the agencies that report to corps, but rather the variety of websites that sell you access to your own credit report(s) with optional services like emailing you every time there is change to your report.

        They seem like a bunch of over-priced profiteers cashing in on problems and fears of problems like identity theft.

  • I filled out the form to get a coupon quite a while ago, but haven't had it come in yet. I figure once it arrives, I'll wait until I can walk into a brick and mortar store and pick one up. Ideally one that costs as close as possible to $40.
     
    I'll still need an antenna. I wonder if some places will do a bundle deal and allow the coupon to cover both? That would be nice.
    • I'll still need an antenna.

      Really?

      What are you currently using for an antenna? What's wrong with that?
      • by SkyDude (919251)

        Really? What are you currently using for an antenna? What's wrong with that?

        My other antenna is an 18inch dish.........

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rjstanford (69735)
          Which will - assuming you're referring to DirecTV or Dish Network - continue to work and provide you with your local stations (assuming you're in part of the country that they cover, which is most of the population by now) in a format that you can use.
          • by SkyDude (919251)
            See, my response to the parent was a lame attempt at levity. You know, like those bumper stickers on the back of some old clunker that says "my other car is _____" (fill in the blank).

            But your response was informative and maybe some generous mod will recognize it as such.
      • I have cable but we are dropping it.
    • by Rick17JJ (744063)

      I applied for 2 coupons from the dtv2009.gov website in January. If I remember correctly, their website said they would start start sending the coupons out in February. February has come and gone and I am still waiting for my coupons.

      I wonder if I should try applying again?

      • by SkyDude (919251)
        Got mine this past weekend. Relax, they're in the mail.
      • by antdude (79039)
        I got mine on the first day of 2008. I got it like a month ago. I assume the place is backlogged to send them out. There is a status page to see where your requests are.
      • by Rick17JJ (744063)

        I went to the dtv2009.gov website, just now, and clicked on the large graphic that says "where is your coupon." I did not have my original coupon number, so I tried to look it up by the combination of my last name and address. Unfortunately, it could not find my coupon status.

        I called their 1-888-388-2009 telephone number to check on the status of my coupon and they could not find it either. So, they had me apply for another coupon. I decided to apply for just one instead of two this time.

        I would not b

  • I sent off for two coupons months ago, and haven't heard or received anything. I assumed they were just slow getting out. I MUST HAVE BEEN HACKED!!!

    Seriously, that ticks me off, because that would have saved me eighty dollars. I really do rely on just over-the-air broadcasting.

    • by faedle (114018) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:31PM (#23006804) Homepage Journal
      You do know that you can go online and check the status of your converter coupon request, right?

      It's not like http://dtv2009.gov/ [dtv2009.gov] doesn't have a HUGE graphic on the front page saying "Wondering where your coupon is?"
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        You do know that you can go online and check the status of your converter coupon request, right?

        Honestly, I thought it might be possible, but I also thought it would entail forty-five minutes of navigating through clunky .gov websites. Thanks for the direct link.

        Update (This is a real-time comment): My coupon application is not found. I apparently need to reapply. I'll keep you all posted.
        • by faedle (114018)
          Well, you do have to go through the kind-of clunky "are you a human?" intelligence test.

          I ordered mine pretty much when the website went online, and got my coupons about three weeks ago.

          Get the Zenith DTT900. It's about the best one on the market right now. The only feature it does not have is analog pass-thru, which is likely only required if you live somewhere with translators that aren't going digital (ie: the "boonies"). It's sold at RadioShack stores.
          • by belmolis (702863)

            Well, you do have to go through the kind-of clunky "are you a human?" intelligence test.
            Some of us have a hard time with those.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by TheSpoom (715771) *
              And some of us are not actually human. I claim discrimination, pathetic fleshbags!
    • by antdude (79039)
      I ordered mine of the first day of 2008. It took a while. I assume you haven't gotten yours because of the backlogged of requests. Be patient.
    • I had my mom sign up pretty soon after the site went live (accepting requests) and she got her coupons a few weeks ago. I can only guess it's like tax refunds, the delay goes up steeply the longer you wait to send in your request.
  • Say it ain't so! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mh1997 (1065630) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:26PM (#23006758)
    Fraud with government money? Next you'll be telling me congress wastes our tax dollars.

    Nobody saw this coming?

  • Coupons expire (Score:5, Informative)

    by w3rdna (253598) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:31PM (#23006798)
    The real issues is the coupons expire after 90 days. So delayed boxes effectively become available fo r the early order of coupons. If they process them ahead of time then they will not expire before delivery... The second part is once used, coupons can not be refunded or transfered to a different retailler. Thus you are locked into where every you processed the coupon.
  • by synthesizerpatel (1210598) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @07:48PM (#23006958)
    The really insulting thing about the coupon program is the amount of effort and wasted money that went into it. I submitted a request for two coupons to get my parents two ancient (yet apparently inseperable) televisions. When the coupons showed up, they're the same shape, size, and weight as a credit card, INCLUDING a nifty hologram and raised letters and mag stripe. Are you kidding me? A Starbucks card is made out of flimsier material and is entrusted with far more value. They could have just printed out a piece of paper with 'It's a coupon, I swear to god!' and a serial number written on it -- vendor verifies that the serial number hasn't been 'claimed', done.
    • Except some ass hat is going to print 10,000 coupons with someone else serial number. Then you will be crying "Why did they use paper, that's so stupid!"

      The amount of money generate from fraud would far outstripped the money the coupon saved.

      • by Fastolfe (1470)
        It is possible to generate serial numbers of a sufficient length to make the probability of discovering a collision impractical. Plenty of businesses issue one-time-only printed coupons using these types of serial numbers, and they seem to get by OK without massive counterfeiting.
        • by edmicman (830206)
          Are they as expansive as the US government, or mom n' pop (relatively speaking) establishments?
          • by Fastolfe (1470)
            The most recent example I can think of is Best Buy, so, neither? As part of their rewards program, they send you "$N off your next purchase" with a unique bar code/serial number that is invalidated once you use it.

            Xbox Live uses a similar scheme to redeem codes for membership. So long as you have enough bits of data in your serial number, and enough orders of magnitude of bad numbers versus good ones, you're pretty well protected.
  • Potential Help? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Flash0424 (1231554) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @09:10PM (#23007542)
    For those interested, the convertmy.tv site is hosted by IQuestHosting. I would imagine that pressure put on the hosting site could cause some speedier results. Their number (freely available on their site) is: 1-877-254-8761. Digging a little deeper (with WHOIS) provides their network operations number - 1-800-844-8649. A little 'social engineering' could get one past their typical customer service line. I have used these numbers in the past to get refunds on products that were purchased but never shipped, purchased and returned but not refunded, etc...

    Interestingly enough, their 'Terms of Use' states some info about violating Federal Law, which might be a leverage point:

    "Lawful Purpose

    IQuest Internet, LLC, reserves the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time. Customers may only use IQuest Internet, LLC, services for lawful purpose. Transmission of any material in violation of any federal, state, or local regulation is strictly prohibited. The includes, but is not limited to, copyrighted material, material legally judged to be threatening or obscene, and material protected by trade secrets. The designation of any materials as described above is left entirely to the discretion of IQuest Internet, LLC, management. Regardless of the place of signing of this agreement, the customer agrees that for purposes of venue, this contract was entered into in Marion County, Indiana, and any dispute will be litigated or arbitrated in Marion County, Indiana."

    Issues like these typically target the elderly (a lot like the commercials that are running!!), which doesn't speak well of our morals today!

    Hope it helps!!

    Flash
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @09:53PM (#23007816)
    ... that I don't need the $800 set of Monster cables they sold me with the $65 box.
  • Are there any you can get free or it this a way to get low income people to spend 10 or so dollars, read large percentage of their salary, just because the gov't says, "you can do that anymore."
  • CMTV yesterday announced that they would not be shipping the MMDTVB03 at all -- it would be replaced by the MMDTVB02

    What sort of company replaces a product version 3 with a "newer, better" product version 2??
  • I took a look through the site, and got to the "Enter Credit Card Number" point without seeing the name and address of the business.

    That's a criminal offense if selling into California [sitetruth.com]: Before accepting any payment or processing any debit or credit charge or funds transfer, the vendor shall disclose to the buyer in writing or by electronic means of communication, such as e-mail or an on-screen notice, the vendor's return and refund policy, the legal name under which the business is conducted and, except

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