Online UPDATES

June 17, 2005

Only these small cars can fend off an SUV

The Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Cobalt, when equipped with optional side airbags, were the only small cars to earn acceptable ratings in side impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The test simulates a 31-mph crash by an SUV or pickup into a vehicle's driver side. Fourteen of 16 small cars, including a Corolla and Cobalt without side airbags, earned poor ratings. One of the cars that flunked the test—the Ford Focus—had been Consumer Reports' top pick for small sedans, a recommendation the magazine has since rescinded. Consumer Reports, which published its ratings in its April issue, says it's also taking back its recommendations for the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 because of their poor test results.

Thinking of suing your credit card company?

There's a good chance you can't. That's because many cards issued by national banks have mandatory binding arbitration clauses buried in the fine print, says a coalition of public interest groups. The clauses require consumers to waive their rights to go to court and to use arbitration instead. The coalition advises consumers to look for credit cards issued by credit unions, small banks, or the AARP, which don't usually carry arbitration clauses.

For tips on how to opt out of any agreements you might have already signed, go to www.givemebackmyrights.com, where you'll also find information on how to protect yourself when taking out a mortgage or buying a car.

Your computer may not be infected with spyware

Don't be fooled by pop-ups for Spyware Assassin that claim to detect spyware that isn't there and try to sell you a cleanup program that doesn't work very well, says the FTC. A supposed "scan" found at the company's Web site is phony, and tells consumers their computers are infected even when they're clean. The Spyware Assassin software sold for $29.95 doesn't in fact remove most spyware, a program that, among other things, surreptitiously monitors your Internet surfing.

The FTC says the following clues mean you really do have spyware on your computer: a barrage of pop-up ads; sudden or repeated changes in your home page; new and unexpected toolbars or icons on your computer screen; random error messages; or sluggish performance when opening programs or savings files. If you think you might have spyware, get an anti-spyware program from a trusted company. For more information, go to www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/spywarealrt.htm.

Careful when booking first-class flights online

Consumers shopping for a first-class airline ticket on one of the three major Web travel sites—Expedia.com, Orbitz, and Travelocity—need to watch for mislabeled listings, says Consumer Reports WebWatch. The three sites offered tickets for business class or economy fares, even when testers asked for first-class fares, and some fares were labeled as first class even when the carrier didn't provide first-class service. (Mislabeling wasn't a problem at the Web sites for American, Continental, or Delta, which were also tested.) Moreover, all three travel sites experienced fare-jumping, in which rates suddenly increase or decrease during the booking process, without the traveler's knowledge. In one instance, a fare on Expedia.com jumped by $748.