Beware 'free' smokeless cigarettes

April 16, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 15, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.

By Alan Bligh

Still trying to find an alternative to cigarettes or want to quit? Watch out.

Consumers who tried to take advantage of "free" Internet offers for smokeless cigarettes say they were burned by unexpected charges that totaled $100 or more.

Consumers from 45 states have filed more than 400 complaints against Direct E-Cig of Naples, Fla. in the last year. Texas has the second highest number of complaints.

In most cases, consumers say they ordered what they thought was a free starter kit, only to find out later that the company billed their credit cards for $100, $200, or more.

Direct E-Cig is among several distributors of smokeless cigarettes. Other companies also offer free or discounted starter kits and then bill customers for the full price or enroll them in an ongoing program to receive cartridge refills.

I just got back from a long trip to the East Coast. I observed many travelers in airports and coffee shops using their smart phones and laptops. Usually, these folks use an available Wi-Fi network. Please remember that protecting your identity is important and with Wi-Fi networks popping up nearly everywhere, many consumers don't realize the dangers that come with using a Wi-Fi connection that is not their own.

According to a recent poll conducted by Wakefield Research, 32 percent of respondents said they have tried to get on a Wi-Fi network that was not their own, a startling 18 percent more than a December 2008 poll.

Wi-Fi hotpots, like coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels and universities, are all breeding grounds for hackers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, new hacking tools - available for free online - make hacking easy, even for users with limited technical know-how.

Consumers should be cautious before using a nonsecure wireless network.

In an effort to create a more effective terror alert system, the U.S. government will begin to alert Americans of raised threats via Facebook and Twitter.

A new two-level warning system - elevated and imminent - will replace the current five color-coded system. The warnings will only be relayed to the public under certain circumstances and for limited periods of time.

The intent behind the new system is to make alerts more specific and clear, a common complaint of the current system.

The alerts will be posted to social media sites only after federal, state and local governments have been notified. The new system is slated to be in place by April 27.

Seems like an interesting way to use social media, but hackers may be a problem. Phony alerts? I'm just being cynical.

Have you heard of Dennis Hope. A hint: His business sign says, "Lunar Embassy."

In the past 23 years, Hope estimates he has made $6.25 million selling land on the moon and the planets, primarily Mars and Venus.

Back in 1980, Hope was an unemployed ventriloquist facing a divorce and bankruptcy. He had not worked for a year. Then he remembered something he learned 12 years earlier while taking a political science class at an Oregon college.

His professor there discussed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by all members of the United Nations. Hope remembered that all governments agreed no nation would have sovereignty or control over any of the celestial bodies, but they did not mention individuals owning planets.

How's that for entrepreneurship?

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by email at



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