The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: Be Careful With Internet Advice

WASHINGTON -- One of the first things I do when I'm about to purchase a product or service is check the Internet for information.

I'm particularly interested in getting help from companies that make my research easier by rating a product or company.

But a recent action taken by the Federal Trade Commission is yet another reminder of the dangers of relying on information you find on the Web.

The FTC has cracked down on two companies that claim to have done extensive research on long-term care facilities. The companies offered recommendations to consumers based on their alleged legwork, including uncovering any citations or violations the facilities have received. The companies, CarePatrol Inc. and ABCSP Inc., charge a fee to the facilities, the FTC said.

CarePatrol and ABCSP agreed to settle charges from the FTC that they misled consumers on how much work they had done in monitoring and grading the assisted living facilities.

CarePatrol and ABCSP, which does business as "Always Best Care," operate through a network of franchisees throughout the country.

The FTC alleges that CarePatrol advertised that its "senior care consultants" offer consumers placement based on its extensive research. The company's promotional materials contained promises that said, among other claims, that "Nationally Certified Advisors look beyond the chandeliers and fancy lobbies to monitor each community's care history and state violations so we can recommend the safest options for your loved one."

CarePatrol also said it doesn't just send people a list of facilities but grades each one it recommends.

The FTC said ABCSP made similar statements regarding its referral service, claiming it too had evaluated most every facility in its markets, going as far as to say that its "care coordinators" had personally viewed virtually all of the assisted living communities in certain areas.

The claims by both companies would make them impressive referral services, given that there are at least 39,000 assisted living facilities and thousands of smaller, residential care homes in the U.S.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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