Color of Money: Don't be blindsided during the eclipse

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in nearly a century, on Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse of the sun will be visible in parts of the contiguous United States.

Depending on where you live, and provided the clouds don't interfere, you will see the sun partially or, if you're fortunate enough to be in the "path of totality," completely disappear behind the moon. And you know what else you'll see if you aren't careful?

An eye doctor. That is, if you look up at the eclipse without protection or if you buy counterfeit viewing glasses.

With every major event or crisis, the con artists show up ready to fleece someone. In this case, unscrupulous companies are selling unsafe eyewear. To safely view this spectacular solar event, sunglasses won't do -- no matter how dark the lenses. You also shouldn't use any other unfiltered devices such as binoculars, cameras or telescopes. The eyewear or handheld viewer you buy needs to have certified solar filters.

Both NASA and the Federal Trade Commission have issued consumer warnings urging people to be sure to purchase the right glasses.

"This rare event will be exciting and even better when you view the eclipse safely," Alesha Hernandez, the FTC's consumer education specialist, wrote in a blog post.

You've only got a few weeks left to shop, so don't wait until the last minute and, in your rush, possibly get scammed.

As you shop, look for glasses that are marked "ISO" followed by these numbers: 12312-2. This means they have met a certain international safety standard.

But the ISO label isn't enough. Dishonest companies know people are being cautioned to look for that stamp of approval. They can easily copy it onto counterfeit glasses. As I browsed online, every seller promised that its glasses were "certified." So the American Astronomical Society's Solar Eclipse Task Force has compiled a list of recommended vendors.

I'm not playing around with my eyes and neither should you. This is not the time to skip doing your homework.


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