Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Electronics

Is it legal for a company to insist on your birthdate or SSN?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: September 19, 2011 - 11:12 AM

Julie from Bloomington sent in this question: A waste pickup service just refused to accept me as a customer because I would not give out my birth date or the last four numbers of my social security number. I was polite and explained that part of my identity had been stolen in the past. The rep was firm that they could not accept me as a customer and offered to have me speak with her supervisor. I left a polite message. I also refuse to give any of my

social security number to medical clinics. Is it legal for a company to insist on this info?



I checked with Dianne Cutter, CEO of Asurency Protection in Chaska. Generally, you are not legally required to provide your SSN to most businesses, including most health care providers, unless one of the exceptions below applies, she said. However, some companies might refuse to do business with you if you don’t provide your SSN. But even though you are not legally required to disclose your SSN, the business generally does not have to provide you with service if you refuse to release it. So in a sense, you are strong-armed into giving your SSN.

In most states, there is no law that prevents businesses from requesting your SSN, and there are few restrictions on what businesses can do with it. Five states (Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) either restrict the solicitation of SSNs or prohibit denying goods and services to an individual who declines to give an SSN. Read the Consumers Union compilation of state laws.

If a business insists on knowing your SSN when you do not see a reason for it, we encourage you to speak to a manager who may be authorized to make an exception or who may know whether company policy requires it. If the company will not allow you to use an alternate number such as your driver’s license number, you may want to take your business elsewhere, said Cutter.

Julie said that a supervisor at the waste pickup service called her back to say that she could have the service if she paid three monthsin advance. The supervisor said that the reasons the birth date and SSN are requested is that it makes it easier to collect for non-payment.

You can refuse to give the info, but it's also legal for the company to refuse you service, at least in Minnesota.

Outlet store for LED, LCD and plasma TVs in Hopkins

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 10, 2011 - 9:05 AM

Bargain hunters can save 30 percent on open box flat panel TVs, including LED, LCD and plasma, said Dale Vosika, manager at Open Box TVs (8564 Excelsior Blvd., Hopkins, 952-938-3677). The TVs are display models, returns or refurbished. Some have had the screen glass removed. Stands are extra on most models and the TVs don’t have owner’s manuals. No refunds are offered (but TVs can be repaired within 30 to 60 days). Brands include Vizio, Philips, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Apex and Magnavox.



Prices are hit-and-miss. To its credit, the retailer puts a printout of a Google price search on some TVs to show comparative prices and all model numbers are prominently displayed. But do your homework anyway by bringing a smartphone or writing down make and model to compare prices online. A Sony 32-inch LCD (model KDL-32S3000) was $275 last week ($550 online), but a Vizio 26-inch LED (model M260VA) for $250 could be purchased refurbished at for $195. The store has a variety of sizes from 26 to 55 inches, but a new shipment of 70- to 90-inch TVs is expected soon. Note: The phone almost always goes into voice mail and signs to the location are inadequate. It is next to Curves and near the Goodwill store. The retailer currently has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau because of two unanswered complaints.

The store has been open for about a year, said Vosika, but I had not heard of it until recently when a co-worker mentioned it. Anyone who's shopped there or bought there want to weigh in?



These guys hook you up with free TV

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 22, 2011 - 8:49 AM

Thinking that you need to trim $50 or so from your monthly budget? Consider dropping cable or satellite, as described in today's article.



But you might not want the hassle of choosing an antenna or zeroing in on the signal from Shoreview. A professional can do it for you.

After you've switched, you may not be happy with the channel selection or the signal. In that case, don't cancel your cable/satellite until you've had a chance to test the over-the-air antenna.

Here is a list of resources to call if you want someone else to get the antenna and hook it up for you. It's not that expensive. The antenna is usually less than $50 and installation usually runs between $40 and $150. You'll recoup the savings in a few months if you were paying $50 a month or more for cable or satellite.



Besides the installers listed below, check TV repair shops in your area for other installers.

• East Lake TV (612-722-8085, serving Minneapolis and western St. Paul only). Cost: $40 flat fee plus materials.
• Enhanced Home Technology (763-262-0202, serving western and northwestern suburbs). Cost: $105 for first half-hour, plus materials.
• Lifestyle Electronics (612-327-4515, serving the Twin Cities area). Cost: $150 to $250 for most home visits plus materials.
• Robert Paul Installations (651-489-8025, serving entire Twin Cities). Cost: $75 per worker per hour, plus trip fee of $30 to $50.

If you would rather choose the antenna yourself, try these resources: 

• Solid Signal:
• Denny’s TV Service:
• Antenna Web:

Are early adopters selling their iPads for iPad2's?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 14, 2011 - 8:16 AM

Hoping to score a steal on an original iPad now that iPad2 is out? A quick check on Craigslist Monday morning showed more than 30 iPads (mostly 16GB) are generally selling between $320 to $400 in the Twin Cities area. The original 16GB iPad sold for $500, the 32GB for $600 and the 64Gb for $700. No steals are out there yet, but be patient. 




Experts are saying that early adopters who already had the original iPad should upgrade to an iPad2 only if they want video calling, using Skype or Apple's faceTime. IPad2 has a front facing camera for face-to-face calls and a back-facing camera for showing video callers what you're watching. There is also a slight spec jump in processor speed and the addition of a couple of multimedia apps. 

What's the magic number out there before you bite? $300? $275?  

Two local Chevy dealers have the new electric Volt in their showrooms

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 15, 2011 - 3:40 PM


Lupient Chevrolet in Bloomington (952-884-3333) and Village Chevrolet in Wayzata (952-473-5444) both have the new electric Volt vehicles in their showrooms, ready for test drives.



I went to look at it today at Lupient. It wasn't available for test drives this morning, so I kicked a few tires instead. A few observations:

The view from the rear view mirror is slightly better than a Prius. It has an unusual split view that might take a little getting used to.

The gas tank holds 9.3 gallon and it only takes premium fuel (91 octane or higher).

The car runs about 40 miles on a charge, maybe 30 in cold weather, but the gas allows you to go another 300 miles.

The charge cord connects to a standard household outlet and takes about 10 hours to re-charge. The cord itself is about 25 feet long.



The prices is about $42,000 but after the rebate it's about $35,000. Go ahead and ask for a discount, but this model is still in the early adopter phase. Chances of a discount? Slim. The good news, early adopters, is that even though the nationwide rollout isn't until October, you can order one from one of the local dealers. They'll be happy to take it from stock in California, Michigan or Virginia, the first states to sell them.

About 10,000 Volts will be available for sale in 2011.

For a full review by a non-gearhead who doesn't care about engine cylinders, valves or liters, check out the analysis in the Washington Post. And for all the non-gearheads in the Twin Cities, Lupient Chev has a deep red one model. Village has a gray one.


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