The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.

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Posts about How to blow the whistle

Have you been crammed? FTC wants to help

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: March 11, 2013 - 2:22 PM

Have you ever found a unauthorized third-party charge thrown onto your cell phone bill? Do you have some expertise or opinion on the practice, called mobile cramming?

The Federal Trade Commission is planning a "roundtable" discussion on May 8 to explore the subject and how to best protect consumers. The meeting will bring together consumer advocates, industry representatives and government regulators.

The commission is asking for input from the public in advance of the meeting. Click here to read more.

Star Tribune article: Don't become a cramming victim.

Star Tribune article: Klobuchar: Stop shady phone bill charges

News release: FTC calls wireless phone bill cramming a significant consumer problem.

Associated Press: Montana family allegedly placed $70 million in unauthorized charges on cell phone bills.

How to complain: tips from the feds

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: June 17, 2011 - 10:36 AM

Leave it to the federal government to offer suggestions about how to complain effectively.

The tips listed on the Federal Citizen Information Center’s Consumer Action site include the following, in bold letters:

“Remain calm.” “Don’t use an angry, threatening or sarcastic tone.” “State exactly what you want done about the problem.” “Document each step, and keep copies.”

A sample complaint letter features such temperate words as “unfortunately” and “disappointed.” Also: Promise to await a reply before taking your gripe to a third party.

Then there’s the crucial element that applies to all effective complaints, including those of you who contact Whistleblower: Save your records!

Whom to call about defective cars

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: January 18, 2011 - 10:46 AM


A woman in Redwood Falls, Minn., told Whistleblower that she’s convinced her car’s rear suspension is defective, because of handling problems and having to replace three sets of tires in three years. She found similar complaints on the government’s auto defect clearinghouse,, although the same site lists no safety recall from suspension problems.


So what should a vehicle owner think? Eric Bolton, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spokesman, had this response.

All vehicle owners who believe they are experiencing a safety problem should contact both the auto maker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to report the problem. Vehicle owners can call the NHTSA auto safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236, or report the problem directly online by going to, where they can also find information about current recalls underway and sign up to receive automatic email alerts about any recalls affecting their vehicles, equipment and child safety seats. Every complaint the agency receives is reviewed quickly by technical experts at NHTSA and these complaints are use to spot potential defect trends.

Whistleblower also asked how a vehicle owner can find out whether this is a widespread safety defect or not.

All current and past vehicle recalls are posted at NHTSA also publicly posts every vehicle complaint the agency receives, and owners can search these complaints online by automobile make, model, and model year to see what kind of complaints have been filed with NHTSA involving their specific vehicle.

But what if vehicle owners don't believe their auto maker is telling the truth about their car's problems?

Auto makers are required by U.S. law to inform NHTSA within five business days of discovering a safety defect exists. They are then required to conduct a safety recall in a timely manner, and NHTSA monitors the progress of all recalls for at least 16 months. If a consumer believes that a defect exists and that an automaker is not responding appropriate, the consumer should notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Bolton also gave me this link to a detailed explanation of NHTSA's investigative process, which also describes how anyone can formally petition the agency to investigate a suspected safety defect in a vehicle.



Weird charges show up on phone bills

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: December 13, 2010 - 12:09 PM

Whistleblower got a couple of cautionary tales this week from people who actually read their phone bills.

One of them found a recurring $9.99 charge on page 23 for “Too Lazy Text Alerts,” a service unwittingly signed up for by the man’s teenage daughter. Another discovered a $14.95 recurring charge for a service identified only as ESBI.

In both cases, these alert customers successfully persuaded their phone companies to zero out the charges and stop them from reappearing. One of the customers, Howard Wigfield of Chaska, encourages the public to scrutinize their bills to find these weird charges.

"How many dozens upon hundreds of others are there who open the phone bill, take out the checkbook and just pay it?” Wigfield said.

Have you ever found anything strange on your phone bills?

Hiring a contractor? Tips from the state's chief enforcer

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: June 7, 2010 - 3:43 PM

My Sunday column featured an interview with Charlie Durenberger, enforcement manager with the Department of Labor and Industry's Construction Codes and Licensing Division. Problems with contractors are some of the most common complaints we hear about at Whistleblower - Lora Pabst and I have written about contractors who do substandard work, the perils of unlicensed professionals and how the state sometimes puts troubled contractors out of business. All of these stories eventually lead us to Durenberger, who has the challenging task of overseeing the licenses of more than 13,000 contractors, as well as taking action against untold numbers of unlicensed contractors.

Before our interview, Durenberger provided me with a page of tips that everyone hiring a contractor should follow. It's divided into three parts, depending on the type of construction you need:

New Construction

  • Check license status with the department
  • Check BBB, Angie's List
  • Check litigation history.
  • Talk to others for whom builder has built homes
  • Make sure change orders are addressed in contract
  • Make sure details are in writing - start and completion dates; list of subs/suppliers; materials to be used
  • Make sure your title insurance covers mechanic's liens

Home Improvement

  • Check license status with the department
  • Check BBB, Angie's List
  • Check litigation history.
  • Check references
  • Make sure details are in writing - start and completion dates; materials to be used; change orders
  • Check on permits and inspections
  • Document communication with contractor - e-mail is good
  • Sign for certified mail (pre-lien notices)
  • Before making final payment, make sure you get lien waivers from any sub or supplier who served a pre-lien notice

Insurance/Storm Work

  • Don't sign anything!
  • Resist high pressure sales tactics
  • Assume any document you are asked to sign is a contract for work to be performed - don't sign until you know you want the contractor to do the work (due diligence first)
  • Check license status with the department
  • Check BBB, Angie's List
  • Check litigation history
  • Check on permits and inspections
  • Document communication with contractor
  • Sign for certified mail (pre-lien notices)
  • Before making final payment, make sure you get lien waivers from any sub or supplier who served a pre-lien notice



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