DTV Converter Box Scam Afoot

A company in Canton, Ohio has caught the attention of the Better Business Bureau for running ads offering free digital-to-analog converter boxes. The company, Universal TechTronics, is pushing its converter boxes in newspaper ads that are said to look like articles.

“Ads are running across the U.S. promising free television channels, services and digital TV converter boxes, but are really a bait-and-switch tactic that prey on consumers“ lack of knowledge about digital TV conversion requirements,” the Arlington, Va.-based BBB said in its alert.

While the Universal TechTronics Miracle ClearView boxes are free, the mandatory five-year warranty is $59, and with shipping and handling, the device comes to around $100. The BBB said the Universal box is no different than those approved by the federal government for a $40 subsidy, making the final cost around $20 at any of several local retailers.

The agency doesn“t identify the specific brand of the box in the ads, but Herb Weisbaum reports at that Universal TechTronics general counsel said it was a “Philco TB100HHP.” (The “P” is very likely a typo, since the Philco model eligible for the government“s $40 subsidy is the “TB100H9”. The company does not offer a TB100HHP.) He also said the ad make it clear that the boxes are free with the $59 warranty.

According to the BBB, the Ohio has racked up the complaints.

“Universal TechTronics has several product lines and also does business under the name Heat Surge LLC. Overall, in the past nine months BBB has received nearly 200 complaints about the company“s business practices,” the alert said. “The company has received an unsatisfactory rating from BBB due to its pattern of complaints. To date, complaints against the company concern slow delivery or non-receipt of product, difficulty reaching customer service representatives, delays in obtaining refunds after returning merchandise, product quality issues and advertising claims.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Commerce Department, is in charge of the $40 federal subsidy program for digital-to-analog converter boxes. The purpose of the converters is to keep legacy analog TVs from becoming obsolete when over-the-air television signals become all digital next February. The NTIA has a list of around 80 converters boxes that are eligible for the subsidy.

NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmark said the agency is looking into the BBB alert.

“We are investigating to determine if any program rules or laws have been violated,” he said. “Universal TechTronics is not a participant in the TV converter box program.”