Consumer advice: Energy drinks: Consume them at your own risk

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It’s no wonder we feel exhausted and in need of a pick-me-up. We’re busy.

So many of us turn to energy drinks. Are they a good solution?

Studies say these drinks have risks — potentially fatal ones — a concern magnified by their popularity among adolescents. The Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine says young people shouldn’t consume these products given their association to seizures, delirium, rapid heart rate, stroke and even death.

The number of emergency-room visits involving energy drinks has more than doubled in the past several years. The United Kingdom and Norway are considering banning sales of these beverages to young people. Energy drink manufacturers, for their part, see no difference between their products and other caffeinated beverages such as soda, coffee or tea.

When energy drinks first appeared in the American market in the late 1990s, many manufacturers claimed the drinks were dietary supplements and not drugs or conventional foods. That’s because medicine containing caffeine requires warning labels. Dietary supplements, on the other hand, do not. Now, manufacturers are declaring energy drinks are food, not dietary supplements, because food gets even more relaxed consumer treatment from regulators.

Some states are beginning to introduce legislation that would restrict the sale of energy drinks to minors. As the regulatory status of energy drinks continues to be debated, it comes down to consumer choice. If you think these drinks are not good for you or your kids, don’t consume them. Either way, you can be sure that manufacturers will continue to use savvy messages to persuade consumers to buy their products — without revealing the true risks to your health.

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THE COST OF HIDDEN FEES: I’ve received several calls from readers with a recurring theme. They’re upset with hidden fees on many common purchases that cause them to pay more than they thought when signing up for the service.

One that is particularly annoying is hotel resort fees. A Coeur d’Alene reader headed to Las Vegas found a great online deal for a hotel room at a fancy resort for $79 per night. It seemed like a good deal until she looked at her bill upon checkout for a four night stay. Turns out there was a $25 per night resort fee along with other amenity fees and then taxes. The bill came to over $600 when the original quote was about half that but included none of the add-ons.

This is becoming common practice in many industries and there isn’t anything illegal about it. However, consumers do need to know they will be tapped for additional fees so make sure to budget for that when booking a trip or budgeting for household expenses.

Another reader was surprised when she received her cable bill and noticed she was being billed for channels she didn’t agree to add. Turns out the channels were added for free when she signed up for the first six months and if she didn’t cancel, the charges would kick in.

You’ll find other hidden fees with airlines, credit cards and ATM cards. One of the worst industries for fees really adding to the trip costs is cruises. Don’t get lulled by the attractive initial pricing for a cruise because the add-ons can cost you almost double what you anticipate. The best way to deal with these hidden consumer fees is to be aware of them so you aren’t caught off guard. And if you are offered benefits you know you won’t need, tell them to cancel them from the get-go.

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APPLE iTUNES ALERT: Criminals are using Apple iTunes purchases to steal from unsuspecting customers. Watch your account closely because crooks have found a way to charge your iTunes account, set up an account that is connected to your card, or are spoofing iTunes charges on your account. What makes this scheme so effective is that most people don’t even notice they’re being robbed because the amounts are small and therefore easily overlooked.

Some unauthorized charges on your account might look like this: “APL*ITUNES.CON/BILL 866-712-7753 CA. Monitor your account closely and if you see an unauthorized charge, you can dispute it. Check your purchase history to see how long the charge has been going on, then click on the link: Manage your subscriptions. If you don’t recognize the charge, contact Apple support for a refund.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m a full-time copywriter working on marketing strategy with businesses, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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