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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Tuesday, April 25, 2000.
Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699

"Tuff Customer" Project Helps Teens Avoid Consumer Pitfalls

"Teenagers make up a huge market," says Attorney General Tom Miller. "They need to be smart consumers now and for the rest of their lives."

DES MOINES-- Attorney General Tom Miller is promoting an Internet-based educational project called "Tuff Customer" to help Iowa's teenagers become smart consumers.

Teachers all over Iowa are using the "Tuff Customer" Quiz to sharpen teens' consumer skills on topics ranging from joining mail-order music clubs to purchasing over the Internet, using credit cards, or buying a used car.

"Teenagers make up a huge market, and they are at least as vulnerable to consumer fraud as their parents," Miller said. "They need to be smart consumers now and for the rest of their lives." Children and teenagers spend or influence spending of about $500 billion a year in the U.S., he said. "Teenagers are square in the sights of many marketing efforts."

"Tuff Customer," the new Internet-based initiative, is a "scavenger hunt" on the Web that encourages teens to find answers to consumer-related questions such as: "Describe the return policies of two national chain stores and two locally-owned stores in your area," and, "What are your rights when the used car you bought 'as is' breaks down the first week you own it?"

The "Tuff Customer" Quiz, teacher aids and other information are posted on the Attorney General's web site.

Students are directed to consumer-related Internet sites to find answers to quiz questions. They can learn how interest accrues on credit cards if they make only minimum monthly payments. They can learn about "negative options" that are popular with music clubs, and about pros and cons of warranties and service contracts. Most teachers might take several class periods to do the "Tuff Customer" project.

"Educators tell us this is a good combination for learning," Miller said. "Kids are interested in the Internet. Kids learn best when they take an active role -- in this case, navigating the 'Net -- and this project shows them there are lots of good sources of consumer information on-line," he said.

"Most important, the topics are relevant to young people -- and the consumer lessons will last them a lifetime," Miller said.

Teens also can find answers at traditional sources such as libraries and governmental agencies if they do not have access to the Internet. Miller said his colleagues at State Attorney General offices in Minnesota and Oklahoma pioneered the program in consultation with educators. His office customized the project for Iowa.

Last month, Miller sent a letter of invitation to Iowa secondary-school teachers of business education and consumer and family sciences inviting them to participate in the "Tuff Customer" project. Teachers across the state are trying out the project and applauding its relevance and design.

Educators or young people interested in learning more about the "Tuff Customer" program may contact Debra Moore, consumer education coordinator for the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, at 515-281-8770.

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