Spend time with Herb “ConsumerMan” Weisbaum and it will always include a pearl of wisdom. Herb lives, eats, and breathes consumer news.
After 22 years and about 6,500 daily consumer tips, recently Herb hung up his headset for the last time and retired from Northwest Newsradio (KNWN). Thankfully, he’s still writing for Consumers’ Checkbook and hosting their bi-weekly Consumerpedia podcast. If you visit Herb’s ConsumerMan website, you can sign up for his free weekly newsletter and stay up to date on the latest consumer news.
“It’s just enough to stay busy but leaves me with plenty of time to have a little fun, spend more time with the family, and do some charity work,” Herb shared recently on the ConsumerMan Facebook page.
How did Herb find his way to reporting consumer news and to Seattle? I had the pleasure of interviewing Herb recently and learned his story.
As a teen, Herb drove a ‘64 Plymouth. One day, while driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike, his car died. Herb and his father towed the car back to town, to a big-name transmission shop. The mechanic said “You have a bad situation here. It’s going to be around $400 to get this fixed.” That was a lot of money in the late ‘60s.
Mr. Weisbaum said to Herb, “Let’s get a second opinion,” and they towed the car to the dealership a couple miles down the road. A few minutes went by, and the dealership mechanic said, “You can go home now. It was just a loose screw. No charge!”
“I learned at that young age that everybody in the world did not treat people like my father did, who was as honest as a day is long,” said Herb. “My father always looked out for people. He believed that you always treated the customer right; but that there were people out there who were going to try to trick and cheat you. It’s not why I became a consumer reporter, but that lesson stayed with me throughout my life and certainly influences how I look at and see things today.”
From college to reporter
Herb went to Syracuse University in New York. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into journalism or advertising, so he pursued both degrees. Herb believes that what he learned about advertising made him a better consumer reporter.
Out of college, Herb worked as a general assignment reporter. Being out in the cold in Syracuse, covering murder scenes and all the horrible things that come with being a general assignment report, eventually led Herb to ask himself, “Is there something better I can do with my life?”
He recognized that if he did something directly related to people’s day-to-day lives, readers and viewers would likely be interested in watching. This led to Herb getting his own half-hour television magazine show. Many of the stories shed light on breaches of consumer trust, discriminatory practices, as well as government corruption, educating viewers and raising consumer awareness.
Herb found his calling. “Do good for people, help people, and make the world a better place” seems to be his professional and personal mission statement.
From Syracuse to Seattle
Herb came to Seattle in 1981 to work at KIRO-TV as their consumer reporter. “It was the glory days of local television news,” Herb said. “They had an entire unit dedicated to consumer news: a producer, a researcher, a photographer, and me. We would do all kinds of amazing stories and sometimes work weeks and weeks on them. It was one of the greatest jobs I ever had.”
“My first Emmy award was for a story called ‘Fowl Play.’ We found out that ‘Grown in Washington’ chicken—which cost 10 cents a pound more because you want the fresh grown Washington chicken—was being grown and processed in Oregon and shipped across the border at night. They were changing the USDA tags in a plant on this side of the border. That’s a federal offense. And they were then selling the chicken for more money!”
“Another great report we did ran as a series—stories about people who are buying cars and winding up with lemons. Based on that series the Washington State Legislature passed one of the first and strongest new car lemon laws in the country. That story did enormous good for people. I know two people personally who got the auto companies to buy their cars back because they had lemons. It’s an enormous protection that people have in this state.”
Herb held up a picture, chuckling: “Here’s Governor Booth Gardner signing the Lemon Law in May 1987. He threw the pen at me in a lemon. He threw a lemon at me! … How many people can use their job to get a law passed to help people? That was really a proud moment.”
Animal rescue and pet adoption
Herb is also passionate about animals. For many years he served on the boards of Seattle Humane Society and Pasado’s Safe Haven and worked with Homeward Pets, helping them raise millions of dollars. “My wife, Debra, and I don’t have any kids, so our passion has been animals,” he said. “We’ve always had animals in the family. I get really riled up when animals are abused. Animals are so loving, caring, and trusting.”
“Animal abuse was not a felony in this state, but Pasado’s Safe Haven got a law passed that changed that. They’ve also found that, in many cases, when the investigators go in to look for animal abuse cases that are reported, the humans are also abusing other humans in the family.”
Pasado’s Safe Haven has been working, as have a few other animal groups in the area, on closing stores that sell puppies from puppy mills, not bona fide breeders. Herb encourages adopting pets from shelters. “There are many animals that need homes,” he said. “I’ve never had anything but a shelter animal and they’re wonderful. But if you don’t choose that route, at least seek out a legitimate breeder that is truly caring for the animals.”
Tips toward becoming a wiser consumer
Herb does a lot of stories that look out for older adults. ConsumerMan is a font of well-researched, practical information and alerts that help make us wiser consumers:
- Scammers, fraudsters, and consumer protection: One story Herb did recently was about digital coupons. You may think that if you have the club card from that store, you’re going to get the digital price automatically. You’re not—unless you load that digital coupon into your account. Grocery retailers are making millions and millions of dollars on people who think they’re saving money when they’re not. Herb published two articles on this topic. Read Supermarkets’ Digital Offers Leave Tech-Challenged Senior Without Valuable Discounts and Consumer Advocates Urge Supermarkets to Stop Digital Discount Discrimination.
- Protect your personal information: Herb warns us not to give out personal information unless we’ve initiated the phone call or initiated the online experience. “No one should ever need your password, PIN code, or login information,” he said. “A lot of criminals right now are pretending to be customer service representatives. Some of these scammers will contact you on the phone and say ‘Hi, I’m calling from Amazon. There’s a problem with your account.’ Some of them will send out email or text messages saying they’re from your bank. Don’t click on links in the email! But do click on the links below to learn more about these scams.” Read Herb’s Fraud Alert articles on this topic: Fraud Alert: Customer Service Imposter Scams and Fraud Alert: Phone Scams Involving Amazon Impersonators Are Skyrocketing
- Romance scams: If you’re in love with someone you’ve never met in person, “odds are these days you’ve fallen in love with a criminal,” Herb said. “The picture is bogus. All the stuff they tell you is bogus. What they’ll do is tell you that they’re overseas and the pitch is ‘I’m a savvy crypto investor. I’ll send you screenshots of all the money I’ve made, and I want you to make that money as well. So that when we finally get together, we’re going to live in the lap of luxury.’” He continued: “Before you know it, they’ve drained your bank account. I’ve spoken with people who have lost their life savings over a romance scam, and they’ll never see their money again. If somebody starts asking for money in any form, you should run for the hills as fast as you possibly can.” Read this AARP Fraud Watch article for more information: 10 Telltale Signs of a Romance Scam
- Password manager and two-factor authentication: “Passwords are the key to our lives and most people use horrible passwords because they’re hard to remember,” Herb said. “Simple passwords can all be cracked by con artists in seconds. The mistake people make is using a lousy password and using it repeatedly. You need a strong password, 10 to 12 characters long.” Herb continued: “You can either write passwords down and keep them by your desk; the odds of somebody breaking into your house and getting those passwords is significantly lower than somebody breaking into your account if your password is 123abc. A password manager is a tool that you access from your computer. The password manager can create and store strong passwords and create different passwords for each of your accounts. And if you want the password manager on multiple devices, it’s a very small fee.” Herb also encourages readers to use two-factor authentication with any important accounts. That means that, before you can log on, you will either get a telephone call, text message, or e-mail with a unique code that is used for authentication. According to Herb, accounts with two-factor authentication are 99.9 percent hackproof. For more information, read Herb’s article, How to Create and Easily Store Secure Passwords.
- IRS scam: We are in tax season. Con artists are pretending to be from the IRS. If you get a call, text message, or e-mail that says there’s a problem with your return, it’s a scam. “The IRS does not email, text, or call you,” Herb explains. “If the IRS needs to communicate with you, they will first send you a letter through the mail via the US Postal Service. They do not contact you in any other way and they don’t ask you for instantaneous payments in any manner of currency. It’s just not the way it works.” Herb continued: “The only time the IRS may call or e-mail you is if you’re in the middle of a negotiation with them and you’ve already had something ongoing. They may call our e-mail you under that circumstance, but it’s never the first contact—that’s always by mail.”
Check out great general tips in 10 Tips to Fight Fraud – How to Protect Yourself (ConsumerMan.com). Herb shares that these “tips are based on 35 years of covering consumer issues and talking to thousands of people who’ve been scammed or ripped off.”
Herb wrapped our interview with this advice: “There’s nothing wrong with hanging up. You don’t have to be polite. There’s a feeling of empowerment with hanging up. They’re criminals. They’re the lowest form of being on Earth and have no conscience whatsoever. They would steal money from their mother.”
If you’re not sure about something, ask someone. When in doubt, talk to your more cyber-savvy child, grandkid, or neighbor. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau, call the Washington State Attorney General’s office and/or contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network. You’re not alone.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, serves on the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) Board, and the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee.
All photos courtesy of Herb Weisbaum.