Can You Believe What You Read on the Web?

This article was originally published by Parade on Sunday, June 21, 2009.

Recently, a man identifying himself as a representative of Belkin, a major technology company, offered to pay people to post five-star reviews of its products on When the incident was discovered, Belkin President Mark Reynoso expressed "surprise and dismay" over "unethical practices like this," and the company took steps to have any tainted reviews removed from the site. Yet businesses do spend about $1.6 billion a year on "word-of-mouth" advertising, promoting their goods to bloggers and to people who use social-media websites like Facebook, according to the research firm PQ Media.

Now the U.S. government is considering requiring people who write about products or services on the Internet to inform readers if they received compensation.

The Federal Trade Commission expects to vote on new marketing rules this summer, which would be the first revision to its endorsement guidelines since 1980. "When you're being paid to promote a product, you usually have to disclose the relationship between you and the advertiser," says Richard Cleland, an FTC assistant director.

But even if the FTC tightens its rules, experts encourage people to remain skeptical when reading opinions posted on the Web. "Go and talk to other people you trust," says Paul Rand, president-elect of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. “Google the authors and see what else they’ve written." If you discover that a writer only posts glowing reviews about one company's products, look for other sources of advice.

— Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Regulators Urged to Review Target-Date Funds

This article was originally published by Financial Planning on Thursday, June 18, 2009.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Government regulators should standardize the naming of target-date funds and require mutual fund companies to assume a fiduciary duty in providing such funds to retirement plans, witnesses told a joint hearing of the Labor Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"We believe there should be a consistent standard, although we don't believe there should be a mandate on investment options," said Mark Wayne, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Independent Retirement Plan Advisors. "Fund managers should explain in plain English what the landing point will be."

The plummeting market of 2008 cost investors dearly—up to 30 percent drops in some funds targeted to 2010—and has focused attention on target-date funds, since they are often the default choice in employer retirement plans.

Haggle anywhere -- even at Kmart

This article was originally published by on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

Retail prices are a lot more negotiable than you might think. But before you go out and try to play hardball to get a discount, learn the rules of the game.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

You see an item you want in your local big-box store. The price seems too high. You ask for a discount -- and you get it!

This scenario may seem far-fetched, but expert negotiators say it occurs every day in retail outlets across the U.S. With consumers restricting their spending, store owners need every sale they can close, even if it means accepting a smaller profit.

"Retailers, particularly a number of the high-end retailers, are in real trouble given the current recession, and they're willing to bargain," said Joel C. Huber, a marketing professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

That's not to say it's easy to win unadvertised discounts. The art of the haggle is an intricate dance, and you must know the steps before you venture onto the dance floor.

And you have to be willing to ask.

"The thing people don't understand about the retail industry, especially brick-and-mortar stores, is that prices aren't fixed," said Albert Ko, a co-founder of bargain-hunting site "With the economy, it's all about the numbers and getting goods sold. . . . They're willing to listen and work with you."