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MATTRESS CHAINS GET NAILED FOR DECEPTIVE CLAIMS, CONS

SHARE MATTRESS CHAINS GET NAILED FOR DECEPTIVE CLAIMS, CONS

Claims of great deals on mattress prices may be so much hot air.

In the latest of a series of settlements with the Montgomery County (Md.) Office of Consumer Affairs, Mattress Discounters, the nation's largest mattress chain, paid a $50,000 fine and agreed to discontinue inflating regular prices when advertising a sale.In Massachusetts, Mattress Discounters was nailed for the "coffin con" - selling box springs without the springs.

"What you're getting is an empty wood frame," says Edgar Dworsky of the state office of consumer affairs. That and other deceptive practices cost the chain $950,000.

Other retailers that have reached settlements with regulators for grossly overstating everyday prices in sales ads or offering "free" box springs by doubling the mattress price include department stores Jordan Marsh in the Boston area and Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrop in Washington, D.C., as well as Futon of North America in Washington State. Bloomingdale's is also under investigation.

So how do you purchase a good mattress without losing sleep over whether you were taken? It isn't easy.

A queen-size box spring and mattress can cost $1,000 or more, yet manufacturers give the same models different names at different stores, so it's tough to comparison shop.

Here are a few tips that can make shopping more restful:

- Instead of price, compare features. Firmness, for example, is measured by the number of coils and the wire gauge. The higher the number of coils and the lower the gauge, the firmer the mattress.

- Check at the store to make sure your "box" comes with springs inside.

- Shop as you might for a car. Set a spending limit and visit several stores. They do bargain.