Newly upgraded officially opened the virtual doors of its SmartMoney University ( on Monday after a week of live testing. The results? The Web's newest and most interactive investor education resource passes with flying colors. Could even be called Uptick U. for short.

You won't earn an actual diploma from SmartMoney University. But you might earn some capital gains using its investment basics, or save money using its personal-finance strategies. And, unlike many investor sites that bait users with a few warmed-over stock tips or a 30-day trial membership, this cyber campus is all free.

A joint publishing venture of Dow Jones & Co. Inc. and Hearst Communications, SmartMoney University provides even veterans of financial fray with money-management and investment "courses" that bring high finances down to earth. Don't let the word "courses" scare you; it's not like real school. Take the Debt Management course: A series of topics guides even the most defensive debtor through the minefield of bad debts and details how to get out from under them. You consider options such as borrowing from a 401(k), consolidating debts and refinancing a mortgage, then work out your particulars in on-screen work sheets that determine the best course of action.

For the hesitant investor, Investing 101 lays the foundation for making sound decisions, Taking Action helps organize an investment plan, and Strategic Investing gets into selecting stocks and links to Smart Money magazine's top-notch, online tools for researching stocks. Other courses cover topics such as Retirement/401(k) and College Planning. Hesitant do-it-yourself investors: Bookmark SmartMoney U.

Local Scam Alert On the heels of last week's column about promissory note scams, the Maryland attorney general's office announced it charged a Prince George's County company, Capital Concepts Inc., with operating a fraudulent scheme and violating the state's securities laws by selling unregistered investments.

The company sold possibly millions of dollars in too-good investments that, it promised, were virtually risk-free and in some cases would return profits of up to 800 percent within 180 days. In one known instance, its agents offered the deal to passersby at a D.C. Metro station. The investments, the company, and its sales agents were not registered as required by Maryland law.

The state's Securities Division asks that anyone who invested with Capital Concepts Inc., or with its president and CEO, Rachel E. Reed Chittams, or anyone with information about these solicitations, contact investigators at 410-576-7649.

Lighter Recall EKCO Housewares Inc. this week recalled about 333,000 utility lighters after the trigger area flared up during use, causing minor burns in four reported incidents. The made-in-China, butane lighters are refillable, have red plastic handles, and metal barrels that read "Gas Torch." Packaged in cardboard display sleeves bearing the name EKCO and item number 58046 or 15387, the $3 lighters sold nationwide in mass merchandise, hardware and grocery stores from January 1997 through June 1999. If you own one, stop using it and return the lighter to the store where you bought it for a refund. For information on refunds by mail, call 800-964-9687.

Got a consumer complaint? Question? E-mail details to or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, 20071.