PlayStation video game consoles installed in North America now number more than 21 million--better than one in every five U.S. homes has one, according to Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). If your home is one of them, check the electrical cord attached to the back of the console. In some instances, which Sony describes as "rare" and "isolated," the power cord has cracks or breaks up over time, and poses a shock hazard.

The power cords that fail apparently are gray with a black connector that plugs into the unit. Sony and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have not issued a formal recall because so few defective cords have been reported. Also, the problem has not been widely publicized. But, "to err on the side of caution," SCEA has issued a consumer alert on its Web site and is offering to replace without charge any of the problematic PlayStation power cords. If your cord is affected, or you think it might be, call an SCEA customer service rep toll-free at 877-665-7669.

Consumer Tip

Baby boomers worried that their aging parents are vulnerable to telemarketing scams should give them a telephone answering machine and show them how to use it, suggests the North American Securities Administrators Association Inc. (NASAA).

Even in this age of Internet fraud and bogus e-mail investment schemes, NASAA says hard sells from con artists still are most effective the old-fashioned way--over the telephone. And they target older Americans, who are often lonely, are at home during the day, have money saved and are polite to cold-calling schemers. Using an answering machine to filter calls helps distance potential victims from the hard sell.

In Their Debt

Perhaps no one has done more to promote the debt-reduction strategy of making modest monthly prepayments on a mortgage's principle than Marc Eisenson and Nancy Castleman. When they first wrote about the money-saving tactic in the '80s, theirs was a lone voice crying in a debt-ridden wilderness. Since then, they've expanded their portfolio to include other money-saving ideas and secrets and have published them through their home-based Good Advice Press, in Elizaville, N.Y.

Two weeks ago, Financial Literacy Center published their latest volume for the in-the-red readership. In "Slash Your Debt: Save Money and Secure Your Future" ($10.95), Eisenson and Castleman again team up with local author, credit and debt whiz Gerri Detweiler to make debt consolidation, refinancing mortgage loans, credit reports, etc., unpainfully clear. In a nutshell, they prove the benefits of and provide the incentives to "stop charging, start consolidating, keep paying off your bills, and watch your spending."

Visit the authors' Web site (http://www.slashyourdebt.com) to play with the debt calculator, get a pep talk for not overspending during the upcoming holidays, or order the book. Or call toll-free, 877-333-6650.

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