All Business, Good & Bad

Sometimes, an awful consumer experience. Let's call them out. Okay, mostly. But sometimes awards. Yes? All the accounts are truthful. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. Email me with your stories and I'll include them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

SonyCard (Bank One, Chase) - Bad Business, August 2005

I got involved with my SonyCard when it was owned by CitiBank. It was classic: I received potential rewards I never renewed and, more importantly, I was at a lovely 11% or so. Three years I had this card without issue. I never made a late payment, and usually paid over the minimum payment (but had charged more than that). CitiBank must've been scribbled with me.

Then my account was purchased by BankOne.

In July, 2005 (card 3+ years), I looked at some of the detail of my statement. Surprisingly, I noticed that I was now at 25% and change. Wha-What?

In calling the customer service folks, I learned that back in February, they decided, based upon nothing more than apparently trying to increase revenue, to look at my credit report. They didn't like my debt-to-income ratio and so staged a coup upon my card: they changed the fixed rate I had to a variable rate, then raping the virgin, knocked the rate up over 100% to 25. Why? Because they could. They assured me that they mailed a notice about increasing my rate, but as many credit card users can say, I dump the 15 ads that come with monthly statement without examination. Either they didn't or I didn't notice. Something that important should be listed on the statement. (Although one of my friends sends the ads back with the statement - give it a shot).

What did I learn?
- I need to read my credit card statements thoroughly every month.
- Credit card companies, much like the current state of insurance companies, are making money hand over fist at our expense.
- If credit card companies wanted to, they could put in their 3-point font that they would take everything you own.
- Always look through every piece of paper that comes with your statement - and read it.

But more importantly, I found that credit card companies are unscrupulous, and can switch up the game in any way that they can or want to to increase profits, specifically in the case of BankOne. They are not our friends; they exist to make money for their shareholders. Hell, 51% of the Federal Reserve is controlled by private banks. Coincidence? I think not.

So check it out and make sure there aren't any loopholes before getting a card. And if they screw you, post it, report it to the BBB, and raise a fuss.

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Dell - Bad Business, August 2005

Damn it, Dell, you've done so well. (August, '05)

I have had a Dell computer for over two years now, and have had no problems with it whatsoever. The one time I had to contact customer service, the experience was pleasant and they quickly solved my problem.

But now there's a problem. For reasons unbeknown to myself, I - in those two years -have never actually used the DVD drive to play a DVD. I have two players, and it's never been a priority for me. But the other night I rented a DVD with specific DVD-drive content. So I put it in. And it didn't do anything.

So I tried another and another, finally figuring that NO DVD would play in this drive. Having had excellent experience with Dell, I had no problem giving them a quick call to try and resolve the issue. They ran me through a series of checks and came to the conclusion that it was not, in fact, a problem with the hardware (the drive reads data discs but not DVDs), but the software. The software won't read DVDs. And software's a problem.

You see, Dell's policy on hardware help is fine: they'll make sure it works. But when it comes to software, you need the tech help folks, and they cost money. Now, I didn't write down the prices because I would be Damned if I would pay for fixing something that came from the factory, but it ran like $30 for the call or $70 for the year (should I need another service from the tech gods), would that be Visa or Mastercard?

F-that. I confirmed one simple thing before slamming the phone down, and it's a lovely "what if:" What If I had received my computer and, two years ago, found this problem the very first day I had the computer? It seems that I would still have had to pay Dell more money to solve the problem, even though they had installed the software.

The biggest issue with this is the potential for fraud: suppose Dell wanted to earn a little extra cash. All they would have to do is tell the tech installers to make sure the drives didn't agree with the software. There is no proof for this, it is simply speculation.

Point being that there should never be the potential for exploitation of customers, espeically when it comes to the purchase of something more than $1000.

Dell, this is a thorn in your side, and while I welcome you to Winston Salem, NC, I deplore the monetary tactics used in this case.

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Wachovia Bank - Bad Business, July 2005

This is looking like I'm bad at keeping books. Well, I can be, but have been much better about it since meeting my wife.

I wrote a check in March 2005 that I lost track of because it was not cashed until June 21, 2005. It, of course, hit the same day as our mortgage check, but I had deposited a freelance check for about $250 that same day. Unfortunately, the cashed check was a little more than that, and thinking I had several hundred dollars, did some shopping. All out, at the end of two days I had over $300 of overdraft fees.

I spoke with Wachovia when my card was denied and found out about the check. It was my mistake, but the only thing they could do was refund $60 as a courtesy. Could something be done to limit my card, give a denial if the funds weren't there? No. I was advised not to use my card because purchases under $10 or so might make it through. HOW? But that's how it works. I was advised to open a credit card for overdraft protection (again, fees going to Wachovia, of course). I began feeling like I was Wachovia's piggy bank. Multiple calls and time spent with supervisors confirmed that the $60 courtesy was pretty much a hard and fast rule without bank error.

I was frustrated, but was able to pull it together and see what I could do. The customer service rep told me that I would have 28 days to repay the negative balance in my account.

Fine. But as if the helplessness that banks can make you feel was not enough, on Friday, July 5th, Wachovia pulled $359 from my wife's account to zero out my balance. WHAT???

After speaking to a CSR and a Supervisor and bank personnel and a branch manager, I found that this is basic Wachovia practice. Because our accounts were linked, they reserved the right to "normalize" an account by any means necessary. Never mind that someone told me I had 28 days. (The Supervisor "made a note" for the manager of the employee. Think I'll hear back about that?) Never mind that Wachovia was going to get their money.

An unnamed employee of Wachovia even admitted "That's shady."

And after speaking to over half a dozen employees at Wachovia, this was the first I had ever heard of a process that was open to us: I could have initiated a setup wherin my account was an overdraft protector for my wife and vice versa. Why had they not mentioned this before? Again, the credit card interest fees. And because I had not done this (not that I had known), Wachovia was unable to pull funds from her account to cover an overdraft of about $40 that resulted in $330 going into their pocket.

Let me put it this way: Wachovia was not at liberty to pull money from my wife's account to cover an overdraft that resulted in a large profit in their favor because I had not expressed direct, written permission. However, when they were looking to collect on those fees, they had implied permission, by me simply opening an account, that they could pull that money from my wife's account without permission from or even notification of either of us. This is the most unethical business practice I have personally encountered to date.

Caveat Emptor: Banks are raising fees and changing procedures. You will be informed, but in a tiny pamphlet that looks unimportant in 5-point font. The little guy is their piggy bank, and we can't change the laws without big money for big lawyers against a big corporation who runs on our mistakes. That, or a huge public outcry. (Remember the car lease release on what's due at signing?) And who's got the money for a lawyer?

Email Wachovia and let them know that their practices are wrong.

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Ohio State Realty - Bad Business, May 2003

Here's a lose-lose situation: You're out trying to buy your first house, and when you decide on a choice piece of property, not only is the seller stubborn and un-initiated in the ways of barter, but the company who represents her doesn't even deliver her your offers.

Such was the case with OSR. Granted, the seller was a real poop-head, but we made about 5 offers during the week we were looking to buy, and two of them never made it to the seller. Our calls were never returned (in 2003, the place was run by two brothers, and one was apparently out of town; the other couldn't handle the correspondance).

The seller wouldn't agree to anything, and when we finally got to the asking price, the hot tub and appliance warranty -- offered in the MLS listing -- were revoked. We walked away.

And OSR offered nothing but silence the whole way through.

My wife and I still laugh every time we see an OSR sign. God help the buyers

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Verizon/Sprint (or Any Cell Company) - Bad Business July/August 2002

So a couple of years ago, I was sitting pretty with Verizon. Except that every month, I went over my minutes. Seeing an ad on TV, I called to see if I could get the deal. Verizon was very good about upgrading your plan. Unfortunately, it turned out that I only had a "dual-mode" phone. I needed at "tri-mode" phone in order to get the deal. To get that, of course, required a two-year contract.

But this whole thing soured me. Why would I rejoin a contract that was limiting me so?

I decided to abort. The first woman I spoke to said that it would be over $100 to cancel my contract. Really? Because when I signed up, no one mentioned the excess fees involved in cancelling (Remember Lease prices before the big disclosure scandal?). So I stayed for another month and called back. This woman said that it would be about $40 to cancel. Sweet. I talked to my wife, set up an account with Sprint, and called them back. Suddenly, it was over $100 again.


So I dumped on a supervisor. This was not acceptable. But after wrangling and complaining, I still was only let off at about $87.

Point being: Get the cancellation info in writing before you commit. They're all shady.


My one friend was happy with Sprint forever. Praised them whenever he had a chance.

But then he went to Mexico.

He was sold a package that would allow him to call home in the US for a very small fee. The package cost about $75. When he got down there, he could rarely get connected. And when he got back, he found that the times he did get connected cost him several hundred dollars.

Did I mention that this was his honeymoon?

So, speaking to a supervisor, he found out that the package never shoud have been sold to him, especially by a lower-level, local person. But they wouldn't reduce his bill.

He spent a good deal of his wedding money paying for Sprint's goof.

Lesson: Speak to a supervisor before purchasing ANY plan.

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Fifth Third Bank - Bad Business, February 2002

I, like many others in this country, play the check game. You know: my direct deposit hits tonight at midnight, so I can get gas this afternoon instead of coasting on fumes until early morning tomorrow.

It was just such an assumption that nailed me (appropriately), and gave us reason to mistrust the big 5/3.

Having made the exact decision concerning gas as noted above, I received a call from my landlord saying that the check he received that day couldn't be cashed against my account. "The bank says that your available balance is ..., and your ledger balance is ...."

My first thought was "Why the hell is my landlord cashing my check against my account?" My second thought was confirmed with a few clicks of the mouse: "How did he get the amounts, to the penny, that I have in my account?"

My landlord ended up cashing the check the next day, but said that he had received the numbers from the bank.

He went to the bank to see if the check could be cashed. The bank's computers were down, so they called the branch down the street to run the numbers.

I wrote a letter of complaint to the primary branch, the branch phoned, and the regional headquarters elucidating my disapproval at my landlord knowing exactly how much money was in my personal bank account. I received a letter of apology with some story about how my landlord must have overheard the teller repeating the numbers as she received them by phone. Sounds hokey to me.

After a few phone calls and some research, I had a copy of the federal statute that was violated in this case. Unfortunately, I had no recourse because the violation of personal privacy detailed in the statute had no fee attached to it, and no case history to back a fee. And a lawyer won't touch a virgin statute with a stack of law books.

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Huntington Bank - Bad Business, April 2002

My sister had her ATM card stolen with some other items in her card. Being in college, no one was home to sign for the new card, so Huntington suggested that she change her address to the bank address. That way, she could just pick up the card from the bank itself at her convenience. After that time, she didn't use the account as she was moving out of town.

This was fine until a year later when she attempted to open an account at another bank. She was told that she had an outstanding collections account and had to deal with that. They could tell her nothing but that she had to talk to Huntington.

When she returned to Huntington, she was greeted with poor customer service to begin the encounter. She was told that many notices had been sent pertaining to overdraft fees, but no reply was made to the bank.

Remember the address switch mentioned above? The employee quickly disappeared into a cubicle and returned with a stack of mail addressed to my sister with the bank's address, all of it opened. My sister couldn't understand how they could get the letters, open them, and not alert her. Long story short: no deal, my sister was pinned for the cost, and Huntington didn't offer so much as an apology.

First off, it's bad enough to get the imaginary image of a group of employees opening my sister's mail and chuckling about the fees that their bank is receiving from her because no one picked up the phone to call her about the goof. Secondly, I'm not sure about the details of this, but I was under the impression that it was and is a Federal offense to open mail addressed to another person.

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City of Parma, OH - Bad Business, October 2003

Okay, so Parma has a couple of signs up at the City Limits. They say, basically, that if you park on the street between November and April, you'll get a ticket. But you can only read it if you take your eyes off the road for at least 15 seconds, and that's if the sign is there, and that's if the sign is not so sun-faded that you can't read it.

Parma is full of rental properties. Many of these properties are duplexes with one driveway. A couple living in an upstairs duplex (such as my wife and I) who can't always arrange the cars in an "I'm last in, you're first out" manner would have to park in the street just to make it comfortable.

Parma says on the sign that it's a Winter Ban. Good luck with that one. The one time I did get a ticket (and I've parked in the street multiple times during the outage), it was a clear day.

Too bad the cops can't seem to get out when there is rough weather out there.

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