- Personal Finance
My Consumer Protection Experiences
Over my life time, I've come across a few incidences where I felt I was wronged by a company which required more than the average response. My experiences taught me that it is better to address the issue head on. Here are a few real cases and how they were resolved.
Toll Truck On Route 80
This incident happened to my father somewhere on Route 80 in N.J. back in the 1980's. He was driving along and his car broke down, a minor mechanical issue. He called for a toll truck and asked to be towed to a nearby garage. It was no more than 2 miles distance at the most. When he was given the bill, it came to over $240. My father was a bit shaken and just wanted to go home so he paid it in cash. He was retired and didn't want to bother even though it was clear to him and I that he was taken advantaged of. He was willing to let it go but it just didn't sit well with me. I asked him to give me the receipt and I called the number on the receipt. I spoke to the owner of the towing company and explained what had happened. I knew the charge of towing is a fixed rate set by the state of NJ with an additional per mile charge. By my estimate, it should have only be approx. $50. The owner apologized for the misunderstanding, not admitting any fault, agreed to reimburse my father with the $190.
Swimming Pool Installation
In the late 1980's, our above ground pool rusted out. It had came with the house when we moved in back in 1983. My kids and wife enjoyed swimming during the summer months. We decided to replace it with a new one. We shopped around and found a place in White Plains NY who had a good price including installation. The old pool was oval shaped and the new one we settled on was round. There was some amount of leveling of the foundation required and it was priced into the whole job. After the pool was installed, we were very happy with the new pool and expected to enjoy it for at least 10 years it was warranted for. Unfortunately, after a few month, a corner of the pool started to show a depression. During a few heavy rain storm that summer, part of the sand foundation began to sink and washed away causing the depression. It got worse as time went on. I decided to take some photos of the condition to show to the installer of the pool. When I called their office and spoke to the manager, he would not take responsibility for the problem. He claim it was not covered as part of their warranty. I decided to take them to small claims court. Once I explained the situation to the judge and showed him the photos, he ruled in my favor. The company were ordered to repair the damage in full. It took some effort on my part but in the end it was worth it. The pool was fixed and we enjoyed it for the next 20 years.
Gold Chain from Jerusalem
On one of my business trip to Israel in the 1990's, I stopped at a souvenir shop in Jerusalem and bought a simple gold chain for my wife. I charged the purchase on my VISA credit card thinking the price labeled was in Shekels instead of dollars. The exchange rate was 5 to 1. It is a reasonable assumption since other stores and restaurants all use shekels as the base currency and the VISA would convert them to dollars when I get my statement at the end of the month. In this case, I was shocked to see the amount was in dollars on my statement. That means I was paying 5 times the value of the item which was definitely over priced. I wrote a letter to the store and informed them the mistake and asked for a refund. I offered to ship the neckless back to them at my own expense. I also contacted VISA and dispute the charges and asked them to hold the payment.
Unfortunately, VISA was not sympathetic to my cause. They took the side of the merchant and since I signed the receipt, they said they have no recourse but to make the payment transfer. I did follow through and mailed the necklace back to the store. In response, I received a rude letter from the merchant that the necklace was damaged and they will not refund my money and that there is nothing I can do about it since they are in a foreign country.
Of all the travels around the world, I never had any issues with any merchants. This was a first and unique experience. I realized I had no leverage with the merchant and it was only about 100 dollars - a small amount. Yet, I decided to pursue my complaint with VISA. After a few correspondence back and forth, they refuse to open my case. I brought up the bigger issue that possibly I was not the only foreigner that was duped by this merchant's deceptive practice. I had great credit rating and have been a customer of this bank for many years and had always paid off my balance on time. None of this seems to matter to VISA. I made a decision to sever ties with this bank and close my account and cancel my card. I made the final payment minus the $100 and attached with a letter of explanation. I never received a response and luckily never suffered any bad credit consequence. I felt comfortable with my decision.
Health Club Membership In NYC
In 2005. my daughter just graduated college and moved to NYC to start a career in the finance industry. She signed up to an exercise health club which had a monthly membership fee. New to this, she was convinced by the sales clerk to sign an agreement electronically to automatically charge her credit card with the monthly due. This would save the monthly statements and having to make payments. She was also assured that she could cancel anytime. After a few month, her workload got busy and she found she had little time to use the health facility. She called to cancel and was surprised to learn that she had signed up for a two year membership which was irrevocable. Even calling her credit card company could not stop the payments.
Coincidentally, It was at this time I discovered Squidoo, a new Web 2.0 online publishing site. I discovered the power of Squidoo lens of being ranked very high by google search engine. I decided to create a lens that document my daughter's experience and published the page. I also did a search on google on this lens and showed the result ranking on the first 10 results. I did a screen capture and attached it to a letter I wrote addressed to the Health Club owner. I basically said in no uncertain terms that if they did not cancel my daughter's membership, I will use the web page to alert other potential customers of their deceitful practices. I guess my letter was convincing enough that they complied saying it was a misunderstanding but never admitting any fault. I was satisfied at the result and thankful to Squidoo for making this possible. In 2014, Squidoo was sold to HubPages. That is where I continue to publish.
Storage Shed From Arrow
This is one case I have already written extensively about. Here is the link to my hub - Fixing a Collapsed Storage Shed. Even though I didn't get the satisfaction from the manufacture - Arrow, I was able to repair it myself. That is worth the effort. I also felt I was able to help other potential owners. My hub received many visits and is one of my top ten list.
Ending Ownership Of A Timeshare In The Poconos
In 1982, I was on vacation somewhere upstate New York and learned about a new opportunity in vacationing called timesharing. It sounded like a great idea and was told it was also a great investment. I didn't buy at that location even though the salesman was very aggressive and used the ploy that I must sign that same day to get the special deal.
About a month later, I found another timeshare facility closer to home in the Poconos PA area. I decided to check it out and went their with the intent of buying a week. I sat through the sales pitch and got the promotional gift and bought a week in the "yellow" zone. The weeks of the year were divided into three zones. The red is the most desirable weeks, yellow is the "in between" weeks and white being the off season weeks. They were priced accordingly. I chose the yellow which in that location was the week in early May. I chose it because it was cheaper and it allowed me to use the week primarily for trading to other locations. That was one of the great advantage of a timeshare. You can join a vacation exchange club for an annual fee and exchange your week for another in over 400 locations worldwide.
Over the next 30 or so years, our family enjoyed vacationing all over and had some great experiences. There were a few places that were disappointing mainly due to poor maintenance at that facility. For the most part, we had great trips and were able to bring along the whole family. The places we visited all had 2 bedrooms that accommodated 6 people and had full kitchen. This was a great savings so we would not have to eat out all the times.
As you know, the timeshare industry went through some bad times and in recent years, it became harder to make exchanges. This is mainly due to consolidation of many locations and the conversion to a point system instead of weekly exchanges. Over the years, more and more members abandoned their units and the people remaining had to out up with increasing maintenance fee yearly. It reaches the point last year where my maintenance fee was greater than the cost to rent the exact same unit at the same time period.
I explored various ways to dispose of the timeshare. I tried selling it and all places wanted a fee up front and no guarantee of sell. I tried to donate it and there were no takers. Finally, I decided to contact the current owners of my home resort and wrote them a letter explaining my situation and just wanted to walk away. I sent the letter by registered mail.
At first, I did not receive any response. They just kept sending me reminders of my delinquent annual dues. Next, they referred my account to a collection agency and they sent me warning letters and they try to call me at my home. This went on for about 3 months and finally, I received a letter from the home office. They agreed to my request and sent me a 4 page contract changing ownership back to them. I signed it and mailed it back and I never heard from them again. It is quite a relief that I no longer worry about increasing maintenance charges.
Why am I dragging up old stories like this? I want to use these as a lesson for young people. There are some out there that want to take advantage of your good nature and innocent disposition. Sometimes, it does require some effort and time to combat them. Not so much for the individual but for others as well. These businesses prey on people who are either too busy or too innocent to fight back. Once they are challenged, and lost, it will give them pause and perhaps discourage them from repeating the same offense.
As you can see, the old adage of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" is true. It may take some time and patience but for the most part, it is usually worth it. Let that be a lesson for all you young people.
My Other Hubs
- Fixing a Collapsed Storage Shed Arrow SR1012
How to fix a collapsed storage shed and improve on it.