Tag Archives: Consumers

The National Do Not Call Registry – An American Success Story

Ah… Peace and quiet. Brought to you by your friends at the United States Federal Trade Commission via their National Do Not Call Registry. Undeniably, one of the greatest inventions since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.

Americans who have registered almost 150 million phone numbers on the DNC Registry can’t be wrong. People were fed up with what the telemarketing industry had done to the telephone system in the United States. Families were being harassed every day of the week by telemarketers who would ring your phone all day long, usually hanging up without saying a word (known in the industry as “abandoned” calls), usually the result of the irresponsible use of predictive dialing. Even if they did stay on the line long enough to speak to you, nobody wants to be annoyed twenty times a day by unsolicited sales pitches. If this occurred on your home phone, it stole your time and your peace of mind. If the calls came in on your cellphone, they also stole your money, since most cellphone subscribers pay for all incoming calls.

The telemarketing industry succeeded in hijacking the American telephone network, arguably the most reliable and most advanced telecommunications network in the world. The statistics are as staggering as they are disgusting. Companies out for a quick buck were abusing the American public by putting in place infrastructure at nearly 9,000 call centers around the country that could dial hundreds of millions of calls per day, many of which would be abandoned. If you or I constantly placed calls to strangers and hung up as soon as they answered, I can assure you the police would be knocking at your door in no time. Yet here was an industry (outbound telemarketing), which, according to this 2002 document at FTC.gov, employed over a half-million individuals (in outbound telemarketing alone) and which was expected to grow to over $400 Billion a year (by 2006), doing essentially the same thing, but on a grand scale… and getting away with it. I think the telecom carriers that provided facilities and calling capacity to these telemarketers are just as culpable as the ISPs and bandwidth providers that profit from the activities of spammers, turning a blind eye to the problem in the name of profit.

Indeed, placing your number on the Do-Not-Call Registry does work. Unsolicited calls to RoutingByRumor’s phone numbers have been virtually non-existent since they were added to the DNC list. And when that rare unsolicited telemarketing call does come in, I do two things. I inform the caller that the number they dialed is on the DNC Registry, and I file a complaint with both the FTC and my state’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

If you haven’t done so already, add your number to the do-not-call list. You can join the Do Not Call Registry here. You’ll be glad to know that since the government recently decided to make the National Do Not Call Registry permanent (see this article and read the legislation here), your number will not be dropped from the list after five years, as was originally planned. You will not have to re-register a phone number you’ve already placed on the Registry.

Fortunately, the free-for-all is over. The greed and irresponsibility of telemarketers and the businesses that employed them has destroyed their industry. While the law still permits unsolicited telemarketing calls in some cases, such as on behalf of political campaigns, charities and for telephone surveys, hopefully those loopholes will soon be eliminated. Now all those former telemarketers can look for legitimate, respectable jobs.

Maybe what the world needs now is a Worldwide Do-Not-Email Registry that will do for the spam problem what the Do-Not-Call Registry did for the phone system in the United States.

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Filed under Cellphones, Consumerism, Home, Life, Money, News, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Telephony, Your Money

Still Waiting For That Rebate Check? Don’t Hold Your Breath If Staples, Symantec or Parago Are Involved !

I’m a sucker for almost anything that comes with the promise of a rebate, particularly technology products. The phrase “FREE AFTER REBATE” is music to my ears, even though this is never quite true when you take into consideration the sales tax, postage, and other costs associated with filing the rebate claim.

Rebates were the one saving grace for a retailer that I thought was otherwise worthless, CompUSA. Most of the CompUSA stores in the USA have closed within the past year, and  I suspect they will disappear completely in short order. The funny thing is, I’ve never come across anyone who was sorry that a CompUSA store closed. I’ll usually hear comments like “I can’t believe they lasted as long as they did”.

I’ve been running into a problem receiving rebates I’ve qualified for on a number of products I’ve purchased at Staples stores recently. Most often, they have been rebates on software titles from Symantec. The common thread with all of the rebates I’ve had trouble getting my rebate checks for is that they are fulfilled by a company called Parago. Quite frankly, I have a pretty good nose for this stuff, and I smell a scam. It wasn’t always this way. In the past, Symantec rebate checks always arrived quickly and without a problem. I could always depend on receiving my check within a few weeks, which was much quicker than many other manufacturer’s rebates, but things have changed.

I meticulously follow the requirements of each rebate offer. I’ll include the UPC barcode, proof-of-purchase seal (if applicable), cash register receipts, product registration requirements, proof that I qualify for rebates available only to owners of previous versions or competitive products, etc, etc. I double and triple check everything, including the offer expiration date. Then I make copies of everything I submit. I double check the postage and the addresses.

At least half of the time, I’ll get a postcard from Parago telling me that I did not qualify for the rebate, listing one or more bogus reasons. Funny, but when I check my copy of the material I submitted, I do qualify for the rebate, and I’ve submitted whatever it is that they say was missing from my submission.

Read this: “The Great Rebate Runaround”, published by Businessweek.

Here’s a story about Parago posted by another consumer, who has had the same experience with Parago.

Here’s another.

I’ll call the phone number listed on the postcard, and I’m forced to navigate thru several menus before I can press the appropriate key and speak to a real live human being (or wait on hold until one is available).

Each time I’ve called about a rebate submission that was rejected,  the person taking my  call will take a few seconds to look over whatever records they have on their computer screen, and then announce that it was their mistake, telling me I will receive my rebate in a few weeks. Sure enough, about a month later, my rebate arrives.

What’s going on here? Let me take a guess. I think that either the retailer, in these cases Staples, or the manufacturer, in these cases usually Symantec, or more likely the rebate processor, which in every case has been Parago, has figured out how to make money. Conveniently manufacture a bogus reason to disqualify the rebate claim, and hope that the customer doesn’t pursue the matter. If the customer does complain, just say “oops, our mistake… so sorry… we’ll get that check out to you in a few weeks”. If this is indeed what is happening, it’s fraud, and it’s a crime. Could you imagine how much money is at stake if even a small percentage of the rebate submissions never get paid out? And this is on top of the fact that most rebates are never claimed by consumers to begin with.

Here’s an article on zdnet.com, that discusses the fact that Parago has actually patented ways to reduce the number of rebates it has to pay out to consumers. This is disgusting. It’s like being admitted to a hospital that has patented ways of killing it’s patients. It’s like a restaurant that tries to give their customers an empty plate. You can’t get away with it for very long. I think the fulfillment industry is going to destroy itself, just as the telemarketing industry did, by abusing the public to the point that legislation was passed which created the U.S. Government’s Do-Not-Call list. Americans who were sick and tired of being harassed by telemarketers have placed almost 150 million phone numbers on the DNC Registry. Telemarketers killed the goose that laid the golden egg. They have nobody to blame but themselves. The government recently decided to make DNC list registrations permanent. Good !

It appears to me that job #1 at rebate processors like Parago is not to get your rebate check to you quickly. Rather, their first and highest priority seems to be finding any way possible to avoid honoring a rebate offer. Who in their right mind would want to do business with a company whose goal, it seems,  is to cheat you out of what they owe you? If a lot of companies offering rebates were being honest with their customers, I think their products would carry stickers such as this…

“$50 MAIL-IN REBATE, BUT WE WILL DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO ENSURE THAT YOU WON’T QUALIFY FOR THE REBATE”.

Manufacturers or retailers who employ rebate processors that attempt to prevent as many consumers as possible from collecting their rebates are shortsighted indeed. It’s not the consumer who stands to be hurt the most by these practices. It’s the manufacturers themselves, and the rebate fulfillment companies who are destroying the consumer’s trust in rebate promotions. Successful companies don’t have to pinch their customers to make a profit.  Throwing up as many barriers as you can, forcing your customer to jump thru hoops and clear hurdles before they will get their rebate is simply not good business.  These types of practices are a sign of greed or desperation, by companies that are willing to sacrifice future income and goodwill in the name of a fast buck.  It’s simply not the way an ethical company operates.

Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying “why should we believe anything that RoutingByRumor says. Who the hell is RoutingByRumor anyway?” In that case, don’t take my word for it. Parago holds at least five U.S. patents, which can be viewed here. Among them is Patent # 7,146,328, which contains a number of claims, including the following…

“Rebates offer cash back to consumers who fulfill a set of requirements after purchasing a product bearing a rebate. By requiring post-purchase activities, the rebate offerer attempts to reduce the number of successful rebate claimants. Breakage occurs when a product bearing a rebate is sold, but the rebate is not successfully claimed.”

“Breakage refers to any event that prevents a rebate transaction from being completed, for example, denying based on bad verification materials such as receipts or UPC symbols, denying based on improper purchase dates or purchase price, or slippage from checks issued but not cashed.”

The patent also boasts that Parago’s system “provides opportunities for breakage”. Based on my experiences with Parago, I’m surprised it doesn’t say that their system “guarantees that breakage will occur”.

I have sent complaints to both Staples and Symantec about the difficulties I’ve had with rebates processed by Parago. Sadly, but not surprisingly, neither Staples or Symantec responded to my complaints. My guess is that retailers like Staples, and their vendors, such as Symantec, actually want Parago to mail out as few rebate checks as possible. If this is not the case, then they need to contract with a different fulfillment company. In my opinion, if companies like Staples and Symantec are involved in this practice in an attempt to avoid having to pay valid rebate claims, they should be prosecuted. I believe that a rebate offer is a contract between the buyer and the party offering the rebate. A class action lawsuit might be in order. Perhaps it’s time to stop buying products offering rebates.

If Parago CEO Juli Spottiswood (see nbpca article), Staples CEO Ron Sargent (see Forbes article), or Symantec CEO John Thompson (see Forbes article) wish to comment on this article, RoutingByRumor will post their comments here. If you click on the links to the Forbes articles above, you can see the incredible compensation these CEOs receive, made possible by your purchases and by all those rebates you thought you were getting, but never received.

If you have experienced this or similar problems trying to collect a rebate, post the details of your experience here, or e-mail them to me. If I receive a response to my complaints to Staples or Symantec, I will post the details, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Filed under Consumerism, Free Stuff, Home, Life, News, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Rebates, Retail, Retailers, Scams, Shopping, Technology, Your Money

If You Think The Pay Is Low At Wal-mart…


mean-walmart-face-2.jpg
image from grokdotcom.com (click here)

If you needed any proof that RoutingByRumor has it’s finger on the pulse of America, here it is.

Two days ago, I posted a piece on this blog entitled “Made In USA? Yeah, Right”. In it, I discussed the fact that we are becoming dependent on China for everything from clothing to automobile parts. Last week, I posted a piece entitled “The Walmartization of America”, in which I discussed, among other things, cheap merchandise, imports from China, and the hard working Wal-mart employees that don’t earn a decent salary.

Well, today’s local newspaper (12/13/2007) carried a Reuters article with the headline “Senator Says Wal-Mart Sells Products From Sweatshops”. I don’t know about you, but I was shocked and taken aback upon reading that headline. Totally flabergasted. In fact, I’m still in denial. Wal-mart selling sweatshop merchandise? I’m sure that Kathy-Lee is as shocked as I am. The article reported that Senator Byron L. Dorgan, (D) – North Dakota, held a news conference yesterday, at which he released a report by the National Labor Comittee, a human rights organization.

The report highlighted conditions at a company in China that employees 8,000 workers and manufactures Christmas ornaments sold by U.S. retailers, including Wal-mart. It indicated that those workers earn as little as 26 cents an hour, half of the legal minimum wage in China. And you thought our minimum wage was low?

The Reuters article went on to quote a Wal-mart spokesperson as saying that they have a “rigorous ethical standards program”, and were investigating NLC’s claim. If the National Labor Committee’s report is true, I guess Wal-mart might have to add some rigor to their already rigorous ethical standards program. And if the NLC’s report is true, then “Always Low Prices. Always.” (Wal-mart’s former advertising slogan, which has been replaced with “Save Money. Live Better.”) might as well have been “Always Low Pay. Always.”, not only for Wal-mart’s employees, but also for their supplier’s employees.

I had an Uncle who was a CPA, and who was the family’s source of wisdom and advice on all things financial. One day, many years ago (long before I became a cynical blogger), I was bragging to him about some bargain I had gotten on something, the specifics of which I’ve long forgotten. My Uncle sat me down, and said “RoutingByRumor, you get what you pay for“. (OK, I just made up the RoutingByRumor part, but the rest is historically accurate.) Of course, he was right. So, don’t expect to buy anything, at Wal-mart or anywhere else, at an incredibly low price, without there being a catch. Maybe the catch is that the workers that made it earn 26 cents an hour.

I came across this fascinating article from Fast Company about Wal-Mart. Although it’s from four years ago, it is very interesting reading. It puts a lot of the criticism of Wal-mart into perspective.

Here’s some other websites dedicated to Wal-mart issues…

WalmartWatch

WakeUpWalmart

(e-mail me if you would like your Walmart-centric website added to this list)

Never one to underestimate the lowest common denominator among my fellow human beings, or ignore the value of Google, I did a Google search on “walmart sucks”. Google returned the expected stuff, like this, and this. But the real surprise came when I did a whois search at networksolutions.com for the domain name “walmartsucks.com”.

Here’s the domain registration data that Networksolutions returned…

Registrant:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
(DOM-1582466)
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US

Domain Name: walmartsucks.com

Registrar Name: Markmonitor.com
Registrar Whois: whois.markmonitor.com
Registrar Homepage: http://www.markmonitor.com

Administrative Contact:
Domain Administrator
(NIC-14300985)
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US
domains@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991
Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
(NIC-14570620)
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
805 Moberly Ln., M31
Bentonville
AR
72716-0560
US
dns@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991

Created on…………..: 2003-Nov-18.
Expires on…………..: 2011-Nov-18.
Record last updated on..: 2007-Dec-10 16:01:47.

Domain servers in listed order:

L4.NSTLD.COM
A4.NSTLD.COM
F4.NSTLD.COM
G4.NSTLD.COM

I guess that gets filed under “damage control”. I don’t know if Wal-mart did this pre-emptively, or if they bought the domain from someone who registered it first.  Unfortunately, there are so many TLDs (top level domains) like .com, .org, .net, .us, etc., and so many ways to spell “I hate you”, that this really is an exercise in futility. It’s like trying to stop the tide from coming in by using a bucket to empty the ocean. But I commend Wal-mart for trying.

It appears that Walmart would not have been able to sue someone who registered the walmartsucks.com domain name, either to collect damages, or to gain control of the domain name. I found the following passage on a FAQ for bloggers about trademark issues, published by the Electronic FrontierFoundation (EFF)

I want to complain about a company. Can I use their name and logo?

Yes. While trademark law prevents you from using someone else’s trademark to sell your competing products (you can’t make and sell your own “Rolex” watches or name your blog “Newsweek”), it doesn’t stop you from using the trademark to refer to the trademark owner or its products (offering repair services for Rolex watches or criticizing Newsweek’s editorial decisions). That kind of use, known as “nominative fair use,” is permitted if using the trademark is necessary to identify the products, services, or company you’re talking about, and you don’t use the mark to suggest the company endorses you. In general, this means you can use the company name in your review so people know which company or product you’re complaining about. You can even use the trademark in a domain name (like walmartsucks.com), so long as it’s clear that you’re not claiming to be or speak for the company.


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Filed under China, Consumerism, Employment, Home, Journalism, Labor, Life, Money, News, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Politics, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Walmart

General Motors, R.I.P.

gm.jpg

Except for my first hand-me-down car when I got my driver’s license 30+ years ago, I’ve bought only new cars, and only General Motors vehicles. They were all Pontiacs, and were all assembled in the United States.

GM is dying, and that’s just fine by me. I don’t want any heroic measures taken to save them. So please, Doctor, sign the DNR order.

General Motors has been in declining health and suicidal for years. It has been predeceased by several of it’s children, and their surviving siblings are in frail health.

I have had my share of problems with GM vehicles, but I believe they are generally very reliable. I think that GM has made some poor design choices that affect reliability and which lead to unnecessary recalls. These design problems are probably driven by attempts at cost-cutting. I have always insisted on buying a vehicle that was, at the very least, assembled by Americans, in a USA assembly plant. (The UAW can contact me to find out where to send my check.)

So why have I written off General Motors? I feel that GM and it’s dealerships have no respect for their customers. They’ve been driving along, all fat and happy for years, and never noticed that the highway ends up ahead. I have never had a good sales experience with any GM dealership, and their warranty service has always been a nightmare. Dealer’s service departments don’t like to do warranty repairs because they are paid less than they earn from non-warranty work. My experience has always been that GM dealer’s service departments perform slip-shod work. Many times, either before you leave your car for a repair(s), or after you pick up your car, it is an exercise in futility to try and convince them that an obvious problem exists/still exists. In my opinion, Pontiac’s customer care toll-free number was always a sad joke. Worthless. They take your complaint, refer it back to the dealership, but can’t get a problem resolved for you. It’s a game, and you’re the looser. I honestly believe GM operates in the hope that they will simply wear you down, and you’ll give up. Bring back your vehicle as many times as you like, call GM as many times as you like, write all the letters you want to write. Get nowhere. It’s almost like they want to make you regret buying a GM product.

Case in point: My current GM vehicle has had problems with it’s automatic transmission since around 25,000 miles. GM dealerships removed and rebuilt the transmission twice, and serviced the transmission on the car a third time, while it was under warranty. It has never operated correctly since the first time they attempted repairs, and has been out-of-warranty for a few years now. I drive it the way it is, because I refuse to give GM another cent of my money, and because I have zero confidence in the quality of their service departments. When the vehicle is no longer drivable, I’ll make the decision to either junk it or have a non-GM shop work on it.

Now, General Motors is hurting.

Good.

I doubt I will ever purchase another GM vehicle. My next car will probably have a Japanese nameplate. It’s not so much that I love Japanese cars as it is that I refuse to buy another American nameplate. I think this is is a decision most Americans have already made. Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me again and again, and you’ve lost me as a customer forever.

There are plenty of disgusted GM customers out there. Here’s one example.

Here’s another. And another. And another. And another.

It seems a lot of people are fed up with General Motors.

I’ll drive my Japanese car to GM’s funeral. I doubt many tears will be shed by the mourners.

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Cars, Consumerism, Money, News, Retail, Retailers, Shopping, Technology, Your Money