There’s been a lot of chatter lately about how boycotting BP is an empty gesture that only harms local retailers. Maybe so, but I’m doing it anyway.
Knowing what BP has done to the Gulf of Mexico, I can no longer buy BP products without feeling like a shmuck.
Not being a petroleum products distributor myself, either I boycott BP retail outlets or I take no effective action at all.
It is not my responsibility to ensure the profitability of anyone’s convenience store. There’s this thing called risk. Deal with it.
I’m told that BP retailers get most of their revenue from drinks, candy, and so on. So fine, if I happen to pass your store on a bike or on foot, I’ll feel free to stop in and buy a coke. But I won’t drive a car in to your lot, much less buy your gas.
I’ve managed to avoid buying Exxon products since 1989, when the company’s Exxon Valdez tanker dumped up to 32 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Failing to boycott BP for a much larger and more serious offense would be inconsistent at best.
Boycotting Exxon, BP, and Amoco (a BP trademark) is likely to be inconvenient on road trips. This is OK with me. We’re supposed to be weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, so the least I can do is put up with some inconvenience when it comes to buying gasoline.
You might be able to talk me into boycotting even more gasoline retailers, but you won’t talk me out of boycotting BP.
Since January I have spent hours helping a neighbor whose attempts to pay his creditor, GE Money (doing business as CareCredit), were all being headed off. Whether he used the website or the telephone, he was unable to complete the transaction, and was in danger of expensive penalties. Reaching a customer service rep required unusual persistence, and once he did so, the employees were consistently unhelpful, besides being alternately hostile and contemptuous.
After research, I formed the following hypothesis:
GE Money Bank formed CareCredit, and tricked it out to look like a nonprofit, in order to mislead elderly, inexperienced, or otherwise vulnerable customers into signing up for a credit card that is easy to acquire but difficult to make timely payments on. This results in crippling penalties and interest on what is touted as an “interest-free” credit option. Instead of helping customers pay their health-care bills, CareCredit is more likely to punish customers with extra expenses.
As the president and congressional leaders meet today on financial regulation, I offer this story as evidence of which direction we need to be going now. It is not in our national interest to allow banks to take customers for everything they can get, while “denying any wrongdoing.” We need an independent financial consumer protection agency with the power to intervene in the interest of consumers. Continue reading →
Over the past two months I have been getting harassing phone calls from a machine. The recording always features the same woman’s voice offering a vaguely described financial service that is “about to expire.”
The Caller ID number, it turns out, never tells me where the call really originated; instead they use some number that has been disconnected. So it’s clear at the outset that something shady is going on: The caller wants to put the touch on you without giving you any way to call back and complain.
I call this “telephone spam” because, as with junk email, trying to get off the company’s dialing list only proves that your number is valid, assuring that it will be dialed more frequently. Yet these calls are hard to screen because Caller ID always shows just a telephone number and (usually) the message “Out of area.” My mother’s mobile phone also gives the “Out of area” message, so I am inclined to pick up the phone whenever I see it.
We are on the National Do Not Call List, so I have been dutifully filing complaints each time a call occurs. The FTC, which receives the complaints, makes no promises to do anything about them. All it offers is a way of documenting the offenses for possible action by some law enforcement agency. (Don’t hold your breath.)
On Monday I received two of these calls, exactly one hour apart. The first peddled an auto warranty; the second, lower credit card rates. This time I filed a complaint with the state attorney general (here, located through the well maintained page How to Report Fraud in Alabama).
Consumer fraud makes me angry. Now I want to help defeat these people.
So I need to replace the lenses in my glasses to match a new prescription from the eye doctor. Thanks to the globalization of lens grinding, I am having to fill the prescription twice.
That’s because in all of metro Birmingham (pop. 975,000), there is not a single optician who makes lenses on the premises. Even the ubiquitous Dr. Schaeffer, with his fashion commercials, his civic prominence (the Crawfish Boil, etc.), and his TV tours of his high-tech facilities and eager-to-please staff — even he sends the lens orders off to parts unknown.
What this means for the customer is that it takes seven to ten business days to fill a prescription. Hope you weren’t in a hurry to see clearly.
If, like me, you want to put new lenses in your old, still serviceable frames, you need a backup pair to wear for a week or more. If you were so abandoned as to donate your old glasses to the Lions Club, then you will now have to order a cheap pair of glasses to wear while you wait for your real glasses to get new lenses. And it will take, of course, a week to ten days for the cheap pair to arrive.
In the meantime I’ll amuse myself wondering what exotic parts of the world my glasses will have seen by the time they reach me. Are lenses being made by robots in some vast underground plant in Nevada? Or are opticians being hired in India, like computer programmers, to grind through the night so results can be shipped to the States the next morning? Too bad lenses can’t be sent over the Internet.
So in this case, the globalized economy is costing me both time — two weeks or longer, for an item that used to be ready within a day — and money, namely the cost of an extra pair of glasses. If the lenses have a flaw, or are incorrectly made, I’ll have yet another wait on my hands. The anonymity of the transaction between me and the lens maker tends to reduce the latter’s accountability to me.
Someone remind me again of the benefits of globalization. I keep forgetting.
About 60 percent of taxpayers hire someone to do their income taxes. But tax preparers often make mistakes or give bad advice.
Anyone can open a tax-prep service. No special knowledge is required, and only three states require licenses (California, Maryland, and Oregon). H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt do require their employees to undergo training. At other shops, employees sometimes don’t even know what to do with supplementary tax forms.
Tax preparers often pad the bill with “junk fees” like an “application fee” or “document preparation fee.” You shouldn’t have to pay these.
The biggest rip-off of all is the “refund anticipation loan.” Customers often get the idea that this is free money that will be paid off by the amount of their refund. Truth is, the tax-prep shop charges interest on the loan, at rates comparable to the steep charges for payday loans and similar rip-offs. If you accept the loan, you’ll have to fork over up to 25 percent of your refund.
Source: “Is that tax preparer really qualified?” Consumer Reports, March 2009, pp. 12-13.