Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Little Ways Companies Can Cheat You

There are some organized groups of people that are fairly upset with Texas Governor Rick Perry because he seems to be selling out the Texas roads to a private company to start charging tolls to make some money. Since we already paid the taxes to build the roads in the first place, we own them. To now have to also pay tolls to drive on them means we are in effect paying a double tax.

So one effect of this is that we see road after road that used to be a free road to drive on, is suddenly now becoming a toll road. And it's not always completely obvious, because they don't have to set up toll booths anymore to take your money. You have to look for the signs.

A few weeks back, I recieved a bill in the mail from a toll road company for 40 cents because apparently a road that my wife drives on from time to time, 121, is now a toll road for part of it. Not the whole road - just part of it. That means you'll be driving along as usual and not even necessarily know that the section you just drove through was a toll section unless you happened to see the sign. It never used to be a toll road, but they have now decided that they are going to put up a camera and capture license plates and start mailing out invoices. I assumed they put a sign up somewhere to warn people that they were going to start doing this, but it was too small or not seen.
The really sneaky aspect to this is that since the whole road is not a toll road, you didn't make a conscious decision to enter a toll road. You are just driving down a normal highway that had no toll sign before you entered it, but as you are driving along, just one or two miles of it are suddenly a toll section, and your license plate was photographed and an invoice will be mailed out to you.

Then I had the opportunity to drive along there recently myself, and I saw the sign - it was just a tiny little sign at the side of the road - it looks like a no-parking sign or one of those signs warning you not to throw trash at the side of the road. It just says "toll road begins 1 mile". It mentions no rates, there are no flashing lights, there is no toll booth, nothing. It's just a little sign on the side of the road to make it technically legal, I suppose. Then later, there is a camera mounted on a pole that takes pictures of the suckers' cars license plates as they pass by it. I could see how she easily missed it. I just got off at the next exit, before the toll starts.

I don't like this on principle, but hey, it's only 40 cents - so I paid it. It probably cost me more than that to process the check through my bank. I suggested to her not to drive on that road anymore. There is no real need to - there are plenty of other roads just as good going in the same direction, that aren't toll roads. Making this one a toll road seems kind of arbitrary to me. Just another tax for nothing.

Then a month later I got another bill for $2.00 from the same people. Is this another toll charge? No. This is a bill for sending me a bill. That's right. After charging me 40 cents for a toll they now also want to tack on an additional $2.00 as an administrative fee for billing me for the 40 cents. They are trying to convince people to buy tolltags, so to do that they want to charge everyone administrative fees for sending out an invoice - as a further punishment for driving on a road that was always a normal free road for the past umteen years, and has now suddenly been made into a toll road.

We called up customer service to complain and they agreed to cancel that charge. Then on Saturday I received yet another invoice from them. This time it's another $3.00 administrative fee for sending me the $2.00 invoice. So it's an endless loop. They send an invoice, and you pay the invoice, then they send you another invoice for sending you the previous invoice.

This is insane. The dollar amount is trivial, so I don't care about that - but the principle of this just burns my butt. This is unfair, usurious, and evil crap.

This reminds me of other sneaky devious tricks that some companies do that are not strictly illegal - but SHOULD be.

For example, I bought a digital camera from an online shop about a year and a half ago and part of the deal is that they give you a free gift. It turns out the free gift is a free year's subscription to any 3 magazines. You pick the ones you want and you get them free for a whole year. That was fine, that was ok.

But then a year later, I saw three charges on my credit card bill for automatic renewals for the magazine subscriptions - these people took my credit card information from the digital camera purchase and gave it to a magazine subscription company who then billed me WITHOUT my permission for something I did NOT want. I can't believe they do that!

They didn't send any sort of notice to say that my one year free subscription was going to expire and would I like to continue it at this cost, etc. No - they simply charged my credit card - which they should NOT have had in the first place.

I have always hated the it's-free-now-but-we-automatically-bill-you-later-unless-you-contact-us-in-time-to-stop-us type of marketing. I think it should be outlawed. There needs to be a law against these kinds of practices.

There is another type of ripoff that I really hate as well - the security system ripoff.

I have had a security system on my last 3 houses. The first one, had a 2 year term, and then it switches to a month-to-month. We were there for 5 years, so I was on a month-to-month by then. So when I moved to the second house I put the cancelation for the security service in with 30 days notice before the move date. They accepted the cancellation.

Then they continued to bill me. I told them to stop. They said no. They would continue to bill me for two more years. I said nooooo - I had cancelled the service, and gave the 30 days notice as stated on the contract.

They said - now get this - that I could cancel my service, but I could not cancel my payments. They had put a very tricky clause in the light-colored fineprint details on the back on the contract that says that you can cancel the service within 30 days notice anytime, but to cancel the contract itself, it has to be within 30 days of the anniversary date of the contract. Otherwise, IT AUTOMATICALLY RENEWS IN TWO YEAR INCREMENTS!!!!!!!!

That is absolutely criminal!!!

And we had just passed the anniversary date, so I ended up paying out another two years ahead of time and with NO service, on a house I didn't even own anymore - to get cancelled. That cost me $600 for nothing. I was severely pissed in a way that I only rarely ever get. I DO NOT enjoy being cheated!

Here is another nasty, dirty trick that a company victimized me with:

Here in Texas, we have lots of bugs. On a house that is more than say 5 to 8 years old, they are very common - it's just part of having such a warm, sub-tropical climate. So most people in the suburbs have a pest control service of some type. On the same house (2 houses ago), the house was about 10 years old, so I ordered a service - the full works. That means you pay a big one time payment of about $500 for them to do a full perimter spray and shoot the walls through the electrical sockets, etc., and then they come back for maintenance visits about every 3 months. Those maintenance visits are usually $60 to $75 depending on the company.

Well, I had had that service for 2 years, and we had not seen any bugs for a long time, so I figured we could probably skip a year, and I told that to the bug company when they came back for a renewal. All of a sudden, there were a bunch of giant water-roaches all over the place that came from nowhere. These were big flying black roaches about 3 and 4 inches long, crawling all over the walls, the ceilings, dropping onto the beds - it was like a nightmare!

I was told that when someone doesn't renew, the pest service guys will sometimes go in at night and release some roaches just outside the master bathroom window where the tub is - because there is no cement under the tub usually - and that's how they inject new bugs into the house, so that you will freak out and call them back to fix the problem.

I went outside to cut the grass and sure enough - I found a plastic container left just beside the wall right by the window over the tub to the master bathroom. I think they used that to bring the roaches in. Also, there was a little hole dug out at the edge of the house there to make it easier for them to get in under the house right at that point.

again - CRIMINALS!!!!!

I ended up getting the service again to clear up the infestation - but from a different company. Now, on this current house, it was brand new when I moved in 3 years ago, and I had the service just in case for the first year, but there wasn't anything, so I cancelled. No problems this time.

Bottom line - be VERY careful. There are LOTS of unscrupulous companies out there.

I just wanted to rant about this for a bit. It seems like this ought to bug more people than just me. Have you ever been caught up in this kind of nonsense with a company before?


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