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June 15, 2015

PayPal Gets Its Wrist Slapped by FCC for Violations

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

  In May, PayPal sent its customers an email notifying them of forthcoming changes to the PayPal User Agreement because eBay and PayPal are becoming separate companies.

One section of that revised agreement announces changes to how the company can contact you.

In short, it provides that you automatically give permission to PayPal to call or text you, via autodialed or prerecorded call, on any telephone number (cell or landline) you have given them or that they can find for you, for almost any purpose including to sell you stuff and to collect debts.

*MOUSE PRINT:

1.10 Calls to You; Mobile Telephone Numbers. You consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages from PayPal at any telephone number that you have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained. We may place such calls or texts to (i) notify you regarding your account; (ii) troubleshoot problems with your account (iii) resolve a dispute; (iv) collect a debt; (v) poll your opinions through surveys or questionnaires, (vii) contact you with offers and promotions; or (viii) as otherwise necessary to service your account or enforce this User Agreement, our policies, applicable law, or any other agreement we may have with you. The ways in which you provide us a telephone number include, but are not limited to, providing a telephone number at Account opening, adding a telephone number to your Account at a later time, providing it to one of our employees, or by contacting us from that phone number. If a telephone number provided to us is a mobile telephone number, you consent to receive SMS or text messages at that number. We won’t share your phone number with third parties for their purposes without your consent, but may share your phone numbers with our Affiliates or with our service providers, such as billing or collections companies, who we have contracted with to assist us in pursuing our rights or performing our obligations under this User Agreement, our policies, applicable law, or any other agreement we may have with you. You agree these service providers may also contact you using autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages, as authorized by us to carry out the purposes we have identified above, and not for their own purposes. Standard telephone minute and text charges may apply if we contact you.

It also provides that if you don’t like it, you can cancel your account:

*MOUSE PRINT:

IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THE AMENDED USER AGREEMENT, PRIVACY POLICY OR ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY, YOU MAY CLOSE YOUR ACCOUNT BEFORE JULY 1, 2015 AND YOU WILL NOT BE BOUND BY THE AMENDED TERMS.

There is just one small problem with all of this. It is illegal. PayPal cannot just impose all these terms. With respect to robocalling, for example, they have to get your express written permission to allow it. They also have to tell you that you are not required to agree to these terms and they cannot deny you services or terminate your account if you opt-out. Oops.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the much too polite letter that the FCC sent to PayPal last week:

Click top right corner to enlarge.

Because of the uproar created about the calling changes even before the FCC letter was sent to PayPal, the company posted a link in their blog to opt-out of being called. In relevant part, the post says this:

You can choose not to receive autodialed or prerecorded message calls by clicking here and contacting customer support.

MrConsumer clicked that link and only found the means to contact PayPal by phone or email message. There was no specific opt-out choice. So he filled out their form, using the closest relevant topic (changing/updating account information) and said that he wanted “to opt-out of all calls and texts from PayPal.”

What did he get back from them? An automated, non-responsive answer, that in essence says to write again. Great work, Paypal.

PayPal answer

• • •

June 8, 2015

The Price They Advertise is Not the Price You Pay

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:08 am

  Enough is enough. Isn’t it time that cell and cable companies stopped advertising seemingly low monthly prices for their service, while tacking on a multitude of junk fees, undisclosed charges, and taxes that significantly boost your bill?

Recently the Huffington Post did an exposé, using Verizon FiOS’ new pick your own channel bundle for $74.99 as an example. When you added all the other charges, you actually had to pay over 60% more than the advertised price.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Huffington Post
Click to Enlarge

There were equipment/HD fees, FDV administrative fee, broadcast TV fee, regional sports fee, franchise fee, USF fee, federal/state/local taxes, etc. There could also be installation fees, activation fees, and early termination fees depending on the offer.

Verizon is certainly not alone in tacking on all these fees. Comcast and Time Warner are equal opportunity offenders, as are the wireless cell companies.

Is it any wonder that these types of companies rate low in customer satisfaction surveys and on trust indices?

Maybe there needs to be a requirement, like airfares, that a single all-inclusive price must be the amount advertised, and not these bait and switch prices.

• • •

May 25, 2015

Elaborate Fake Schools Lure Students, Fool Employers

Filed under: Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:23 am

  Last week, the New York Times featured an extraordinary in-depth investigative piece about a company in Pakistan that has allegedly created over 100 fake high school and university websites (see list) that hand out fake degrees.

Diploma mills are nothing new, but these websites are slickly produced with great graphics, and have detailed information at every link.

Branton
Click above

Many of these schools are adorned with logos from known and unknown accreditation organizations, student testimonials, and even links to reports about the schools on CNN.

Example 1:

This CNN iReport touts the success of Brooklyn Park University:

CNN
Click above

*MOUSE PRINT:

That report really is at CNN.com — no tricks. How did it get there? The entire iReport section is a place for average citizens to upload news stories that they witnessed. CNN has a small disclaimer on each story that it has not been verified by the network.

Example 2:

And then there are student testimonials on some of the college sites like this one:

testimonial 1

*MOUSE PRINT:

What’s this kid, maybe 19 years old? That means, according to his testimonial, that he started working as a supervisor at the age of 12. And it seems he not only got a bachelor’s degree from Woodrow University (above), but he liked the experience so much that he got another bachelor’s degree from Johnstown University — all by about the age of 19.

degree 2

In fact, this guy is a male model and his pictures are for sale on Shutterstock.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Shuttterstock model

Example 3:

And the pay for professors must be pretty low because this teacher of business management coincidentally also moonlights as a model.

*MOUSE PRINT:

"professor"

Scam schools attract two types of students: those trying to pull one over on others by getting a bogus degree, and those who think they are applying to a genuine school to get an online education. Both may pay thousands of dollars for something that is ultimately worthless.

And then there’s another potential victim — all of us — who may come in contact with one of these people who was hired unwittingly by an employer who took their resume at face value without further checking.

The company denied the charges in the NYT story. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s equivalent of the FBI raided the company’s offices, seized computers and arrested 45 employees the day after the story was published. And CNN has removed iReport stories about (only some of) these schools from its website.

May 27th update: The president of the company behind these schools was just arrested in Pakistan.

• • •

May 18, 2015

Ambiguous 2-Fer Offers

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:34 am

  Everybody loves a bargain, and when a company offers a second product free or at reduced price, that can be an attention-grabber.

The problem is that too often companies advertise 2-fer offers that are ambiguous at best, causing the shopper to jump to a conclusion about pricing that might be erroneous.

Example 1:

4.95 checks

Okay, what are these people offering? Is it two boxes of checks for a total of $4.95 and you get a third box free? Is it merely buy one box for $4.95, get a second box free? Or is it $4.95 for each box, and if you buy two, you get the third box free?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer in this case: This is a straight buy one box for $4.95, get another one free. (That’s an amazingly low price until you factor in mandatory handling charges of $3.45 per box.)


Example 2:

49 cents checks

Now, what’s this deal? Is each book of checks 49 cents? Is one box 49 cents when you buy two other boxes for $13.44 each? Are two boxes $13.44 period?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer when you clickthrough to their website is that this is a buy one for regular price offer, get the second box for 49 cents. So, apparently the first box is $12.95.

Incidentally, two many of these cheap check printers do not disclose how many checks are in a box. If memory serves correctly, it was standard practice to get eight books of checks in a box, or 200 total. Now some sellers only provide 150 checks, and others only 100.


Example 3:

Staples paper

So cases of paper are $4.99 after rebate at Staples “when you buy two.” So do you have to buy two cases at regular price and then get the third for only $4.99? Or are two cases $4.99 total? Or are cases $4.99 each, but you have to buy two of them to get that price?

MOUSE PRINT*:

In this example, unlike the check ads, the stated price is meant to apply per item. So, paper is $4.99 each case, but you must buy two to get that price each.

With these three examples, you have to wonder if sellers ever look at their offers to make sure that they are clear and unambiguous.

• • •

April 26, 2015

Despite Crushing Publicity, TurboTax Sales Surge

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 8:56 am

  In January, we were the first to call national attention to TurboTax’s nasty and inconspicuous ploy of stripping its flagship desktop income tax preparation software of key tax forms, thus forcing long-time users to upgrade to significantly more expensive versions. (See series of Mouse Print* stories.) Customers were livid and nearly 3000 of them posted one-star reviews on Amazon.

Major media picked up on the story, and after three weeks of a public pummeling, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, finally relented (after some half-hearted attempts to satisfy customers) and offered free upgrades to everyone.

Then came the revelation that crooks were claiming income tax refunds via TurboTax’s online software before their rightful owners could. Some states temporarily stopped accepting TurboTax returns. The FBI, Congress, and the FTC all launched investigations. And Intuit finally strengthened verification of identities on its website. This dual onslaught of negative press spanned most of January and February.

TurboTax headlines

One would think with the crushing and sustained negative publicity the company received over this period in the height of tax season that their sales would surely plummet. After all, consumers were mad as hell about the costly upgrades being forced on them, and worried as hell that TurboTax online was facilitating theft of their tax refunds.

According to Streetinsider.com, however, TurboTax desktop sales dropped only 6% or about 300,000 units, but online sales surged by two and a half million additional tax returns.

MOUSE PRINT*:

Unit Sales of 2015 TurboTax
TurboTax Sales

It is unfathomable to MrConsumer that millions felt more comfortable with TurboTax online this year than last, and that only relatively few abandoned the company’s desktop product. Wasn’t anyone paying attention except the two people who sued Intuit last week? Are all the alternatives just not up to the task? Or were those extra 2.5 million returns all filed by crooks?

• • •
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