Most of the time, nobody notices when a huge multinational corporation is stealing money from its customers. But sometime the stealing is so blatant that we actually find out about it. I can offer three examples, probably fairly typical, from my own personal experience of what large corporations can get away with in the United States of America.
T-Mobile Managed to Steal 30 Dollars from Me
My wife is not a very technologically savvy person. In fact, she is the opposite of somebody who would be even remotely interested in keeping up with technology. Whenever her computer for some reason stops working, she simply yells at me, usually in Japanese: “Chotto kitte, ne! Mata nanika dame!” (Would you come here? Something is wrong again). Sometime she yells it at me in English, but she never specifies what it is that is “wrong”. It could be a disconnected mouse, no Internet connection, or anything else.
We have intercom in our house, which means that all she has to do to talk to me if she is downstairs and I am on the second floor is to press one of four buttons on the intercom panel which is installed in every room, namely the one which says INSIDE/PATIO TALK.
But she refuses to do that. Why press buttons when you can yell? I try to see these and other idiosyncracies of my wife as a charming eccentricity. I should note that she is also a genius chef, which more than makes up for her reluctance to keep up with technology.
She has a flip cell phone, the kind that just about anybody can figure out how to use, and I chose the prepaid plan from T-Mobile for her phone because she almost never uses it as she basically just keep her phone in her car in case of an emergency. Fortunately, there have been only two minor emergencies in the 31 years that we have been married requiring her to call me: each time she locked her car keys in her car and she had to call me to come to her rescue with my car keys.
She also needs the cell phone when she is changing planes on her way back from Japan, which she visits occasionally to spend some time with her aging mother, in order to let me know about delayed departures and such so that I would know when to pick her up at the airport.
A few days before she was supposed to come back from Japan to US two months ago, as I was making sure that her prepaid plan had enough minutes on it, I saw to my consternation that there were zero minutes available on her plan under a REFILL REQUIRED button. So I started a chatting session with T-Mobile online to let them know that there must be some mistake because a week ago, there were still 30 dollars on the plan, which is not supposed to expire until the end of the year. No problem, said the T-Mobile representative chatting with me online, we fill figure out what happened. But there was a problem because he needed to know her pin number, which I did not know (and she would not know it either). OK, no problem, said the T-Mobile guy, what are the last four digits of the last call received on your phone? But since I did not know that either as the phone was turned off somewhere in Japan, the T-Mobile representative refused to help me.
And that was how T-Mobile simply stole 30 dollars from me.
I was angry, but what could I do? So I put 10 dollars on the phone from my credit card to make sure that my wife would be able to call me from the phone once she is in Los Angeles. And sure enough, she did call me to let me know that all the connecting planes from LA were delayed and that instead of picking her up at the airport here at 11 PM, she wanted me to pick her up at 9 AM the next day.
From now on, I will be putting only increments of 10 dollars on my wife’s phone to make sure that T-Mobile will not be able to steal more than 10 dollars at a time from me again.
Amazon.com Managed to Steal 79.95 Dollars from Me
Most years I spend quite a bit of money on electronic toys. Over the years I bought quite a few of these toys that I love so much from Amazon. The last one was a Bluetooth speaker for $79.95.
I loved the design of the speaker, the round push buttons and the cool green and red lights on it almost as much as the sound of the speaker, which I paired effortlessly with my iPod, iPad and iPhone so that within a few minutes, I was able to take my toys with me to any of the rooms in our house while listening to the rich sound of the speaker playing my music on one of these cool toys.
I was in heaven – but only for a day, because the next day, the speaker started turning itself off after a few seconds. I figured that it must have been a faulty battery. So I contacted Amazon, this time by calling them, to let them know about the problem, and they sent me a return label to return the non-functioning speaker to them. I used the label as instructed and mailed the broken toy to Amazon.
After a few days I received an e-mail from Amazon informing me that the item was received. But to my surprise, they did not refund $79.95 back to my credit card which is what every other company would do.
Instead of giving me back my money, the almighty Amazon.com Company decided to keep the money in some kind of a “credit” for me, although I never agreed to such an arrangement. If you buy something with a credit card, you have the right as a consumer to call your credit card company to let them know that you were sold a broken product that you returned and that you want your money back.
So I called the credit card company, told them that I don’t want to pay the $79.95 on my bill, and explained to them why I did not want to do that. The credit card company (MasterCard) opened a claim and assigned the processing of my claim to a company called Synchrony Bank in Orlando, Florida. When Synchrony Bank asked me for documentation, I promptly forwarded to them e-mails from Amazon confirming that they did indeed received the malfunctioning speaker from me.
But after about 10 days, I received a form letter from Synchrony Bank stating the following:
“We understand that you are seeking a credit to your account for returned merchandise or a cancelled order. Each merchant determines their cancellation and/or return policy. In this case, they have informed us this transaction [sic] is outside of their cancellation and/or return policy.
Customer Service Department”
Translated into English, this must mean that if Amazon says that they are not going to give me my money back, Synchrony Bank is not going to lift a finger for a customer who went through the process and supplied them with all the documentation as required.
I in fact anticipated that this would most likely be the result, I just went through the process to confirm what I thought was likely to happen. Amazon is a huge multinational corporation, probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest customer of Synchrony Bank, which is why the bank is not going to do anything for me lest it should displease Amazon.
I have been shopping with Amazon for about 15 years now, but I will never buy anything from them again for as long as I live. In the case of T-Mobile, perhaps it could have been some kind of a computer glitch that made my 30 dollars disappear. But both Amazon and Synchrony Bank have documentation that clearly shows that I returned a defective product for which I was (allegedly) issued a credit that I refused to accept because I never agreed to such an arrangement in the first place.
So there could be no computer glitch involved here, and it is a policy of Amazon not to return money once the customer pays, even if the product is returned because it is faulty.
Is it also the policy of Amazon to eventually disappear phantom credits? It would seem so.
I tried to recover the money that Amazon stole for me by finding another product worth about 80 dollars to see if the phantom credit that Amazon allegedly issued to me really exists, instead of crediting the money back to my account, which is what a less arrogant and less thievish company would do.
But the credit does not exist. When I logged into my Amazon account and tried to use it to purchase something else, the website asked me to confirm that I would be using the same MasterCard to pay for it. Amazon still has all previous information about myself, including my billing and shipping address and MasterCard number, but nothing about “a credit” in the amount of $79.95.
I will never buy anything from Amazon, not even a single book, for as long as I live, because I cannot be sure that they will not steal my money again. I will be buying from other sources, preferably in local stores.
Incidentally, I did buy another Bluetooth speaker in the meantime (from a local Radio Shack store in case I had to return it). It works just fine and I absolutely love it.
Amazon got to keep 79.95 dollars that it stole from me, although it lost a customer of 15 years. But they are so big that they simply don’t care about little details like that.
Cox Communications Almost Managed to Disappear My Telephone Number
I also spend quite a bit of money every month for telephone charges. I have two business lines, as well as a toll free (800) number, up until recently I also had a standalone fax line until I decided to finally retire it, and my wife calls Japan just about every day. In fact she is on the phone to her mother, to whom I was also speaking just a few minutes ago, as I am writing this post.
A friend advised me some time ago to switch my home phone service to Ooma, a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone that according to Wikipedia was started by Ashton Kutcher in 2004. It is much cheaper than traditional fixed phone lines. You can actually get away with paying only a few dollars for taxes and nothing for incoming and outgoing calls once you spend about a hundred dollars for the Ooma phone device. I chose the more expensive version which costs 15 dollars a month for a year, and 25 dollars a month from the second year, because this version also include 1,000 minutes of international calls, which is something that I used to pay for extra when I was with Cox Communications. The monthly bill from Cox for just one line used to be 65 dollars, which did not include international calling charges. So once I switched to Oooma, I got my initial investment of about a hundred dollars back in just a few months.
The problem was, I wanted to switch my home phone number to Oooma because it is a number that I was using for the last 14 years.
According to US laws, consumers have the right to take their phone numbers with them to their new service provider and they can do it through a process called “porting”. So I sent a request to port my home phone number to Cox Communications and waited.
I had a feeling that Cox Communication would not give up a fairly lucrative customer without a fight, and I was right. Twice I received a letter from Cox Communication stating that I my home phone number was not eligible for porting because I was still on a contract with Cox. But I happened to know that there was no contract. After I called Cox three times and asked them for something that would prove that such a contract existed, they could not find anything.
After that I received another letter stating that my number could not be ported to Ooma because Ooma rejected the porting. But Oooma of course did not reject anything.
During my fourth call to Cox Communications, when I received yet another monthly bill from them for a service that I no longer wanted, they told me that should the service be discontinued, my number would probably no longer exist, without specifying the reason for that.
Most people probably give up at that point if they need to keep their old number. But I was so mad at Cox that I told them that I was not going to pay them a single penny no matter what, not even if it meant that I would lose the telephone number that I was using for the last 14 years.
Next day, I finely received a message from Oooma that my home phone number was ported to them, after about 3 months of fighting with Cox, and a week later I received a check from Cox for about 70 dollars for overpayment for services.
But until the last moment I had no idea whether I would be able to keep my phone number or not.
The three examples that I offer above illustrate the fact that large corporations steal our money left and right these days simply because they know that they can get away with it. Although there is not much that we can do about it, I think that we should try to fight back whenever we can and as much as we can.
If we don’t fight back, not only large corporations like T-Mobile, Amazon, or Cox Communications, but just about every business will try to steal as much money as possible from every customer because stealing money outright from powerless customers will simply become a perfectly acceptable way of doing business.
It is of course also quite possible that I am hopelessly behind the times if I don’t even realize that stealing money from powerless customers has been a perfectly acceptable way of doing business for a very long time.