Archive for the 'Consumer Advocacy' Category

College Students: Do Not Give Your Credit Card to the Wall Street Journal

With the new school year underway, and mindful of the fact that many economics students read this blog, let me repeat this periodic warning: Your econ profs are likely to offer you an “opportunity” to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal under the newly renamed Wall Street Journal University program. (I like to think, but of course do not know, that the renaming had something to do with the repeated warnings on this blog and elsewhere regarding the old Journal-in-Education program.)

I realize it’s implausible that a well-established institution like the Wall Street Journal would be running a credit card scam. Nevertheless, they are. When I subscribed through the old “Journal-in-Education” program, they tacked an extra $900 in phony charges onto my credit card bill. I called them repeatedly, they repeatedly acknowledged the “error” and promised to fix it, and, repeatedly, nothing happened. After a year, I got a refund for $450. After another year — and countless hours on the phone — I got an additional refund, still short of the entire amount. Most audaciously of all, they told me I could have the remainder of my refund if I agreed to attend a marketing event. They still have my money.

I am a long-time subscriber to the Journal and have never had these problems with subscriptions bought in the ordinary way. The Journal-in-Education, or Wall Street Journal University, or WSJ-Prof, or whatever else they’re calling it, program seems to be a separate entity that plays by its own tawdry rules. Don’t get mixed up with them.

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Poison Apple

poisonappleThere are about a million reasons why I hate my iPhone, but this one pretty much sums it all up.

On my phone, I’ve got quite a few files that were not downloaded from any of my other devices. These include pictures I’ve taken with the phone itself, pdfs I’ve downloaded through the phone’s browser, etc.

Of course, I’d like to have backups of all these files. And of course Apple makes this as difficult as possible by pushing me to use its abysmal iTunes software for creating the backup.

Now here is what iTunes does: I have photo files with names like IMG_0840.jpg — which, if not terribly descriptive, is at least immediately recognizable as a photo. I have pdfs with names like Dirac.QuantumMechanics.pdf, which is a nice, easily recognizable name. I download everything to my computer via iTunes, and here is a partial directory listing of what I get:

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REALLY Worthless Cash

Just a quick followup to review of Square Cash — further experience has confirmed that using Square Cash is a really really good way to not know whether or not you’ve managed to make or receive a payment. They transfer money from me to you. A couple days later, without warning, they transfer it back from you to me. They ignore most inquiries and respond uninformatively to others. Don’t use these guys.

On another note, I realize blogging’s been slow of late. I’m hoping to find time for some long posts in the near future.

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Worthless Cash

The future, apparently, has not quite yet arrived.

Square Cash promises to be the easy way to transfer money over the Internet. To send you $50, I just send you an email with subject line “$50″ and a cc: to — whereupon Square Cash, upon receiving the cc:, moves $50 from my bank account to yours. (First time users get an email from Square asking for their debit card numbers so the transfer can be accomplished.) Sounds like the easiest thing in the world. And it’s free.

Unfortunately, it’s worth about what you pay for it. My experience using Square Cash multiple times over the past several days indicates that, more often than not, Square transfers $50 one direction — and then a few hours later transfers it back in the opposite direction, so that on balance, no money changes hands. When this happens, you get an email from Square saying the reverse transaction was triggered by a “problem”. No further explanation.

Emails to Square are met with standard Customer Service gobbledygook that ignores key questions such as “Why is this happening?” and “What can I do to make it stop happening?” and “Going forward, can I count on it to stop happening?”. (It’s just happened yet again, so apparently the answer to the last question is “No”.)

One feels a little churlish complaining about the quality of a free service. On the other hand, I’d like to spare others the frustrating experience of dealing with Square, never knowing when a transaction is going to be permanent, and getting no useful answers from the powers that be. (All communication is by email; Square is apparently too advanced a company to use phones.)

My advice: These guys are amateurs. Stick with Paypal.

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Never Give Your Credit Card to the Wall Street Journal

Having just discovered a staggering $910 (!!!!) in unexplained and unauthorized charges to my MasterCard by the Wall Street Journal (no, these were not legit renewal fees), I have just spent what seems like the better part of four days telling my story on the phone to one customer service rep after another, each of whom has found a new way to lie to me. (“We’ll call you back by the end of the day” was the most frequent lie, followed by “we’re putting through a half-refund now and someone with higher authority will call you shortly to arrange the rest” — which turned out to be two lies in one). Finally, I decided to send an email with the whole sad story, asking for a refund and mentioning that I sure hope there won’t be any resulting confusion that interrupts my delivery service. I got an email back saying “Per your request, we’re cancelling your delivery service”. Today I had no newspaper — and still no refund.

Think of the top three worst customer service stories you’ve ever heard. Chances are excellent that versions of all three have cropped up along the way in this sordid saga, the details of which I will suppress because I’m sure they’re less interesting to you than they are to me.

But I will mention this: Aside from the lying, and the lying and the lying, there’s also the fact that absolutely nobody appears to keep any record of these conversations, so that each time I call, I’m starting from scratch, explaining the whole story to a customer service rep who won’t put me through to a supervisor until I rehash the whole thing, then waiting on hold ten minutes for said supervisor, who needs the entire story told from scratch again before connecting me to the department that’s really equipped to deal with this, where I wait on hold for another ten minutes before telling my story yet again and, 50% of the time, getting disconnected. When I call back, it’s back to Square One.

Oh, yes….and they’ve also studiously ignored my repeated requests/demands that they expunge my credit card number from their records, and refused to acknowledge my repeated notifications that they do not have my authorization to charge my credit card for anything ever again.

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Consumer Tip

sudafedHaving trouble getting Sudafed? Does your local pharmacy close at night? No problem: all you need is a set of simple step-by-step instructions for synthesizing Sudafed from crystal meth, which is readily available 24 hours a day in most American cities:

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Note to Continental Airlines

Your inability to construct a functional website does not fill me with confidence about your ability to fly me across the Atlantic Ocean.

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In a Fit of Pique

For God’s sake, don’t let your children subscribe to Sirius/XM.

Since May 4, when Sirius rearranged all its channel numbers, my radio has been badly confused. If I punch in station 23, it goes to the station that’s currently 23 for a while, then jumps to the station that used to be 23, etc. And certain stations, which according to the Sirius website are part of my standard package, are completely inaccessible.

Given my past experience with XM customer service, I knew this was not going to be an easy fix, so I’ve been putting off making the call. Today I had some spare time. Sure enough, I’ve spent over TWO HOURS on the phone with these people being alternately put on hold, lied to, put on hold, lied to some more, and put on hold again.

They claim the missing channels are missing because they’re “premium” channels not included in my package. Except that their website clearly identifies these channels as standard channels that *are* part of my package. They tell me that they’re instituting a fix at their end which requires me to leave my radio on for fifteen minutes before it takes effect; this gives them a convenient excuse to hang up and not be there fifteen minutes down the line when nothing has changed. When I complain about how long I’ve been on hold (the automated system always says the wait time is “about eight minutes” before stranding you for half an hour), they give me a direct number to call to bypass the queue. I call that number and am told that no, this number is only for radios installed on airlines or boats. I complain that I’ve just waited twenty minutes to get this message. They give me a *different* number to call, promising me that there is currently no wait at that number. Thirty five minutes later, I’m still waiting.

Ah, but what about just using the form on their web site? Well, you see, that form will not allow me to submit a query unless I give it the serial number of my radio — a serial number that it insists is wrong, even though I have *copied and pasted* it from the “My Account” section of their own damned website. Therefore my query cannot be submitted.

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