So many problems, so little time

This blog gets a daily average of 9,380 hits (up from 5,900 a year ago).

It pops up prominently when people with problems search the Internet.

So, please permit me to use today’s post for a panoply of complaints that can’t find a home elsewhere.

(OK, enough P words.)

“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” said Benjamin Franklin. But I won’t say it because I promised not to persist in this practice.

Notes from the field 09/09

So, what’s new? Here’s the breaking news in my world.

A computer glitch at Future Shop’s website creates disappointment for bargain-hunting Xbox 360 buyers.

TD Canada Trust raises the base rate on secured lines of credit (after hitting unsecured lines this spring), angering many borrowers.

National Home Services sends salespeople to your door, offering to replace your water heater. You have 10 days to change your mind if you say yes. But NHS can install the water heater before the cooling off period ends, requiring you to pay to remove it.

World Money Show debuts next month in Toronto, offering lots of great speakers, including a well-known consumer advocate and blogger.

Keep reading below for all the details.

What to do about unfair contracts?

Jackie and Robert Boone went to small claims court to fight a car rental company’s unfair contract. They were paying an extra $25 a day for a loss damage waiver, which was supposed to cover repairs if the car was in an accident.

Instead, they were charged $5,500 because the protection didn’t kick in if the car collided with a stationary object — in their case, a parking lot wall. Read about their victory here.

It’s not easy to launch a legal battle. The couple, who live in England, ended up out of pocket at the end. The company appealed the small claims court win, forcing them to hire a lawyer for the next round. Isn’t there a better way?

Unfair contracts are everywhere. Insurance companies throw in exclusions left and right. Credit card contracts are full of traps and are often amended. But the banks send you only the new clauses without any context to compare them.

Can you cross out the stuff you don’t like and substitute new terms? That may work in big-money deals for cars and homes, but rarely in transactions involving smaller sums.

Better disclosure would help. But the plain language movement is stalled. Company lawyers prefer that you don’t understand what you’re signing.

Robert Boone thinks the answer is for governments to outlaw unfair contracts. While that would be nice, I doubt the business lobbyists would ever allow that to happen.

So, for now, you have to read through the dense legalese, ask questions, shop around and, ultimately, use the legal system to fight everyday injustices.

Telecom troubles, part two

The complaints keep coming about telecom providers, so I’m starting a new section. The earlier version appeared a few months ago.

The main issues are as follows, although I’m sure I’ll miss a few:

— Unexpected charges, higher than what was advertised or promised by a salesperson.

— Recurring billing errors, which seem impossible to correct.

— Being forced to give 30 days’ notice of cancellation, while being able to sign up for service the same day.

— Lousy service by call centre staff, who follow scripts, can’t find information on your previous calls and cut you off.

— Lousy service by technicians, who miss appointments, fail to diagnose problems when they do show up or damage property.

— Quick assignment of overdue accounts to a collection agency, without checking to see if there’s a legitimate dispute that leads to non-payment.

Guess that’s a long enough list. I’ll post a few comments below to get started.

Computer buyers sound off

You buy a computer and hope it works. If it doesn’t, you may lose all the programs, photos, podcasts and other personal stuff you’ve put onto it.

Computers aren’t always reliable and sometimes break down just after the warranty expires. Manufacturers and retailers tell you to get lost unless you buy their costly extended warranties, which often fail to cover the parts you need.

Needless to say, I get lots of complaints from computer buyers. And while I have some success in getting them resolved, I wish I could do more.

In my experience, the brand-name makers don’t seem to care if a machine breaks down after the first few years of ownership. It’s not their responsibility, they tell owners. Time to shell out big bucks for repairs or buy something new.

After a recent column about Dell, I heard from other Dell customers, most angry but some impressed. I also caught a few complaints about HP and Acer.

These frustrated buyers sound similar to those with lemon appliances. After paying good money, they expect to own something for many years. So it’s a shock when the company sees their purchase as a disposable item, fit only for the garbage or landfill.