Does your furnace need to be replaced?

You rely on your furnace to work well for about six months a year. You don’t want to it to get too old and turn into a safety hazard.

You try to prolong its life by buying a plan that includes furnace inspection or maintenance once a year, plus emergency calls and visits if there’s a breakdown. Direct Energy sells them as do others (such as AtlasCare, my contractor).

But can you rely on the technician who comes to your house for an annual furnace check? I wonder when I hear stories like this one, which I wrote about last Saturday.

I received many comments from readers and I’m helping those who need it. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about people being rushed into replacing furnaces without the proper checks, especially when told there’s a salesman in the area who can write up an order right away. Seems like a conflict of interest.

I also heard from someone hoping to get a $100 rebate from Enbridge Gas for installing a new furnace, only to be told the rebates were cut off early. I helped him get the rebate and also got a response from Enbridge about what happened (see below).

Why can’t Bell fix its customer service?

Bell continues to frustrate, annoy and enrage its customers. I found out when I did my latest Star column on Bell Blues and got a very enthusiastic response.

I wondered if there was a chance that complaints were levelling off. No way. Only one reader tried to defend Ma Bell, while many others gleefully diagnosed its faults.

See comments below and at Bell Blues, where number 600 is in sight. Investors may wonder, as Bylo does in his comment posted today, how much better this company could perform if it could sharpen up its laggard approach to service.

On outsourcing customer service (yet again)

This time, it’s Sears Canada that is redirecting customers overseas when they call for information or help.

Last month, Sears closed its call centre in Regina, eliminating 250 jobs, and sending those jobs to the Philippines. Meanwhile, it’s keeping the call centres it runs in Belleville and Montreal.

I’ve heard from a few long-time customers who feel betrayed by this move. You can read their laments below.

I also want to mention Bloomex, an online florist that often delivers orders late or sends something that doesn’t match the client’s specifications. You can find complaints here, as well as here .

Remember if you see positive comments about Bloomex, they’re probably planted. The company tries to manipulate online discussion forums, but isn’t very skilled at doing so.

Instead of dealing with my readers’ complaints, Bloomex now sends puff my way, such as this comment from Brian on Aug. 27, 2009:

Everything was fine with the order and flowers were beautiful. Very good timing as she was just walking in the door! I have a very happy friend indeed!

Let’s do more to fight fraud

I can’t remember a time when fraud was so widespread. Maybe it’s because the Internet has opened up such a fertile field for spammers and scammers. Maybe it’s because older people are living longer and lack the streetproofing skills to fight off phony sales pitches.

There’s one company, based in Melbourne, Florida, that targets Canadians and calls them promising to help lower their credit card rates. They do what you can do easily for yourself and they charge a bundle for it.

You can find online complaints at Ripoff Report and Complaints Board and Who Calls Me? (This last site is quite neat.)

I really started to feel the pain when I heard from James, who got caught to the tune of more than $800. Here’s his story.

I was approached by a company called World Class Savings to fix and adjust my credit card rates. These people spoke in a manner that they were doing more of a public service and were addressing the overcharges and excessive rates by the credit card companies.

The asked for (and asked repetitively) for my credit card numbers to demonstrate the need to act on such a service. I steadfastly refused to do so until the lady effectively led the conversation into a more personal area and convinced me that she was a private investigator and had been very ethical in business and so on.

In the course of the conversation, I reluctantly gave in and I accepted the sales pitch to participate in her demonstrating their services. Well, all seemed fine but my nagging conscience said beware.

So I said to the lady I do not want to participate in their program and wish to cut all activity with them. I stated that in Canada there is a 10 day cooling off period that is law and I am exercising my right to terminate all business with them.

At first, she said it was too late. The transaction had gone through on my BMO MasterCard and they could not reverse the process. I firmly stated the law here in Ontario Canada is firm on this matter and that I would go to the American federal authorities if this matter was not resolved.

They agreed to give me all but the $100 (U.S.) of service charges by the bank. But they have not done so and I am out at this point over $850 (Canadian) for the lesson.

Question: What else can I do because this agency of crooks is targeting older people like me?

I would appreciate your help with BMO, which seemed to brush me off when I complained in July 2009, saying I was at fault and no perpetration of a crime was evident.

By the way, Ellen, I have submitted a full complaint to the Better Business Bureau of Melbourne, Florida, as well as with Federal Trade Commission for possible mail and interstate fraud, and soliciting asnd selling through misrepresentation and theft.

I asked BMO MasterCard to reverse the charges under their zero liability guarantee. (Shouldn’t this have happened already?) Still waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, I want to point to a CBC News experiment that showed how easy is it to call credit card companies and get your rates lowered (as long as you have a decent credit history).

Do you have stories about frauds affecting you and your loved ones? Please send examples and suggestions for reform.

Computer glitches hurt bank clients

TD Bank is having problems south of the border with two U.S. banks it acquired recently. Its attempts to integrate computer systems fell apart this week, causing chaos for customers waiting for salary cheques, pensions and mortgages and other payments.

The beginning of the month is a bad time for breakdowns. TD is trying to buy goodwill by depositing $25 into the accounts of some upset complainers, says this wire story.

In the days before online banking was not widespread, most customers would not have noticed. But now, they’re so aware that they’ve overwhelmed the phone lines at the bank’s call centre, filled branch lobbies and have made their gripes public on Twitter.

Canadians aren’t affected. But some are suffering with computer glitches at Ally Bank (formerly ResMor Trust, owned by GMAC). An advertising campaign created excitement, but new clients were facing delays in getting their money moved over at first.

While the problems seem to be cleared up now, suspicion always lingers, as this customer says:

Ally Bank has attracted a lot of attention on Canadian financial forums for its slick interface, 24/7 call centre and competitive high-interest savings account. So a number of us have opened up accounts to test it out.

See this thread:

They have a very nice, fast process to confirm linked accounts for electronic funds transfers, and they will credit inbound transfers instantly “in good faith” for the purpose of accruing interest. But, a number of people including myself are finding that their external accounts still haven’t been debited weeks later. Two people report that they initiated external-to-Ally transfers as long ago as September 15 (two weeks ago, 10 business days) and the money still hasn’t left their external account.

I quote CROCKD from this post:

I have three transfers outstanding from Sept.15, Sept. 17 and Sept 19. My credit union confirms that they have not received any EFT’s for transfers.
Like others, my Ally account is credited with the amounts I nominated to transfer.

One wonders if when they get your funds, is it going to be this difficult to get them back?

Is Ally going to lose credibility before they even achieve it?