Who has seen the wind?

I’m talking about Wind Mobile, Canada’s newest cellphone competitor, which persuaded the government it was really Canadian-owned, even though a foreign company owned the bulk of its equity and debt. Still, Canadian owner Globalive held the majority of voting shares.

I find Wind’s pro-consumer rhetoric refreshing. “Join the conversation. We’re in this together.” Of course, it’s easy for a company to be populist when it’s just getting started and hasn’t made any enemies yet. A year from now, let’s see if the promise of simplicity, affordable plans and no contracts is really borne out.

Also want to mention that Globalive owns Canopco, a company that charges extraordinarily high prices for calls made from hotel rooms outside Canada. I get many complaints from people who weren’t warned by the hotel, Canopco or Bell/Telus (whoever issued their calling card) that the hotel would use an intermediary. If they had known, they would have spent less time on the phone or not made any calls from the room.

So, let me know what you think of this wireless carrier and whether you’re inclined to switch — assuming you’re not tied into a long-term contract elsewhere.

Hope you all have a healthy and safe 2010. To close off the year, I’m posting a few emails from my For Follow-up file. They’re from people who ask me questions I can’t answer or who want to share information with others. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Hassles of Christmas shopping

It’s the time of year when you buy gifts for others (and yourself, too, when prices drop), and find mistakes or glitches make shopping even more stressful than it is already.

I’m posting a few laments from frustrated shoppers below, starting with one that could have been sad — when an automatic bank machine didn’t dispense the required amount — but had a happy ending when the bank relented (with a little prodding).

Please contribute your own stories, as you make your way through the Boxing Day sales.

Look before you leave

When planning for a trip, what if you have to cancel before you go? What if you have to return early because of illness? Travel insurance can help get your get money back, depending on the policy you buy and what it says.

Many travel insurance policies have skimpy coverage, full of exclusions and limitations. Moreover, the travel agents and tour companies selling these products don’t explain them properly. I see a big consumer revolt on the horizon.

In a recent column I wrote about a couple who had bought trip cancellation insurance through Expedia. They were denied coverage because the wife had a pre-existing condition (Crohn’s disease) and her medication had changed. Luckily for them, Expedia decided to overrule the insurer’s decision and try to improve the disclosure.

Also, my blog recently featured a travel insurance horror story told by KP (the first comment). She, too, had a fight with an insurer over a claim denied because of an unstable condition, which she resolved in her favour by going to small claims court. Here’s what she told me:

I am happy to report that after a case conference where the lawyer for Manulife was literally speechless, they have agreed to reimburse the airfare for me and my husband, as well as my sister and her husband, together with the costs I incurred as a result of being forced to bring the claim against them in the first place.

We considered proceeding to trial in order to get compensation for the emotional stress inflicted upon my sister; however, her condtiion has deteriorated to the point where it is unlikely she will live to see the trial.

People should be informed when purchasing travel insurance that Manulife is interpreting their own policy so strictly that anyone who has so much as seen a doctor for a sniffle will be denied coverage if their trip is cancelled.

Our portion of the lawsuit (mine and my husband’s) was settled the moment Manulife received the claim. They said it was “always their intention to pay our claim,” although they waited until they were sued to do so. If that doesn’t prove that this company denies everyone in the hopes that they won’t or can’t sue, I don’t know what is. These practises really need to stop. The time and energy my sister wasted fighting this is nothing short of criminal.

Milan Korcok, a medical journalist, specializes in helping people understand travel insurance at his helpful website. He advises giving it the same attention as selecting a hotel for your trip: Does the room overlook the park or the dumpster? You need to know your policy inside out and the best way to do that is to buy from a company that specializes in travel insurance, not someone who sells it as a sideline.

I’m posting some emails I received from readers about their own experiences, along with Korcok’s comments. He seems to be saying two things (1) Most policies cover less than you think they do. (2) If you have a medical issue, don’t rely on verbal assurances that you’re covered. Get everything in writing.

Can credit cards protect you from online scams?

Visa and MasterCard promise you zero liability from unauthorized transactions on your card, whether in stores, on the phone or online. Check what they say here and here.

However, the promise falls short when it comes to bogus online “free trials,” designed to trap you into making recurring monthly payments for cosmetics, drugs or vitamins.

Once you say yes to the trial, you will find yourself going back to your credit card issuer every month, trying to stop getting billed for shipments you didn’t think you had authorized.

Here’s the problem. The terms and conditions of the deal are buried in fine print on the website. You may not realize what you’re agreeing to, since you think you’re ordering only a few free products.

The credit card issuers, however, assume you’ve read all the “gotchas” and you’re going ahead anyway. They support the right of these companies to keep sending you unwanted stuff and keep billing you each month.

You think you’re in the driver’s seat with the zero liability guarantee. Instead, you spend hours on the phone trying to reverse the charges and worrying that the scammers will hunt you down and start billing you again after you get a new credit card.

Why don’t the credit card issuers stand up for consumers in these recurring billing frauds? Why do they hold you responsible for not seeing the zingers that are so well hidden to be virtually invisible?

If they blocked irresponsible companies from using their cards to bill you each month for free trial offers, then the promise would really mean something.

Where’s the warranty for Microsoft Windows?

I took my laptop out of town last week and hooked it up to my hotel’s Internet service. When it stopped working after I got home — I couldn’t load Windows and kept getting messages about fatal system errors — I blamed the hotel.

So why did it crash? The repair shop said Windows often messed up while doing updates and I remembered seeing it do an update while I was on the road. (Had to wait a while to turn off my computer.)

Here’s why I’m angry. I bought my Lenovo laptop last February, along with an extended warranty for two years. But I’m in the first year of ownership, so I’m not covered for the cost of reinstalling Windows — or for buying another copy of Microsoft Office.

Lenovo’s warranty covers only hardware, not software. But the computer comes with an operating system, Windows XP, chosen by Lenovo. Why slough off responsibility?

Where’s the warranty for Microsoft Windows? Why can’t I get covered for a problem that Windows itself created doing an update?

Now I understand why the Mac guy in the Apple commercials always acts so superior to the PC guy. I knew Windows often had bugs, but I picked an older operating system (XP) to avoid the Vista horror stories I’d heard about.

I’m really annoyed with Microsoft making me pay good money to fix a computer that’s not even 10 months old. I’m working on my office computer all day and keep the Lenovo just for after-hours use.

Are Apple products any better? The other people at the repair shop all had MacBooks.

I bought my son an iPod Touch for his birthday last August. It already has a problem and he has to send it back to Apple. (His Best Buy extended warranty didn’t kick in yet.) Also, iPods have flimsy batteries that won’t keep a charge after a couple of years.

How can consumers protect themselves from problems with bug-ridden technology and built-in obsolescence? Suggestions are welcome.

What to do about online price errors?

Here are tales of two people who found online price errors — one at Future Shop and the other at Expedia — and kept complaining until they finally got a refund.

Getting refunds isn’t always easy to do. Companies write clauses in their contracts saying they have no responsibility for errors. They correct the price later and insist you pay the corrected price.

Also, you need to have the right evidence, such as a screen shot of the wrong price, that you can forward to the online retailer. If you can’t show the error, you may be out of luck.

As consumers, we need to insist that retailers have a responsibility to make good on price errors, whether they occur in stores, in print ads or online.

If companies choose to set up shopping websites, they have to make sure their prices are right before posting them.

Questions, we get questions….

It’s been more than a year since I ran this feature. I want to hear from blog readers about what they would do.

I have two dilemmas for which I’d like your input — an email privacy issue with Sears Canada and a computer purchase problem with The Source.

Dear blog readers, please tell me what you think is fair. Since these are fairly long, I’ll post the details below.