The questions I get every day

March 19 2009 by Ellen Roseman

Since I write about everyday issues, I get an immense amount of email. My readers often ask the same questions in response to my columns and blog posts.

Here’s what they want to know:

— How can banks raise the base rates on personal lines of credit during a recession when the Bank of Canada is lowering rates?

— How can door-to-door sellers promise savings on gas and hydro bills and then lock you into long-term deals at much higher prices?

— How can Bell and Rogers continue to do business when they make so many billing errors and their customer service is so horrible?

— How can financial advisers sell investment products that make them money but are not always in my best interest?

I’m posting some of their comments below, along with links to a petition to tell your MP you don’t approve of banks raising their rates.

25 comments

  1. RH

    Mar 19 2009

    Hello Ellen, I came across your web page and am hoping you can provide some guidance.

    I am searching for ways of resolving my 12 month cancellation saga with Direct Energy for my residential electricity account.

    I have not found a way past the “customer service gatekeepers” at Direct Energy. I have, according to my colleagues, a remarkably detailed and thorough electronic log of communications over the last year documenting calls, dates, response etc.

    It is clear that I am being “stonewalled”. But others also say they are having trouble being able to talk to someone at Direct Energy that can actually DO something.

    I am now at the point where I am seriously considering purchasing space in at least the local paper in order to publish my records relating to the total absence of customer service at Direct Energy and their lack of responsiveness, with an accompanying byline “Direct Energy Sucks and Here’s Why”. According to my records, they owe me approximately $200 and counting.

    ————————————————————

    Hi Ellen. Thank you for sending Mr. H’s note. He was accidentally put on an incorrect contract rate for electricity.

    We corrected the issue in October 2008, and at that time reimbursed Mr. Hollis for the difference between the prices he paid, based on consumption amounts we received from the utility.

    We have contacted him to confirm that no further reimbursement is warranted.

  2. JQ

    Mar 19 2009

    You are doing some great articles on the Financial Services Industry. Someone needs to shine a light on these people.

    What happens to the holders of Labour Sponsored Funds? Some of them now cannot be redeemed (apparently).

    Another Financial Services scam, unfortunately with tacit government approval, which roped in a lot of suckers (myself included) on the advice of these so-called “Advisors”.

  3. Larry

    Mar 19 2009

    Here’s an intetesting article on a recent B.C. court case. You may be able to obtain a return of your investment losses.

    http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=74872&email_access=on

    Canada: Fiduciary Duties And Commission Income
    23 February 2009
    Article by Rob Edger

    In a recent British Columbia Supreme Court case, Longstaff v. Robinson and IPC Investment Corporation, the plaintiff alleged that his broker had a fiduciary duty to him which had been breached, in addition to breaching contractual and tort duties.

    In the spring of 1999, Mr. Robinson (the broker) recommended that Mr. Longstaff (the client) borrow $200,000 in order to leverage his investments.

    Because of a dramatic downturn in the stock market, Mr. Longstaff suffered financial losses, which he sought to recoup from Mr. Robinson.

    Mr. Longstaff argued that Mr. Robinson had breached his fiduciary duties in recommending that Mr. Longstaff switch to a leveraged investing plan.

    Mr. Longstaff submitted that Mr. Robinson promoted this plan and frightened Mr. Longstaff into borrowing $200,000 for the purpose of purchasing investments so that Mr. Robinson could earn a substantial commission.

    Mr. Longstaff argued that the advice was motivated by self-interest and was given in breach of Mr. Robinson’s fiduciary obligations to provide comprehensive and selfless advice.

    The court found that the advisor/client relationship could be elevated to a fiduciary relationship if the client reposes trust and confidence in the advisor and relies on the advisor’s advice to make business decisions.

    In considering whether there is a fiduciary relationship in an advisory situation, the courts consider whether the relationship included the presence of vulnerability, trust, reliance on the advisor’s discretion, and the existence of professional rules or codes of conduct.

    The court found that, in this particular case, a fiduciary relationship existed because the client was an unsophisticated investor with a limited education who had minimal experience in making financial investments and had placed his complete trust and confidence in his broker.

    The client had relied on the broker to properly advise him and had followed all of the broker’s recommendations.

    A fiduciary relationship requires the investment advisor to act consistently with the trust reposed in him by the client and not to betray the trust out of self-interest.

    To succeed on the claim for breach of fiduciary duty, the client must establish that the broker placed his personal interests before those of his client and took advantage of the relationship for his direct or indirect personal advantage.

    In this case, the court found that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation that Mr. Robinson recommended a leveraging strategy to earn higher commissions.

    The court stated that to establish a breach of fiduciary duty, more is required than the mere fact that the advisor earned commission income on a transaction.

    So, while the court did find that there was a fiduciary relationship, the broker did not breach his fiduciary duties and thus was not liable to his former client.

  4. OM

    Mar 19 2009

    Thank you very much for your highly informative column about segregated funds in the March 8/’09 issue of the Toronto Star. For your academic interest, I have summarized below, my experience with a Manulife Segregated Fund:

    July 31,1998 – I purchased a $20,000 fund with maturity date of July 31, 2008.

    Dec 18,2000 – my financial advisor locked in the fund’s value at $24,373 and this changed the maturity date to Dec. 18, 2010.

    Aug 13, 2007 – I sold the fund for $21,963. This was a gain of $1,963 over a period of slightly more than nine years and infers an average annual increase in the fund’s value of $218.11 — or a yield of 1.09% per annum

    I’m sure you can guess what I tell my friends about segregated funds.

    I decided not to hold the segregated fund to maturity for the following reasons:

    – After the fund peaked at $24,373 at the end of 2000, it leveled off for a few years and then slowly declined throughout 2006 and early 2007 (which were reasonably good periods economically).

    – I sensed some “storm clouds” in mid-2007, largely because of declines in the value of five of the six mutual funds in my RRIF and in Aug ’07 decided to unload the Manulife Seg. Fund. (My five mutual funds performed abysmally during the last half of 2007 and I redeemed them all in January 2008 for fixed income investments— was I ever lucky to avoid the “market melt-down”!).=

  5. Bob

    Mar 20 2009

    I am filing a small claims suit against Bell for overbilling and breaching a contract (promise by phone and email).

    I will, I hope, be filing the claim today and serving this evening or tomorrow. If anyone can post info that I can somehow substantiate, it would be much appreciated.

    What I mean by ‘substantiate’ is ‘prove’. Although the burden of proof is more relaxed in small claims court, I expect Bell may mount a vigorous defense and claim that all the ‘screen scrapes’ from websites are simply hearsay and should be given no weight.

    I am looking for stories similar to mine, overbilling, broken promises, endless run-around (I spent more than 20 hours on the phone with dozens of people), constant hang ups when certain questions are asked (for instance, I asked someone in Billing what they were going to write on my account, since so many things had NOT been written on my account and they promptly hung up), promises of refunds and then claims the promise was never made, promises of certain services (say, Internet speed) that were broken and disavowed, having to give ‘name rank and serial number’ over and over again on the same call, etc.

    I will be filing tomorrow and have my own evidence and links to a CRTC decision about a rebate situation where Bell exhibited the same behavior. I would like to present corroborating material if I can.

    Scraping websites is better than nothing, but Emails confirmed by a phone call and/or letters in writing would be much more effective. Whether or not I prevail in court, I will publish the process, evidence submitted and the outcome of the case so that others can follow suit.

    In my case, they PROMISED not to take me off a ‘plan’ and send me back to ‘base rates’ in 2005 after doing it to me once. Sometime between then and now, I discovered (I don’t see the bills) that they had broken that promise and were charging me as much as 78 cents a minute for North American LD calls.

    The month I complained (Dec 2008), I actually used Skype for most of my LD calls. They cost me $3 for about 1,100 minutes. The same minutes, had they been done on my home phone, would have cost me more than a hundred times as much. Bell would have billed me 32 cents per minute versus Skype, which I calculated cost me $0.0029 cents per minute.

    From whenever they did their ‘stealth switch’ to bogus ‘basic rates’ until December 2008 when I caught them, they billed me at these crazy rates and they will not refund a cent. It took me three months and weeks of my personal time to get a firm determination that this was the case.

    I was initially promised a credit of over $400 (not nearly enough, but something) in December, but they disavowed that in March and then proceeded to put me through further hell alternately saying they were investigating and not to pay the bill and then calling me to threaten they would cut off my service. Oh my. Anyway, if anyone can help me gather and substantiate similar horror stories, I would much appreciate it.

    I *was* actually given a refund in 2005. If anyone has fought and won, I would appreciate hearing that too, even if it was easy.

    Of particular interest to me are any legal precedents that support such a claim. I was unable to find any court case or principle in law, for instance, to say that there is any limit to the difference between the value that one gets and the price one pays.

    I think that most people would consider charging a thousand dollars for something worth ten *should* be illegal, but is it? I will be going on the theory that a contract has to have some consideration on both sides and that providing a $1 service for $100 is effectively equivalent to a contract without consideration on one side.

    I did not agree to pay such a differential and in fact specifically forbade them charging me that, both verbally and in writing on four separate locations (two verbal, one email, on their hopelessly broken web contact form). However, I really feel that something so obviously unfair allows legal recourse all on its own.

    I find it particularly troubling that not a single agency that I contacted (CRTC, etc) responded to my requests for assistance, except Ms Roseman here.

    Like others, this has taken a terrible toll that has no proper remedy in small claims court. However, at least if I prevail and can pass that on to others, it will help me feel a little better.

    Wish me luck in court. From what I can tell, it will take months and Bell is likely to continue doing their best to put me through the wringer. Mercifully, I have at least come to a point where I don’t have to listen to their mindless theories that it’s OK for them to arbitrarily bill what they please and threaten to cut off my service if I don’t pay them.

    Thanks,

    Bob

  6. Bob

    Mar 20 2009

    Just an update to the suit filing mentioned above.

    I was unable to get anything with a person’s name and address where I was sure I could serve the papers, so I ended up dropping it off at a Bell Mobility Phone Store. They, like everyone else, denied responsibility for the ever elusive ‘Bell’.

    So, I have made the filing (all 115 pages of it) and it has, as far as I am concerned, been served. Bell has been notified by email. I tried by phone but after navigating the executive office system for a few minutes, it cheerily announced its office hours and hung up. Just more of the same.

    I have to write a letter to the court, explaining my predicament that Bell made it effectively impossible to do otherwise.

    Meantime, I got another reponse to an email sent to one place in Bell and that is now ending up with Sympatico. It was sort of amusing and sort of scary: They are *still* trying to get me to give up all kinds of time giving them information. I did not take the bait this time. It is a reply to a note with my phone number in it that says it cannot find a record for the number and could I supply a ton of information. Uh, I don’t think so — they have about 200 pages of stuff from me already and they didn’t need it in the first place.

    My request still stands. I expect a defense from Bell every bit as vexing and mean-spirited as the rest of the ordeal. Any help with research that people can provide would be much appreciated.

    Thanks, Greg, BTW, for the ‘heads up’ on the CCTS. I *did* file a complaint with them and did not get an answer. However, I will be wary when I get one.

  7. TL

    Mar 21 2009

    Hi Ellen,

    I would like everyone to know how e-machines treat their computer-challenged customers.

    I bought a refurbished e-machine on Feb. 28, 2008, installed and used it. My receipt from Tiger Direct stated that the warranty is only 30 days. Nothing was noted on the e-machine packaging.

    Promptly by May 2009, the computer started acting up: it stops working a few times a day; reboots itself manually, and a window comes up saying “Windows has recovered from unexpected shutdown” and its various permutations.

    I took it back to Tiger Direct and was told to contact e-machines. I emailed them and was told it is out of warranty.

    There were countless exchanges of emails…all boiling down to a variation of “Thank you for contacting e-machines, I’ll be happy to assist you, but unfortunately the warranty has expired”.

    These exchanges have gone on for 8 months. Meanwhile, the errors have increased: it drops attachments, some alien sounding module has stopped working, deletes my media player, HP printer, the ‘c’ in my keyboard keeps sticking, the mouse is sluggish, etc.

    I have spent more than $200 plus a new hard drive. I called the hard drive manufacturer – Seagate- they said the warranty has been transferred to e-machines. e-machines repeats their mantra.

    I did research on their product. It appears I am not the only disgruntled customer.

    I wrote the CEO, Rudi Schmidleithener (Acer America Corp.), sending him my whole file. He delegated me down to Texas. Whether the call is coming from Texas, California or New Jersey, I get the same mantra.

    I am left with a lemon. Unfortunately, I cannot make lemonade. They know their products are unreliable, thus, the 3 months’ warranty.

    I just hope that the people who read this blog will steer away from e-machines. A machine I thought was good value ended up to be a daily source of frustration and anger.

    I am absolutely infuriated by their utter arrogance and absence of accountability…!

  8. Bob

    Mar 24 2009

    This is an update to the claim filed against Bell. I have put up a (I hope temporary) website to gather stories from people and to show a little of what I found while researching the case. For instance, did you know that Bell has the worst BBB rating possible and the worst record I have ever seen? It beats the worst of one of the BBB ‘Dirty Dozen’ lists I looked at.

    The website was given in the comment form, but if it does not show up, it is here:

    http://seekphone.info

    There is a contact for there, but also a ‘mailto link’ to this Email address:

    bell310@seekphone.info

    As stated above, I am looking for stories from people that substantiate the various noxious behaviors demonstrated by Bell. In particular, the following are mentioned in my complaint:

    Improper Charges
    Evidence of Policy
    Cutting off Service
    Unauthorized Billing Increases and Changes.
    Threatening to cut off service resulting in fees.
    Difficulty getting street Address and contacting.
    Deliberately unpleasant/frustrating customer service.
    Attempts to Frustrate — “Customer Avoidance”
    Charging without consent.
    Evidence that Problems are common.
    Passing the buck.
    Over billing and billing issues
    Policy of aggressive upselling
    Policy of misrepresentation
    Billing Irregularities and service suspension
    Offering and charging for wrong Internet speeds
    Harassing Calls
    Aggressive Upselling bait/switch reference numbers
    Broken Promises
    Wasting customer’s time
    Billing for services not installed
    Broken refund promises
    False claims of ‘investigations’

    For those of you reading this who are investigating for the first time — You are not alone. The site I have set up is an excellent opportunity to tell your story (privately if you wish). Some of the submissions will be brought into court.

  9. CM

    Mar 26 2009

    Update on the Bell outage. My telephone and internet service was restored on Monday March 23, 2009. On Wednesday March 25, 2009 I received an automated message from Bell saying my phone service was restored as of 11:30a ET. Hmm, somethings wrong there.

    My friend left me a message this morning Thursday March 26, 2009 saying that an outage had happened and it was repaired.

    I spoke with Annie from the Satisifaction Team, and I advised her that the supervisor here did not properly notify the news media. She took down the news media outlet names for future reference.

    I did not personally hear from Kevin. I’d love to speak to him personally to express my outrage at the lack of communication from a so called communication company.

  10. Patrick O’Reilly

    May 18 2010

    I unfortunately signed a contract with Direct Energy and have been paying above higher market prices for the last 2 years. I have recently moved and now have been hit with a $315.00 Early Termination fee and administration fee.

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