My personal blog challenge

It’s my goal to write more often. I’ll try posting every two days for a while.

Wish me luck in stepping up the pace.

Why do it?

— I want you to find more fresh content when you drop by.

— I want to share the interesting and thought-provoking emails I get from Star readers.

— I want you to enjoy these stories and provide your own views of the topics in question.

This blog has an average 2,216 visits a day and 11,747 daily hits — up from 1,365 visits and 6,869 hits a day a year ago. It’s nice to see the growth.

There’s lots to read here already, but now you’ll find more new stuff on the home page.

So, let’s get started. Check the stories below about an eyeglass scam, a failed experiment in buying foreclosed U.S. real estate and a travel insurance fiasco.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

19 thoughts on “My personal blog challenge”

  1. I’d like to warn people about what I consider a scam concerning eyeglass insurance at the Bay Optical Dept.

    In November, I ordered bifocal eyeglasses at the Bay. They are advertising a “sale” on frames and lenses.

    There was a problem with the placement of the lenses for my sight. Therefore, it took a couple of weeks to get the correct glasses.

    They weren’t paid for until my next statement from The Bay.

    On Jan. 24, I found the frame broken, a split where the lens fits. I did not drop them, nor do I participate in sports.

    I called the salesperson at the Bay to say I’d be in with the broken glasses.

    On Jan. 25, I went to the Bay and requested replacement frames. The salesperson said I would need to pay for the replacement frames because I DID NOT PURCHASE INSURANCE when I bought the eyeglasses.

    After much protesting on may part, she placed a phone call to the manager who did not answer, so a message was left on voice mail.

    I told the salesperson I was not paying for replacement frames because the broken ones were defective.

    I did not recall being told that it was necessary to buy insurance, but if I had been, I would have refused.

    I have been wearing eyeglasses for about 40 years and never had a problem with any of the eyeglasses. Each pair has served me well for many years until my vision changed, requiring new prescriptions.

    As well, such things are covered by household insurance for loss.

    The salesperson said she would replace the frame if the same model was in stock. I needed the glasses for driving, so I reluctantly said, “OK, pop the lenses in.” I couldn’t wait another few weeks for replacement.

    The phone rang. It was not the manager, but another person of authority. I heard the salesperson say, “no, the part where the lens is”.

    I assume that was in answer to a question asking if it was the side piece that fits over the ear and takes a lot of stress when putting on or taking off the glasses. But the frame where the lens fits does not undergo that stress.

    The salesperson hung up the phone and told me I would have to pay for replacement eyeglasses since I hadn’t purchased the insurance.

    I reminded that person that the glasses were only about 2 months old and I have never had to buy insurance for any other eyeglasses I have purchased anywhere, including at the Bay.

    I requested the name of the manufacturer and the name of a person in a higher position, since the Bay is not the
    company who makes the eyeglasses.

    The salesperson said giving out that information was not permitted, but I could have someone from the company phone me at my home.

    Then I asked to see the manager of the Bay store.

    In the meantime, a couple were browsing for eyeglasses. I told them about my broken pair and said, “Don’t buy your eyeglasses here. They won’t replace the frames that broke on my defective glasses because I didn’t buy insurance.” The couple made a quick exit.

    I turned to the salesperson and said, “I will stand outside this department and tell everyone coming here not to buy eyeglasses here.”

    My eyeglass frames were replaced.

    The salesperson said was I abusing them. “No,” I said, “I am not abusing you. I am not angry with you, but I am angry with your company policy.”

    I don’t think one should be forced into spending extra money for insurance for the product. That is a scam to make extra money that shouldn’t be required.

    The eyeglasses were on a promotional sale and cost $149. Price is not a criteria for quality, as I have bought cheaper eyeglasses that have lasted for many years without breaking.

    The company should stand behind their product for such a short period of time when the breakage was in a very unusual part of the frame.

    If they feel it’s necessary to sell insurance, it must be because they know the frames are poor quality and easily broken.

    Thank you for a very informative column and for helping people get satisfaction when trying to resolve problems in the marketplace.

  2. I am writing to you to tell you about my experience with Mondial Assistance Travel Insurance (formerly World Access).

    In December 2008, I purchased the travel insurance through my credit card company, MBNA Canada, with the hope that we would never have to use it. The cost was an annual fee of CAD $99. Any tickets purchased using my MBNA credit card would be covered under this insurance package.

    On April 22, 2009, I used my card to purchase tickets for travel from Toronto to New York City, confident in the knowledge that should the possibility of illness prevent us from traveling we would be covered.

    My husband’s ticket was purchased through Orbitz travel for USD $239.26 (CAD $306.53) on Delta Airlines. For my ticket I used my frequent flyer mileage points, but had to pay a tax of CAD $99. All payments were made using my MBNA credit card.

    Unfortunately, illness did indeed prevent us from traveling. My husband became quite ill and his physician advised him not to travel. We had to cancel just before our departure date. Then, our ordeal with Mondial started.

    I called Mondial on May 12th, saying my husband had been admitted to hospital on May 4th. He was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia and upon his release from hospital, his Doctors had advised him not to travel.

    I called the travel insurance first to get their “expert advice” on how I should proceed and what needed to be done. We naturally assumed that speaking directly with one their agents would provided us with all the correct information we would need with regards to our claim.

    Unfortunately, we were to find out later that the advice their agent gave us was entirely inaccurate.

    First error: The agent did say that if we cancelled the reservation and any credit was offered by the airline, then Mondial would not reimburse us for any of the cost. Later in the same conversation, she contradicted this by saying “if the airline offered us a credit then the claim would go under review and it would be up to the discretion of Mondial” if they would reimburse us.

    I asked her what I should do about purchasing tickets again when my husband’s health improved and he was permitted to travel. She told me to call the airline or travel agent and cancel the existing reservation.

    Wanting to clarify the information she had provided, I said, “so your advice is don’t use this [any credit given on the cancelled ticket] to book anything else?” She said “YES”.

    Nowhere in the conversation did she mention to me about using the credit the airline provided us towards buying the new tickets, nor was there any mention made of the fact that if there was a change fee or penalty fee charged by the airline to change dates that Mondial would reimburse us for this.

    I only learned this when I started to ask the claims department why they would not reimburse us the money.

    So taking her advice, we purchased a completely new Delta airline ticket to New York on a new date, once again using my MBNA credit card for my husband, paying the full fare which cost us exactly the same amount as the original ticket USD $239.26 (CAD $306.53).

    When I cancelled the reservation with Orbitz travel, they informed me that there was a cancellation penalty of USD $150 to Delta Airlines, and a USD $30 penalty to Orbitz travel. This left a credit of USD $69.26.

    Had I been aware at this time that I should have used this credit with Delta airlines towards the new ticket, I would have done so, and claimed the cancellation penalty from Mondial.

    Second error: I then informed the agent that I had used frequent flyer mileage to purchase my ticket, but had to pay a tax of CAD $99 (using my MBNA credit card). This ticket too had to be cancelled, as I was not able to travel with my husband being ill.

    She informed me that that if I submitted a claim to Mondial for the tax of CAD $99, “I wouldn’t get the mileage back” – I would lose all the mileage.

    Having already paid to buy a new full-fare ticket for my husband, I called Air France (the airline that I had the mileage with). They rebooked my flight for the new date, with me having to pay an additional CAD $99 tax.

    When we submitted our claim to Mondial, I added this amount of CAD $99 and this was credited back to me by Mondial on Sept. 28, 2009.

    Had I followed up on the agent’s incorrect advice again, I would have lost out on being able to use my mileage, and would have unnecessarily bought a new full-fare ticket for myself.

    From here on, our saga of talking to the claims department intensified. I submitted a claim to Mondial (for CAD $306.53 for my husband’s ticket and CAD $99 for my ticket). At first, the entire claim was rejected. Later, Mondial reimbursed us CAD $99 just for my ticket.

    Upon receiving the first response from Mondial on Sept. 8, I called and spoke to a male agent. He said that the original phone call would be reviewed and I would get a call back from the Supervisor.

    With no call arriving from Mondial, I called back and spoke to another agent, who reviewed our file and re-requested all the information (the same information already given) – as nothing had been input on our file and no request to retrieve the original phone call had been made.

    Again she said the supervisor would call back – to date, no such call has been received.

    I have made 13 calls to the claims department. While I did receive some reimbursement for my ticket, there has been no resolution with my husband’s ticket. Mondial states that this is due to the credit with Delta airlines.

    Despite my telling them I would have used this credit if I had been correctly advised by their agent, they state that my husband’s “ticket currently holds a credit and maybe changed for a fee of USD $150. If due to [my husband’s] medical condition, [he is] not able to travel before [his] credit expires (in April 2010), please submit documentation from [my husband’s] physician stating [he is] unable to travel and the cost of [his] entire ticket will be refunded”.

    In November, we received a survey letter from Mondial (addressed to my husband). He filled it out in detail and added a letter stating all that has transpired to date.

    It was mailed to the Quality Assurance Department, Mondial Assistance, PO Box 368 Stn. Waterloo, on Nov. 18th. The survey sheet had our claim number typed on the top of it (so it was not an anonymous survey). To date, we have received no response.

    It is truly amazing that I even took down the name of the person I spoke with and date I spoke to them. How many people keep a track of whom they spoke too when calling a company for assistance?

    Yet Mondial not only wanted the name and date but even the precise time and the exact words that were exchanged during the conversation.

    Having to deal with someone falling ill and being hospitalized is difficult enough. We purchased this insurance in full faith that if anything unexpected happened, we would have a knowledgeable and reliable company and its staff to back us up.

    Unfortunately this has not been our experience. Of all the agents we dealt with, only one delivered as promised.

  3. I want to share my experience of being a victim of a scam by becoming a member of a company that conducts many presentations and training sessions in Toronto on real estate investments.

    They will be conducting a series of “free” sessions in Toronto from Feb. 8th to the 19th,

    I immigrated to Canada in 2005 with my family. Like most new immigrants, I looked for opportunities to educate myself and move up in life.

    Leading newspapers used to carry frequent advertisements on the Rich Dad Education program. I attended the seminars and also attended a paid training program over a period of 3 years.

    At these programs, guest speakers are invited to promote their own investment products.

    In August 2008, I received a mailer from Darren Weeks (who runs the Rich Dad Program in the U.S.) to attend a session in Toronto presented by Mike Lathigee, CEO of “The Freedom Investment Club” (FIC), on Bulk Foreclosure Properties in the USA.

    I attended the sales presentation by Mike Lathigee and without much investigation, invested in four foreclosure properties at a cost of $74,000 CAD. Promises were made of guaranteed returns and hundreds of properties were sold through these meetings in Toronto.

    During the same period, FIC was being investigated and banned from conducting any seminars in British Columbia, as they were not licensed to promote or sell real estate. Thanks to the proactive approach of the B.C. Securities Commission, the lucky investors got their money back.

    To date, except for emails, I have not received any documentation of ownership. Three of the four properties are useless and have not been exchanged, as per the agreement.

    The properties are managed by a company in Utah called Go Invest Wisely. Getting legal assistance is a huge challenge, as a lawyer needs to be licensed to practice in the USA. After a long agonizing search, I identified a lawyer last week.

    A quick title search by the lawyer revealed that none of the properties I purchased are in my name!!

    There are many innocent individuals [mostly immigrants] who will attend this very well masterminded program with powerful marketing campaigns.

    I consider it my social obligation to make the public aware of scams like this, as the experience of being scammed is too traumatic to go through.

    It will be great if awareness can be done through a writeup in your columns; else God Bless the probable victims, as this process of getting my back my investment has worn me out.

  4. JD: There really isn’t. I’m assuming your new TV is an LCD, in which case the screen is a) one piece and b) the most expensive piece.

    If the screen is smashed and needs to be replaced, then really all you can salvage is the frame (dirt cheap), the electronics (which are fairly cheap), and the backlight (which may also be damaged).

    To pay a repair guy a high wage for a few hours to painstakingly take apart the TV, clean up the debris and install a new screen doesn’t make sense when it takes just a few minutes for a low-paid factory employee to put a new screen into a new frame in the controlled conditions of a factory.

    The TV can’t be economically repaired — that’s the sad fact of life in this day and age.

    However, just because you can’t afford a new TV doesn’t mean you can’t afford a TV. Tonnes of people are upgrading to LCDs and ditching their old CRT TVs. You can probably get a perfectly functional 27-32″ CRT for free, or at a nominal cost. Plus they’re a little more robust to a whack from a Wii nunchuck 🙂

    (PS: Use the wrist strap! It reminds you every single time you play a game!)

  5. After RB sent his complaint about the Rich Dad seminars, CBC Marketplace did a program about the $500 weekend course on real estate. It’s nothing but a sales pitch to get you to pay up to $45,000 for an advanced course.

    CBC took hidden cameras into a seminar and showed how people were pushed into calling their credit card issuers and asking for a higher credit limit. Many asked for a $100,000 limit, ostensibly to buy real estate but more likely to pay for the high-priced education.

  6. I would like to thank RB’s write up for the Darren Weeks’ scam workshop.

    Thank God I looked into it further for my family. They were planning to invest their RRSP to the offshore freedom plan they are provided in Caglary. It really discouraged many Canadians who are just like us.

  7. LCD TV – SAMSUNG Customer Service
    I called Samsung Customer Service on Aug 3/10 and I told them that I was having problem with the tv powering on. Apparently it is a common issue with Samsung tv’s. The problem is faulty capacitors. I called Samsung Canada and they acknowledge the problem and they will repair the tv free of charge even if the warranty has expired.

    See link below:

    I called later in the afternoon to report my serial number on the tv and I was told by the customer service representative and the Supervisor that Samsung has discontinued the warranty for model LNS4041DX/XAA. This email was sent on July 27/10. I cannot believe that SAMSUNG will not make an exception to the rule (1 week).
    I’m wondering if you can assist in resolving the issue with SAMSUNG Canada.

  8. I just attended a Darren Weeks seminar today and I have to say it was THE MOST FINANCIALLY FRIGHTENING SCAM-LIKE SALES PITCH I HAVE EVER SEEN in 30 years I have worked in, researched and studied investments. This is THE WORST THING I have ever seen.

    If I were Goldman Sachs, I would bet each and every dime I own on the DOWNSIDE of the types of products he was pitching, and I fully expect any who invest in his products to NOT get pennies on the dollar back. Darren will do just fine, though.

    I say this from the eyes of a professional investor and a former investment industry veteran of more than 15 years. I have seen every trick in the book, and Darren appears quite the slick little fast talker junk investment seller.

  9. Dear RB (Jan 29, 2010), Thanks so much for your report on Fast Track Capital. I attended two free seminars in Victoria, BC and heard the info. Sounded very interesting as I would like to invest in another two homes. Have decided after reading your report and several on the net to keep my money tightly sealed in my pocket!! I hope you have some recourse for your losses.

  10. I write in defence of the Fast Track “Rich Dad” seminars. I am in no way affiliated with this organization or any employees.

    I just attended my first Darren Weeks event earlier today and have never even read any of the “Rich Dad” books, although I have heard of them previously.

    I consider myself to be a moderately intelligent, fairly well-educated, successful and hard-working business owner. It is because I work my butt off every day running my business, alongside my husband, who works 50x harder than I do, that I wanted to see if there was a better way.

    Not once during the free 3-hour presentation did I feel that I was being pitched anything, although they do bring it up. You have to figure that they are making the money to put on these events and pay for travelling, etc. somehow. It’s not out of the bigness of their rich hearts.

    I went to be educated a little more about financial success and what opportunities might be out there for me.

    Sure, Fast Track Capital may have some of those opportunities that they will make available if that’s the way one chooses to go, but I found that I left the seminar just a little smarter than before I went in, and I got some good ideas for how I can invest MYSELF, with my money, or with other people’s money, and perhaps be a lot better off.

    Would I invest in Weeks’ projects? Probably not.

    Would I look for my own opportunities, just as I was educated to do today? You bet!

  11. We just want to thank you so much Ellen for your help with our Samsung TV. The main screen went in our 18 mos old LCD TV and no one would do anything about it.

    After a quick chat with Ellen… Presto! Samsung called and will replace the part (we have to pay for labour which is ok)

    We are so impressed that Ellen is there to help the “average Joe”.

    You are AMAZING!

    Penny and Frank.

  12. In defence of Fast Track I have attended. Quite a few of different FT seminars in the last couple of years.I have found them very enlightening. Have I been swindled out of my hard earned cash? No.

  13. I am surprised that RB (above) lumped Fast Track in with some unscrupulous organizations. I have been to a couple of presentations by Fast Track and met with their employees a couple of times to get more information. There was never any hype or pressure tactics, just information and answers.

    I see that they are in good standing with the Alberta Better Business Bureau and registered with the BC and Alberta securities commission.

    Darren Weeks seems to have built up a successful and legitimate company (he has done many TV news and radio interviews about financial education).

    I am planning to invest with Fast Track Capital and take advantage of the GLGI tax shelter that they offer.

  14. I just want to share a little of my experience with Fast Track.

    For sure, the seminars educate and motivate to start looking for ways to improve one’s financial situation.

    But, 4 years ago after attending a presentation. I decided to use my RRSP for an investment through Fast Track.

    It’s been 3 years now and as of today, I have not seen a single penny in return.

    I was informed that eventually I will see some returns in about 2 years. Sadly, I found out it is almost impossible to get out of that investment once you are in.

    My experience with tax shelter GLGI is not better. The GLGI is being audited by the CRA.

    GLGI has sued CRA and there is a litigation process going on that will take who knows how long to resolve.

    Meanwhile, I’m among some of the people who thought they were taking advantage of the tax shelter but have not received their 2011 tax refund yet — and the income tax return is being held in abeyance.

  15. Have you ever done a story on the exempt markets in Canada.Literally billions of investor money is lost in these schemes and the authorities and the police won’t do anything even if they are found to be a Ponzi. This money for the most part leaves the country and investors are left holding the bag.A good example is Focused Money Solutions Inc. which is before the ASC false claims and misrepresentation.Don’t know what is happening in Calgary lately but stay away far far away there are a ton of these that never seem to get the media they deserve.

  16. We lost our investment with Fast Track Capital – they say it has lost all its value due to the housing situation in the USA – but we still have to pay an annual fee to the holding company called Olympia Trust. What a scam.

    Appreciate advice from anyone with similar experiences with them. Has anyone had any success at redeeming your units or getting out from the annual fees to Olympia Trust?

  17. After attending one of their promotional events, I invested $15K with FT in 2010. The funds were held in trust by Olympia Trust. At the end of 2013, I received a statement from Olympia Trust showing a balance of $15,780.

    At the end of 2014, I had just retired when I received a statement from Olympia, showing a balance of $15,000. As I had not received any communication, I called to inquire and was shocked to hear that my investment was no longer active.

    I was advised to contact FT for an explanation. When I contacted FT, I was advised that the fund was not performing well, but to leave it. There was a possibility it would rebound.

    When I called in December 2015, I was informed the fund was now defunct and no payment would be made.

    Never once during the 5 years that FT had my investment did they ever call or notify me of my investment progress. I am now retired, going on 66 years, and was looking forward to redeeming this investment.

    FT’s scamming must be stopped and the business brought to justice.

  18. To Gerry, Eleanor and anyone else. I have similar experiences and have retired less my FT investment of 12K.
    I think it is lost and can’t believe I have been scammed.
    Let’s talk

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