New York City Phone Monopoly Bad for Consumers

In January of 1982 the US government mandated the breakup of AT &T Corporation to foster competition and give the consumer a fair break. While this has worked wonders for long distance calling costs, it has not done anything for the local markets like New York City where #Verizon (the local spinoff from the divestiture) owns all of the landlines.

Today if you live in New York City, as well as many other places in the country, you don’t have a choice as to who your phone carrier is. This means that the company that owns the lines in the ground has control over you, the customer. If you live in a large building there may be some choices because there is now fiber optic cable in the ground from more than one supplier and it is worthwhile to negotiate with a large building for many customers. If you are in a small building or own an individual home you have no choice but to go with a very expensive service from only one supplier.

The solution is simple. The government needs to require the sole suppliers like Verizon in New York City to lease their lines to competitors at a bulk discount rate. This would open up both local phone and Internet services to competition and in the long run reduce the cost to consumers. We need to stop these government created monopolies that are essentially bullying the consumer.

#Consumer #ConsumerAdvocate #Monopoly

BlastEm Successful for Bridget

Last week we blogged about a problem that Bridget had with Met Life. She was charged for a premium without her consent. She had made a number of phone calls over several days period without satisfaction from the Met Life personnel with whom she spoke.

Sunday evening she used the BlastEm App. (which is still in the testing phase) to send her message of dissatisfaction to three people in authority positions: Steven Kandarian, the CEO of Met Life; the Chairperson of the New York State Committee of Consumer Affairs and Protection, and the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Finance. Her complaint was posted on Twitter as well.

The Results:

Within 15 hours, her post received a Tweet from the Social Networking group of Met Life promising their assistance. We are pleased to report that soon afterwards she was refunded $1,886.28 by Met Life.

It is clear by this example, that the Internet and Social media have become powerful tools in getting the attention of businesses. They allow the consumer, who has been wronged, to receive attention by posting their story publicly on the internet. In addition, the BlastEm App. directed her complaint to other interested parties that could assist her including social media.

We have all been stuck where Bridget was. We have all felt angry and frustrated. We have all felt we had nowhere to turn. We at Consumers Angel are confident that the BlastEm App. will be a powerful force in resolving a variety of consumer complaints. Utilizing the App. will direct your grievance to the right parties thereby greatly increasing the chance of a swift resolution.

We will release the first version of BlastEm in the next few months so you can all have the same power that Bridget had.

In the interim, you are welcome to contact us at angel

How MetLife Cheated a Consumer out of $3,200

Consumers Angel is testing a new App called BlastEm. The App helps consumers directly register their complaint with a business that has wronged them in some way. Social media and regulators can also be notified using this App., thereby generating more attention to the consumer’s complaint.

Below is a Blast written by one of our application testers. This is an actual complaint, is it not a made up scenario.

The BlastEm App simultaneously delivered her complaint to the CEO of MetLife, the Chair of the New York State Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, the Administrator of the New York State Department of Financial Services (which regulates both Banks and Insurance companies) as well as Twitter.

We will be following this closely and report the response over the next few weeks.
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Dear Mr. Kandarian,

I was your customer for seven years with a Group Universal Life policy as a Citibank employee. In addition to coverage, I chose to add a little cash each month thereby building higher cash value which reached the tidy sum of $3,919.56. I am shocked and deeply dismayed by what occurred when I severed from Citi.

My end date was March 12th.

You said Citi notified you on March 26th.

WITHOUT notifying me – you took funds to cover March 13th through the end of the month out of the cash value.

Then you sent me a letter in April, saying that I am now responsible for the monthly premium of $1,926.27 AND, you pulled that from my account, too!

When I phoned, to say, No, Thanks, please send me the $4,000 I had saved, you told me the amount was now approximately $800 because 1) you had taken enough to cover March and 2) you cannot prorate the April coverage, it was already deducted.

So, you can prorate when it suits YOU, but not when I request it?

I had no opportunity to claim my cash – the timing of your notifications (perhaps Citi is partly to blame?) and your cycles stack the deck 100% against the consumer.

You led me to believe that I was creating a nice cushion, doing the right thing – but in fact, YOU were building a little account that you then ROBBED on my way out the door. From $4,000 down to $800 – and no opportunity to prevent to loss.

At best, this is really bad business – but I think it’s also unethical and if not illegal, it should be.

With disgust and anger,

Bridget Thexton

#MetLife #MetLifeTermLifePolicy #TermLifeScam #InsuranceCompanyScam
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The other side of the coin

We have posted many blogs about the problems dealing with businesses that are not responsive to the experience of their customers. How about when we receive #ExceptionalService? Statistics show we are three times more likely to complain than to make a compliment. When we have a bad experience on average we tell sixteen people and when we have a good one less than five.

Business need to know when they are doing a good job as well as when they are screwing up. We can help make business more customer focused by telling them when they have delighted us as well as when we have disappointed us. It usually only takes a few minutes to let a business know when they have exceeded our expectations and compliment them for their fine service.

What we at Consumer Angel are looking for is an economic environment where it is in the businesses best interest to be responsive to our needs as consumers. In order to accomplish this we feel that consumer feedback is going to drive this change because it is in the business best interest to listen.

This means we need to use our power as a consumer through social media and direct communications with the leaders of business to reward those businesses that have our interests at heart and punish those who don’t. We have the power to send our experiences to millions of other people and to influence the way we are all treated. We just need to do it. That means we need to let as many people and institutions as possible know about our good experiences as well as our bad ones.

#consumer #ConsumerAdvocacy

When our government is not on our side

As consumers, we are always looking for cost effective and efficient services. The combination of Smartphones and internet applications have created several disruptive products which will significantly benefit the consumer. These applications are however, disruptive of entrenched interests. These interests have responded not by improving their services but by lobbying regulators and legislators to outlaw or make it impossible for these startups to do business. Let’s look at two of these and see how our government is working against Consumer interests.

First, we have #Uber, a car hiring application. It allows consumers to directly communicate with taxis or limo services to schedule pickups and trips to specific destinations. It sounds like a great idea and much better than standing on a street corner hoping to find an available cab. The app. also allows you to compare availability, cost and time for a trip. Thus making it easier to make an informed decision as a consumer. Uber and similar services would put real pressure for competition among all of the car services. Since Uber does not provide the transportation but acts as a facilitator, they are not part of the regulatory structure. Public Utilities Commissions and cab drivers, among others, are suing. In New York Uber was forced to cease its fledgling yellow cab operation.

In Apple’s App Store, the Uber app has hundreds of five-star ratings. When the city of Washington, DC tried to pass rules to make Uber illegal, customers bombarded City Council members with thousands of email protests. This is how we Consumers have to fight back. We need to actively make sure our interests are being considered by our legislators.

Second, is #Airbnb, the service that allows you to book rooms in private residences. What Airbnb does is facilitate a marketplace where people with space can meet up with people who want to use that space on a long term or short term basis. This market place allows Consumers who are looking for space to connect with people who have space they are not using, for example, when they go on vacation. Hotels view this as a potential negative impact on their revenue. Landlords view it as revenue they are not getting a piece of. What about the retiree that uses this to supplement their income or the young family that uses this as a way to offset the cost of a family vacation?

In New York, the state recently passed a law that makes it much more difficult to rent residential rooms for less than 30 days. This is a response to online activities in promoting short stays for prices much lower than pricey New York hotels and a blatant attempt destroy this new marketplace.

Technology has allowed us to create new efficient markets that allow us to directly negotiate between buyers and sellers without the middleman who is taking a significant part of the deal. These new and exciting marketplaces are examples of how technology and Capitalism can create a real advantage for the Consumer by bring the buyer and seller closer together. We should not let the entrenched interests prevent progress. We need to let our representatives know in no uncertain terms that our interests as consumers need to be considered.

#consumer #consumer advocacy

The Power of Social Media

The scandal at Rutgers University has recently flooded our news media. It is but one example of a long standing issue that most of us have had some experience with.  What is acceptable conduct for coaches, educators and school staff?

Moreover, how do we, Consumers of the educational system, have our voices heard when these behaviors warrant the firing of such individuals.  Yes, we are PAYING for the education of our children in one form or another.

We (parents, taxpayers, students) pay either fully or in part for the education of our students (both public and private) either directly or via taxes taken at the state level.  Therefore, one can argue, we are in part “employers” of these educators.  However, unlike other “employers” who are empowered to swiftly and directly eliminate an ineffective, abusive or inappropriate employee, ousting an educator at any level is no easy task.

Who hasn’t heard of or had an educator that has no place in the lives of children?  How many parents have scratched their heads and whispered among themselves; how did that person get tenure?  How many children have been scarred, shamed, and simply NOT EDUCATED by these same emotionally unstable folks?  Why would the administration allow a person with severe anger issues or poor behavior continue to teach year in and year out?  What recourse does a parent/student have if they have been the brunt of this abuse?

Why would Consumers continue to remain quiet in the face of this common problem without issuing a complaint?  Why is it when there is a complaint, often these offenders are allowed to remain in their positions?

Tenure, bureaucracy and the lack of effective review policies often contribute to keeping on staff that has no place in any workplace, particularly in schools where poor behaviors directly impact the lives of impressionable young people.

 When the President of Rutgers university was first shown the tapes of the abusive behavior of Mike Rice (former basketball coach), he opted to send Mr. Rice for anger management classes, hoping to remediate Mr. Rice.  This remediation did nothing to change Mr. Rice; however, he was allowed to continue his employment with this University.  He was allowed to continue to brutalize students.  The parents at this institution were paying over $25,000 per year to allow for a mentally ill individual to Coach and represent their school.

 It is only because videotapes of his sick coaching techniques had been leaked to social media, that this egregious situation has finally been brought to light, and he was terminated.

Social media continues to play a powerful role in catching and forcing those in leadership positions to realize they are not above the law, nor above a moral standard of acceptable behavior.  It is our hope at Consumer Angel that parents and students continue to realize that they are a powerful force for change.  If you are a victim of an abusive person, even in school, the first option is to speak to the Principal or head of the University.  If this yields no results, document all behaviors, words, actions.  Have fellow students and parents cosign and also document such behaviors, if possible.  If you are still being ignored, the power of social media is becoming a fast growing outlet for rapid attention and change.  We no longer need to accept, unacceptable behavior….Particularly when we are paying for it!!

Social media has given us, the Consumer, great power the correct bad behavior no matter where it occurs, whether in the classroom or a retail establishment.

We have the power;  We just need to use it.

#consumer #consumerangel #socialmedia

Tired of annoying phone calls

Have you ever been interrupted by an annoying phone call during dinner or in the evening from an aggressive salesperson trying to sell you something you don’t want? The National Do Not Call Registry helps but it is not a complete solution. You can go to https://www.donotcall.gov and register your phone number. This will stop many but not all solicitations.

The National Do Not Call Registry does not limit calls by political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors or companies with which you have an established business relationship. This still leaves many organizations which may legally call you even after you have registered on the #DoNotCall Registry.

The most annoying calls often come from what is called #robo-call centers. A computer randomly dials numbers and once you answer your phone you are routed to a salesperson. You can usually tell if you are getting one of these calls because there is a wait between when you say “Hello” and when a person answers. During this wait, we suggest you just hang up. The #robo-dialer will simply move on to the next person.

The technique I often use is when I get a solicitation from a charity I simply tell them that I do not except phone solicitations and if they want they can send me a letter. I then hang up immediately and don’t allow them to go into their sales pitch.

Surveys are among the most annoying calls because they promise to only take 2 minutes but often run on for longer than that. If I feel inclined to participate, I tell them my time limitations prior to beginning. If it goes over, I simply hang up.

This is hard for most of us because we have been brought up to be polite. That is what these organizations are counting on. You should realize they are taking advantage of you and you do not have to allow it.

Some phone companies have a Call Block feature which will allow you to block calls from a specific phone number, usually there is a limit to how many numbers you can block. If you have the Caller ID feature on your phone service then you can screen your calls. If you don’t recognize the number let it go to voice mail.

There is no perfect solution to this problem, but using the National Do Not Call Registry and your Caller ID will help.

#consumer #consumersangel @ConsumersAngel

Things to know about your health insurance drug plan

In order to get the maximum benefit from your #health-insurance drug plan there are a number of things of which you should be aware. The insurance company is looking to make money. They will always steer you toward the drug that is the least expensive option for them.  Generally, this is known as the  generic form of the medication. Checking with your doctor to see if he/she thinks the generic will have the same benefits as the brand name drug is wise.  I know for example, several doctors who do NOT recommend the generics for certain thyroid diseases. For maximum effectiveness,  they would choose Synthroid over the generic version..

Many drug plans will save you a substantial amount if you order the drugs in a larger quantity from a mail order service. When you are in need of a medication long term this can add up to a substantial savings. Typically when you leave the doctor’s office,  you are given one prescription. Generally, you  rush to your pharmacist because you want to start taking the drug immediately.  Ask your doctor for 2 prescriptions, one to take to the drug store and one to send off to the mail order prescription service.

You should also be aware that certain drugs which are covered by your prescription drug plan may only be covered in certain quantities. Again,  check with your insurance carrier because  the cost difference can be substantial. I recently heard from a friend that his doctor had given him a prescription for 10 pills to be taken over the course of a month. He was told by the drug store that his insurance did not cover this drug. Before going back to the doctor and asking for an alternative medicine he called the insurance company and they told him they did cover the drug but only for 6 tablets a month. The price difference was astounding. Under his plan the drug was $10.00 per pill. Not under the plan the drug was $31.30 per pill. His savings was $127.80 by just making the phone call and getting the 6 pills covered under his plan and the other 4 at the list price.

The disparity in price for the same medication based on whether you have insurance or not is not justifiable in any way other than the drug manufacturers and the insurance companies are in collusion to set a retail price that is not justified by any rational. We the public will continue to be ripped off by this behavior unless we demand that our congressional representatives do something about this abuse. The big drug companies and insurance companies spend millions on lobbyists to protect their interests. We the #Consumer need to make our voices heard.

The phone tree again

We have avoided being repetitive in our consumer blogs, but this story is too good to pass up. After our blog on the problem with phone trees we received several comments from our readers. They shared the various methods they have used to speak with a ‘live’ person. Apparently, it does not always pay to be polite.

When you are dealing with a voice activated phone tree apparently many of them are programmed to intercept four letter words and send you directly to a carbon life form. We tested this out on five voice activated phone trees and it worked on all five. We were amazed by this!

My favorite story comes from one of our followers who tells us she spent 10 frustrating minutes in an endless loop saying “Agent” and “Representative”. She made no progress during those long 10 minutes and out of sheer frustration said “F..k it”. Immediately afterward she heard, “you are being transferred to an agent …”.She tells us she has used this on 3 other phone trees and it has consistently worked for her.

We also tried, “Ah S..t” and that seems to work as well. This was just too funny not to pass on to our loyal followers.

How to protect your computer

Today we surrounded by computer savvy people. The unscrupulous kind, can gain access to our personal computers. Unwanted software can be a commonplace annoyance causing our computers to function slower than normal. That is the best case scenario! At worse, passwords can be altered or your #identity can be stolen. This serious problem is costing the American consumer an estimated 18 billion dollars a year. Once your #Identity is compromised it is a long, hard and expensive process to fix.

The best solution is prevention. You should have two pieces of software installed on your computer, one for antivirus and another for malware protection. If you install multiple pieces of protection software such as, Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee at the same time they will often fight with each other and cause you more problems while not providing you with the protection you need.

The best protection available today is a combination of two products. Microsoft Essentials is an excellent product and is a free download from Microsoft. It is important to allow it to continually update its virus patterns because there are literally 6000 new viruses released a month.

The second product is Malwarebyte Anti-Malware. There is a free one month trial and the full version of the product costs $24.95.

The two of these working together should keep your computer safe from most malicious attacks. As always it is important to use common sense and not go to websites that look dangerous. Additionally, there are two types of files you should NEVER open unless they come from trusted sources. They are files that end with either .exe or .zip. These files are often attached to emails and unless you are very sure of the sender of these email just hit the delete button.

#consumersangel