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Probe: June 14, 2001

June 14, 2001

QUESTION: Thank you for answering my question about the man who said my family could lose my house when I die if I didn't give him money. He wanted $10,000 to "protect" my property. I am 73 but I am not stupid. Should I have called the police? — Concerned, Brawley

If he comes back again, call the cops immediately. Some scam artists are preying on older people. Since they continue to operate, we have to think some senior citizens are falling for the scare tactics.

A LIVE HUMAN — Regular PROBE readers know we have become increasingly angry at companies who insulate themselves from their customers.

We have started our own rage campaign to punish companies that make us wait on the phone listening to machines and elevator music.

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When we got a letter from our credit card company dunning us for a $23 payment we knew had been paid, we called the 800 number to give the company a piece of our mind.

By the time we reached a live human, we were furious. The anger was fueled by a similar incident the month before when we were charged a $29 late charge for a barely tardy $23 payment.

That charge had induced us to write a note calling the company a "bloodsucker." This time we called.

"Do you have our letter in your file?" we asked.

"No," said the card representative, who said her name was Kim.

"So how do we complain if we can't get you on the phone and you don't put our complaints in the file?" we asked.

Sputtering, we vented our rage at a system that increased our debt although we made no charges and sent our payments.

"There is an anger in the land! If there is ever a revolution in this country, it will be because we can't get a live human on the phone to complain," we said.

As we talked we got angrier as we recalled dealing with insurance companies after an illness.

One snafu would take a morning on the phone as we listened to elevator music and reassurances that our call was important so "please wait on the line."

Kim said the late charge is automatic and generated by the computer. If your payment is due June 15 and it arrives June 16, the computer dings you for the late payment, she said.

The computer doesn't care if you made a $200 payment in May. You still have to make the $23 payment in June — on the dot.

She agreed to remove the late charge.

Finally Kim confided when she tried to get through on her own telephone system, she found a way through the snarl.

She said she hit the pound key and zipped past the machines to a live voice. It works, she insisted.

"What's your last name, Kim?" we asked.

"My I.D. number is D9A."

"But how about your last name?"

"My I.D. number is more important than my last name," she said.

"Oh, Kim, that is so sad!" we said.

We tried her system. One smack on the pound key and nothing happened.

We hung up and tried it again Two smacks didn't do it. On the third try after three crisp strokes, a voice said, "Debbie Dillard. What is your name?"

We hung up.

Kim's system didn't work with the telephone company.

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