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Claims Accountability Fines

Hold businesses accountable for the false information their representatives give to customers
 
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You hear about it all the time. In-store representatives for cellphone carriers promising activation/processing fees will be waived or your first month of service will be free if you buy at their store, then your bill comes 31 days later and you find that they were blowing smoke up your ass. You call the corporate headquarters, and they apologize profusely but refuse to honor the word of their employee, stating that he promised something that policy prohibits them from delivering. Because you are now outside your 30-day buyer's remorse period, you are free to cancel service, but there will be a $325.00 contract early termination fee.

Today, I called my electric company to check on my bill status. I was late, as I was aware of, and wanted to make arrangements to avoid termination of service. I was told that my service was already scheduled for termination on Monday, and if I made the payment Monday or put it in the mail today it would be too late to beat the system. If I pay AFTER it's been terminated, there's a $250.00 deposit I have to pay up front, in addition to the bill itself, to get it restored. They were very sorry, but there was just no way they could make arrangements to allow me to go into the corporate office across town and pay it on Monday.

I made the call at 4:30 PM, and the corporate office had already closed for the day and would not be open until, get this... Monday. They told me that if I can make it into the nearest pay station, which was still open, by 5:00 PM tonight (and not a minute later), they will post the payment immediately and cancel the termination order. I am told specifically (because I asked) that I am not required to bring a bill printout, that all I will need to provide is my account number and pay-station code.

SO, I drive across town and get to the pay station at 4:45 PM. I am told they are very sorry, but they are unable to accept payments without a bill printout. There is nothing they can do about it, and my attitude will not help one bit.

SO, at 4:52 PM, I call my electric company again and explain the situation. I am told they will be happy to post a note on my account extending service until Monday, when I can make a payment in person at the corporate headquarters. They are very sorry, but I will not be compensated for my time or fuel spent following the directions provided by the previous representative.

This scenario happens all the time to all sorts of people. Frankly, it's unacceptable that businesses are allowed to get away with it, yet they do. So I propose a fine be automatically levied against any company that refuses to accept financial responsibility for the mistakes made by their representatives. Either they honor the word of their representative (in a case such as mine, that means they would be required to accept payment at the pay-station without the bill printout being presented, or take a percentage off the bill to compensate me for the time and fuel spent driving to the pay-station), or they pay a $1,000.00 fine to the government agency tasked with enforcing the regulation.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of such a crime, please call 1-800-BIZ-CRIME. The issue will be investigated thoroughly. Call recordings will be listened to. Store security camera footage will be reviewed. You will be notified of the resolution within 3-5 business days. Compensation, if the defendant agrees to pay, will be issued to you within 5-7 business days or taken out of your next bill statement from the defendant company.

21 Quest, Nov 25 2011

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       What's that you say? I rant hear you.
swimswim, Nov 26 2011
  

       You would have to go to law school to fully understand oral contracts, detrimental reliance, etc., but you can trust me that legal theories abound to hold people civilly liable for misrepresentations of this type. I'll look into for you for $175 per hour from a from a $6000 drawdown retainer.
nomocrow, Nov 26 2011
  

       Generous offer, [norm], but bear in mind that when the Revolution comes, you're going to go up against the wall for the firing squad, along with the journalists, politicians, and real-estate agents.
8th of 7, Nov 26 2011
  

       I'm well aware that I could sue. I'm talking about a more automatic process that doesn't require individual lawsuits to be filed. Call centers already get fined for making calls after certain hours without the person being called having to sue.
21 Quest, Nov 26 2011
  

       Why should I have to go through the hassle and expense of taking the company to small-claims court (taking a day off work to drive to the courthouse, jumping through hoops to get the appropriate paperwork, serving the papers, waiting 2 months for a court date, then taking another day off work to attend the court appearance, and waiting two hours because I was told I have a 2:00 PM docket but so did 20 other people) for an 18-dollar activation fee that I was promised would be waived? I lose more money taking a day off work than I would get even if I won the lawsuit. Companies know this, that's why they get away with this bullshit.
  

       Nevermind the cost of writing a more complete contract, I'm talking about something that's already illegal. They know it currently costs customers more to sue than to just pay the bogus fees. This has got to be changed! That is why I propose a government task force be established to levy these fines, which would pay for the task force and ensure appropriate punishment for the company.
  

       A simple investigation need not incur too much expense... an office with 4 employees, each paid 15 bucks an hour. A single phone call to the company's Quality Assurance department to obtain a recording of the call in question. A trip downtown to visit a retail location and demand security camera footage.
  

       If a company thinks they shouldn't have to pay for the mistakes of their employees, they can go through the time and expense of suing the employee to get the money back.
21 Quest, Nov 27 2011
  

       ...the cost of which would ultimately be returned to the customer in the form of higher costs.
  

       EDIT: I removed the complete contracting link because it only complicates the argument away from the core point.
swimswim, Nov 27 2011
  

       Then that company would either lose business to lower- priced competitors or would start policing their employees better. That's how the free market works, swim. The free market means that if I am dissatisfied with a company, I am free to take my business elsewhere. It does NOT mean I have to pay those fees first, and just walk away from a loss, but because of the Banks' increasing involvement in our lives, if I walk away without paying those bullshit fees it goes against my credit rating, which makes my life much more difficult in a lot of ways.
21 Quest, Nov 27 2011
  

       Yes, that's how a free market works. And the business that is so annoying to you is the product of those free market forces. Customers aren't willing to pay extra so that last-minute-paying fellow customers can get perfect service.
  

       I agree with you in spirit, but the practicalities of this are something that I equate with WIBNI because of the cost of implementation. Everyone would like this to exist, if it weren't so costly. But because it is so costly, people aren't willing to pay for it. If you could come up with a way of implementing this without adding cost, -then- you would have an idea.
swimswim, Nov 27 2011
  

       I think in a city with at least 5 call center companies, each with around 500 employees answering phones all day every day, and a $1,000.00 fine for all the bullshit those employees spew, it would more than pay for itself.
  

       Certain types of companies (the electric company, for instance) have to request and obtain permission from the government to increase their rates. I see it in the paper every few months, 'Avista Utilities petitioning for 5% rate increase'. If the government sees a request from such a company, then sees that the same company has been paying lots and lots of false information fines, they're going to see a correlation and deny the company permission to increase rates. 'Get your shit together for the next 12 months, and we'll revisit the subject.'
21 Quest, Nov 27 2011
  

       [swimswim] Agreed: this is about fixing a perceived defect in the free market, not about allowing the free market to operate. The funding mechanism of //1-800-BIZ-CRIME//, and its lavish investigative resources is left as an exercise to the reader. Taxes, maybe, but that's the legislative equivalent of "just add genetic" Unlike genetic engineering, however, the Help page makes no mention of "there oughta be a law!"
  

       But this idea can be implemented within the free market, i.e. without a tax-funded government bureaucracy. How about a private firm, combining legal services with insurance: you pay them premiums, and then, if you discover you've been misled by a vendor, you submit a claim, and, if their adjustors think you've got a case, they sue the vendor (or, more likely, settle out of court, in large batches of claimants.) Call it "rip-off insurance," or something like that. Whether enough consumers would chose to pay what it cost, plus profit, is an empirical question.
  

       But there's a simpler free-market solution: competing fee-charging* third-party reviewers who provide unbiased product information. The buyer is then responsible for doing research before making the purchase/contract, and is bound by the contract. This would allow individuals to decide -- on a purchase-by-purchase basis -- whether they were willing to pay extra for better information.
  

       *paid by the prospective consumer, so they have profit motive to provide accurate information, and large enough to have a brand (reputation) worth protecting.
mouseposture, Nov 27 2011
  

       //have to request and obtain permission from the government to increase their rates// Can you explain how this is somehow part of a "free market"?
pocmloc, Nov 27 2011
  

       Sure. They're free to have a monopoly on energy supply, in exchange for playing by the rules.
21 Quest, Nov 27 2011
  

       Even if we're talking about government regulated monopolies, a similar logic applies. The rules governing monopolies are an indirect result of voter opinions. A majority of voters would not want to increase the cost of operations for a utility company just so that a tiny fraction of its customers can demand perfection from their low-level customer service reps.
swimswim, Nov 28 2011
  

       Well... //sp: are an indirect result of a campaign sponsorship war.// sp: are an indirect result of a failed system of liberal arts education. And it's still a long way to the bottom...
swimswim, Nov 28 2011
  

       //I'm talking about something that's already illegal.// You have to prove that it's illegal. Otherwise, you are violating the company's right to due process.
  

       //A simple investigation need not incur too much expense... 15 bucks an hour ... // so you want the government to staff an office of fourt at a salary of $15 an hour to do full-on fraud investigations? Who are THEY gonna call? Even at that, you're going to have to pay these folks nearly $500 a day just in case someone doesn't read their contract correctly?
  

       And if the fines are paying their salaries, do you not see the slightest conflict of interest?
  

       For the record, [8th of 7], I am not, nor have I ever been, a sleazy attorney. I represent the elderly and people with disabilities in cases dealing with assistive technology. I hope that the revolution will make exceptions.
nomocrow, Nov 28 2011
  

       No, I'm not talking about cases of somebody misreading their contract. As I said in the post, I'm talking about employees lying to customers and companies refusing to accept responsibility for it. I've read through the terms of service with Avista. It says some pay stations may require a bill printout. It does NOT say which ones do and don't. That's why I called the company and asked. They told me that specific paystation did NOT require a bill printout, yet it DID. What further due process do you need in this case? This is a very cut and dry scenario. Your agent provided false information, which inflicted direct monetary and chronological expense on the customer.
  

       What I'm talking about here is not intricate fraud schemes and refusal to let you out of a contract because you don't think you got the level of service you paid for. That stuff is too complicated to handle out of court. I'm talking about specific incidents where an agent promises one thing (something not covered in the contract terms and conditions) and fails to deliver.
  

       For instance, the contract says that no cellphone provider can ever guarantee 100% service all the time. Agent in the store says 'I guarantee you will never experience a single dropped call on our network'. Well yes, the agent lied, but if you read the contract you would have seen that he was blowing smoke. That isn't something that my proposal covers.
  

       On the other hand, the contract says 'activation and service fees MAY be charged'. Agent in the store says 'we will waive your activation fee'. Well, the contract left it open for the agent to make that promise. He made the promise, and your company refused to honor it. You're getting fined. If the contract said 'Activation and service fees WILL be charged to EVERY customer', that would be a case for due process.
21 Quest, Nov 28 2011
  

       //specific incidents where an agent promises one thing (something not covered in the contract terms and conditions) and fails to deliver//
  

       In that case, it's really simple. You just need evidence of what they've falsely promised you. And if the evidence doesn't exist, it's best to enact costly systemic changes to ensure that no action, word or assumption ever slips by without full and thorough (and court admissable) documentation. I'm sorry, at first I misread this and thought it was more complicated.
swimswim, Nov 29 2011
  

       Well with call centers, that's easy. Every call is 'recorded for quality purposes'. That means you just have to compel the company to give you access to the recording, which they are very reluctant to do. This is why it needs to be somebody from the government with actual authority requesting access, otherwise you won't be able to obtain the evidence. Your other option is to record every call you make to the company yourself. Because the company has it's own policy of recording every call for quality purposes, they already know it's being recorded so you don't have to remind them to make it legally admissible.
21 Quest, Nov 29 2011
  

       // What further due process do you need in this case? // This is the sort of statement that makes attorneys quietly shake their heads, wondering if the job is actually worth the money. You want to give a government agency sweeping police powers to investigate and seize private property that will be used as incriminating evidence before a tribunal that will then issue a ruling without trial. This may be convenient for someone who is out 30 bucks, but it is pure fantasy with regard to what is allowable under the COTUS, and the constitutions of most free nations.
nomocrow, Nov 29 2011
  

       Well when Judges start working weekends so I don't have to miss out on two days' work to sue someone for 30 bucks, I'll start caring a little bit more about due process.
  

       All I'm saying is, there should be a way to sue people and businesses for small amounts that doesn't cost the plaintiff more than he's suing for. I've taken a used car dealer to court to get my money back for the lemon he sold me. I got the purchase price refunded to me. I got the filing and service fees refunded to me. I did not get reimbursed for lost wages the day the truck broke down on my way into work. I did not get reimbursed for taking time off work to go to court.
21 Quest, Nov 29 2011
  

       One of the first things I do is find out where the call-centre is. I seem to have much improved quality-of-assistance when I casually mention that I can be there in 20 minutes and they or their supervisor can explain it to me in person.
FlyingToaster, Nov 29 2011
  

       That's not always easy to do. I work in a call center, and I've been given specific instructions not to reveal our location. I can give city and state, and that's it. Even if I did, I know a customer calling from Florida isn't going to be here in 20 minutes. That kind of threat only works if you happen to BE in the vicinity of the call center.
21 Quest, Nov 29 2011
  
      
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