“Call your congressperson.” “Write the company president.” “Start a petition.”
All fine suggestions if some business has given you the shaft. But, fueled by high-octane righteous indignation, these men and women took a far more unorthodox approach when it came to …
Car dealers who won’t pay for warranty repairs
Most car dealers hate doing repairs covered by your warranty. To avoid picking up the tab, some dealer repair shops are not above trickery, says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. First, they may try to blame you, because problems resulting from wear and tear usually aren’t covered. If a particular vehicle model has a history of defective rear axles, for example, the dealer may still insist you hit a pothole. Another ploy: the old run-the-clock-out ruse. Every time you take your warranty-protected vehicle to the shop, the mechanic says he can’t find anything wrong, so of course he can’t fix it. Then, after your warranty expires—whaddaya know?—the mechanic miraculously identifies the problem. And by the way, that’ll be $1,800.
run-in with Volvo,
Cesario called on
her alter ego:
The usual advice: Save repair records, Ditlow says. Some states require manufacturers to fix at no charge any defect that occurs after the warranty lapses if the problem first showed up during the warranty period. If your car is not under warranty when something breaks, don’t assume you are out of luck; automakers sometimes have case-by-case repair policies that cover problem items even after your contract expires, especially if you make a fuss.
Still can’t get satisfaction? Try this: Petra Wennberg Cesario’s Volvo was covered by a Volvo-sponsored extended service contract when the transmission failed a few years ago, after just over 60,000 miles. The local dealership in Pasadena, California, replaced the faulty transmission at no charge, but the car continued to slam into gear, rev, and lurch. Wenn-berg Cesario complained and took her car in for further repairs, but the dealership, Rusnak Volvo, was never able to duplicate the problem.
Three years later, Wennberg Cesario’s service contract expired. “The dealership recommended I replace the transmission again,” she says, “but this time, I would have to pay $3,700. That was not acceptable.” She contacted the office of the president of Volvo North America. She was told that was Volvo’s best offer.
Wennberg Cesario, a 41-year-old mother of two, did the next logical thing as far as she was concerned. Harking back to her Nordic roots, she created a sword-brandishing, Viking-hat-wearing Swedish goddess named Freya Svensson.
In a series of tongue-in-cheek video blogs on her website rusmackedvolvo.com, “Freya” lashed out at the car dealer. In one, she plucks a guitar while warbling in Swedish (with English subtitles), “O Volvo and Rusnak-aaaaaaaak/You gave me a broken transmission-ooooo-n/Now the love we once shared/is fading in the past.”
The outcome: Within ten days, more than 20,000 people viewed the video, including a Volvo executive who called Cesario and told her the company was “committed to getting to the bottom of the problem.”
After examining the car in December and finding multiple problems, Volvo agreed to cover repairs worth nearly $9,000.
“This was not about some vendetta,” Cesario insists. “I was just documenting the fact that I wasn’t being treated right. I never dreamed it would become this big, but it feels good to be a voice for the little guy.”
The careless computer click that keeps on costing
Maybe you click a box offering a big discount on your online purchase. Or maybe, in a moment of weakness, you sign up for a “free” video. Boom. Next thing you know, you’re getting charged every month for a product or service you never wanted.
Welcome to data passing.
Even after you notice the fee on your credit card or bank statement (you do scour them each month, don’t you?) and try to cancel the deal, it can be frustratingly difficult to opt out. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires companies to make the terms of such offers “clear and conspicuous,” but by 2009, over 35 million consumers had been snared by data pass offers.
The usual advice: If you spot an unauthorized charge on your credit card or bank statement, notify the card issuer, then ask the merchant for your money back. If that doesn’t work, tell your card issuer to fight the charge and then file a complaint at ftc.gov or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.
Still can’t get satisfaction? Try this: As Dave Clarke was finalizing his purchase online at 1-800-Flowers, he clicked on a link offering a discount on his purchase. And unbeknownst to him, he inadvertently became a “member” of TLG Livwell, a partnership between 1-800-Flowers and Trilegiant (TLG) that offers deals on 1-800-Flowers brands and others. According to the two companies, Clarke shouldn’t have been surprised—the terms of the membership offer were disclosed in a new window when he clicked on that discount offer button. He even had to supply information to agree to membership.
But surprised he was. And a year went by before a blissfully ignorant Clarke, 27, noticed something on his credit card statement one afternoon: TLG had charged him $11.99. In fact, TLG had been siphoning off $11.99 every month since he’d pursued that discount offer, and now he was out $155.87.
“I’m pretty tech-savvy,” says Clarke, a New York City Internet consultant. “I’m on the Web all day— it’s what I do—and I still got tricked into this.” He’s not alone. TLG has been sued multiple times and has been the target of thousands of consumer complaints.
Clarke spent the rest of the day caught in a hellish black hole of customer-service phone trees, getting bounced between TLG and 1-800-Flowers. The best TLG would do was reimburse him for two months’ worth of charges: $23.98. “That really didn’t cut it for me,” Clarke says.
Clarke vented his frustrations on Twitter; he outlined what happened to him and warned people about the 1-800-Flowers checkout problem. He immediately heard from others who said they had been ripped off. Moreover, many “retweeted” his message, spreading Clarke’s online rant exponentially.
The outcome: Within hours, a 1-800-Flowers customer-service representative responded to Clarke’s tweet, asking how he could help. Clarke laid out his case, and the company arranged for TLG to refund all his money. Better yet, 1-800-Flowers no longer offers the program online.
“It’s social-media activism at its best,” Clarke says.