I have started to keep a list of the sneaky stuff that businesses do to transfer money from my pocket to theirs. Here are the five that reached my list this month:
1. Credit card notifications that come in nondescript, junk-mail looking envelopes. Last month my wife's credit card company shortened her grace period (from 20 days to 15 days) so that the date when her payment was due changed from the 25th of the month to the 20th of the month. Reducing the grace period was bad enough but when the notice was sent in a mailer than looked like junk, my wife tossed it, missed the notice and got a nasty late fee when she paid on the 25th.
2. Advertisements that I am forced to listen to when I activate a new account. Last month I got a new credit card. Before the card would be activated, however, I had to call an 800 number for what I thought was a routine confirmation that I had the card in hand. The recorded voice instructed me to punch in my card number (which I did) and then before it acknowledged activation, played a two-minute commercial for other card services. Since I was afraid there might be something more I needed to do before activation occurred, I had to listen to an inane pitch for some kind of card insurance.
3. Calls from my card company pretending to be protecting my interests. I get really nuts when I receive a call from my credit card's "security" department checking on card charges which don't mesh with my usual monthly expenditures, e.g. charges outside my home state. What bothers me is less that they are checking and more their disingenuous explanation: "We want to protect your interests, and for your protection just want to be sure these are your charges." The fact is that fraudulent use of my credit card is really the credit card company's problem (by law a cardholder's liability is maxed at $50). Just say that, card company, and I would be OK although I will still get aggravated if you start calling weekly.
4. Voice recognition software for telephone directory assistance. I guess this is not really a trick but it still drives me nuts. Directory assistance is a service provided by the phone company. OK, thanks (although it does encourage more phone use and I am not sure that it is free). But then don't take my time while I try to explain to a robot that I would like the number of Mike Krzyzewski (coach of Duke University basketball team) by coming back with "Was that 'Mike's Bike and Repair Shop'?"
5. Automobile dashboard warnings that service is needed. I haven't figured this one out yet but I can't stand it when a warning light appears on my dashboard telling me that something in my new car needs attending to. The car may be running fine but looking at that warning light I feel like I have to take it back to the dealer (three hours out of my day) for whatever "danger" I am confronting. Sometimes the dealer says "Oh, no big deal... just a short" and switches the light off. Three hours wasted. Since I don't listen to any pitches for oil changes or other maintenance suggestions, I have yet to figure out whether these lights are meant to bring people into the dealer or a repair facility so that the car owner can spend money (or access some warranty protection). If anyone can explain this to me, please be in touch.
OK, that is enough ranting for one post. Please send me your peeves so that I can put them in a book and turn it into a hugely profitable best seller. Thanks.
Jim Randel is the founder of The Skinny On book series - illustrated, entertaining explanations of financial topics and chicanery. www.theskinnyon.com