Wednesday, June 20, 2012


June 20, 2012

'Scuse me, how much is this? No price tag on it, I guess it must be free. Not free? Okay then, how much for this shirt?
That depends on when you buy it, sir, where you buy it and your method of payment.
How’s that?
Sir, if you buy it now it’s $54.99. If you buy on a Wednesday between 9am and 11am it’s five  percent off. If you lay it away for next week it’s $59.99 and if we have to order your size it’s $66.99 cash in advance.
Come again?
If you buy direct from our warehouse six months ahead of time you can save up to eleven percent but we can’t guarantee color or fit...
Geddaway with this mind-boggling array of prices. All I want is the shirt.
Welcome to the modern way of doing business where they routinely disrespect the customer with sly pricing gymnastics designed to discombobulate. Forget about straightforward shopping; today you’ve got to be on constant alert.
Confusion reigns.
Tried booking an airline ticket lately? Tried unraveling the phone bill or understanding some of the financial services offered by banks and others? Everything’s carefully planned by squads of computer wizards whose job it is to find ways to squeeze the buyer. That’s you and me. We're the sheep. They're the sheepsqueezers.
Take the phone bill. What is all that stuff? We’ve been right all along to wonder about its veracity and now we know for sure. There are unauthorized charges, overcharges, charges for items you know you never ordered or received...
An outfit called TeleTruth singles out Verizon for special scrutiny and, in doing so, blows the lid off the telephone companies’ “many dirty secrets”.
A few years back our phone bill skyrocketed. Suddenly, instead of AT&T our long distance carrier was Qwest, a company we’d never heard of. We’d been “slammed”. Without even telling us, they’d done a switcheroo and hiked the rates. Boss Joe ‘The Juggler’ Nacchio got 70 months’ prison for fraud and $44 million went back to his victims.  
What are the banks up to these days? Try decoding Bankese, the new language they minted that mixes monetary jargon with legal contortions and bathes it all in an unreadable Proust soup to ensure only they can understand it.   
Apparently a bounced check could penalize you as much as $100. Overdraw your account and they can cream you similarly. In both cases the amount by which you defaulted need be only a few bucks, but their usurious fines apply anyway. A customer can be levied up to $370 in one day, reveals the Consumer Federation of America in its latest report.
We’re all aware the big banks are knaves, even thieves. Buried in the fine print are staggeringly high fees for the simplest tasks, even for things the bank doesn’t do like self-service. You can challenge a charge but some banks require that you pay all their legal and other expenses – even if you win your case.
With cable and satellite, crafty providers group the channels in such a way as to make you buy more TV than you want. A la carte? Certainly, Ma’am, but it’s gonna cost ya .
Our satellite company pulled a little maneuver, offering free Starz programming for three months but omitting to mention that by accepting you’d be tied to this outfit for two years. A sneaky trick for a quick buck that also earned them the label ‘untrustworthy’. Complaints about Dish Network are all over the Internet, particularly on a site called Ripoffreport.
It’s one enormous rigged shell game with the consumer the patsy. Even getting away from all this head-spinning jiggerypokery is a hassle.
Let’s bypass the fact that Sardine Airlines (which is all of them) have now reduced the space between seats so that you’re turned into a flying fetus with your knees under your chin.
Finding a decent air fare? It’s like attempting to solve Rubik’s Cube using your earlobes. Which, coincidentally, might be a good deal easier in the embryo position. But all those hidden extras, the prices changing from minute to minute and all the airlines only pretending to compete with one another. Book on the first Thursday of any month beginning in ‘J’ between midnight and 2am when there’s a three quarter moon and the price is $677. That’s for travel on any Tuesday morning between 6am and 6:11am. Book for any flight outside these times and it’s $1,273. Unborn children travel free. Have a nice flight.
Here’s one solution: you set the price. Tell them what you’ll pay. Wifey told American Express if they wanted her to use their card she wouldn’t be paying the annual fee. I offered the phone company my rate for international calls. In both cases the big corporation accepted meekly. It’s simple: stand up to the bullies and they back down.
Tell these corporations: “You’re not to be trusted.” If anyone said that to me I’d be mortified. Maybe they don’t care, but until then...
That shirt, sir. If you want buttons on it that would be extra. Paying cash will save you five percent. Do you have any Frequent Wearer Points?
Ah, and I see you tried that hat on. Sir, there’s a $5 charge for that.
Oh yeah? So sue me for wearing the hat for 30 seconds. Here’s my credit card. I’ll give you twenty bucks for the shirt, complete with collar, buttons, sleeves, the lot. Take it or leave it.


© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.