CONSUMER ADVICE: Don’t get stuck on auto-renewal merry-go-round

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Since writing about the need for laws prohibiting automatically renewing contracts, especially for items, services and subscriptions online, many customers have called me and reported that, after checking, they found that they had unknowingly “agreed” to perpetually renew various subscriptions without their explicit annual agreement. Many consumers, some with my help, waded through the small print and turned off the auto-renew feature on the websites, potentially saving themselves hundreds of dollars.

MY ADVICE: Sit down at your computer and make a list of all subscriptions you pay for from all online services like Netflix, YouTube Premium and so on. List next to each one what it costs you per month or year. Then search through the website and list whether the subscription is auto-renewing or not. If you’re worried about changing your subscription to manual, fearing that you might forget to renew it — never fear, because as soon as the end of your annual or monthly subscription comes into view, you will be bombarded with emails exhorting you to renew.

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WE NEED A DEATH CERTIFICATE: This was the lame response of a customer “service” representative to a consumer when she attempted to make changes to (reduce) the level of her current service. The service was in the name of her late husband. They never asked for a death certificate during the last five years when she called, on numerous occasions, to increase her service level and the amount she paid the company. They also never asked for a death certificate when, for the past five years, she paid her monthly bill.

My communication to an executive at the company quickly resolved the matter — without presenting a death certificate. I’ve heard of many excuses for poor customer service but this one topped them all. CSR can be a great help to consumers; or they can also be an impediment to good service.

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READ A BOOK: A certain cable television company has gone digital. In some cases, this has necessitated the addition of yet another device to attach to the cable to make it work. The transition to digital has the potential of bringing us new services and programming. It also provides the cable company a possible additional source of revenue.

Newton Norman “Newt” Minow (born Jan. 17, 1926) is an American attorney and former head of the Federal Communications Commission. His speech in 1961 referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” I would opine that cable television holds the promise of bringing new, exciting, entertaining and educational offerings into our home or becoming a vast, vast wasteland. The last thing I need is more reruns of bad 50-year-old sitcoms or more channels dedicated to selling the viewer more cheap crap.

MY ADVICE: It’s time to examine our TV viewing habits. Don’t leave the TV on as background noise. Read a book. Turn on some good music or even ... enjoy the silence.

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‘ASSUMPTIVE’ SERVICES & BILLING: A major problem in our area involves certain lawn care companies that assume if last year you had them come and spray some weed killer or grass feed on your lawn, they have the right to show up, without notice or approval, and provide you services now. They do this even if you’re not at home.

Next thing you know, you get a bill in the mail for services not requested or authorized. Often if you don’t immediately pay the bill, the lawn care company’s billing department threatens to “turn you over to collections.” If this happens to you, immediately call the owner or manager of the company and forcefully but politely explain that you did not order the service and that you are not going to pay for the service. Further, insist that the company send you a letter, email or statement showing that you don’t owe them any money.

Remember, Idaho law states that if you didn’t order it, you can keep it — and you don’t have to pay for it, whether it’s a good or service.

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IS THE BUSINESS REGISTERED: Many companies are offering consumers goods or services in our area. A key question is: “Are you or your company licensed to do business in Idaho?”

I’ve never heard of any company representative answering in the negative when in fact, many companies are not licensed to do business in our state. When I find a company is not registered with the state, I refuse to do business with them — period.

Licensing and registering with the state is a simple online procedure. If a company can’t or won’t register there is usually a good reason.

MY ADVICE: Don’t do business with them. If you have a mind to, report them to the Secretary of State’s Office. In any event, you can quickly check whether a company or individual is “legal.” Go to https://bit.ly/2u9Z3KB and type in their name. If they’re there, fine. If not, tell them to “move on down the road.”

Almost every company I find that is not registered has some long, convoluted story about why they’re not registered. Those that are not registered rarely will sign a contract and will often offer their goods or services at ridiculously low prices. Don’t get hooked. Hang up or close the door. You’ll be happier in the long run.

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TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: This is a legal term indicating that strict time limits are agreed to in a legal contract. While it is not necessary to have that exact language in a contract, it is essential that you have a start date and an end date in any contract. And always remember: A bid is not a contract.

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POUND OF FLESH BUT NO EVIDENCE: “My spouse got food poisoning at XYZ restaurant and I want to sue them for pain and suffering.”

When you enter the legal arena, suing for “pain and suffering” often becomes a problem. It’s best to stick to the facts.

A consumer called me afther his spouse became ill the day after eating at a local chain restaurant. He claimed it was obviously food poisoning. When I asked why he thought it was that particular restaurant’s fault, even though the couple reported eating at two other restaurants the same day, he realized he had no concrete evidence.

LESSON: What we “feel” or believe to be true is not necessarily what we can prove to be true. There is a big and important difference.

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STALE BUNS: I bought a small chicken sandwich at a local fast food drive-through restaurant. “No pickles and very light on the mayo.” When I pulled into a parking space to eat, I found what I got was no pickles, light mayo and stale buns!

Normally, I toss inedibles in the trash and get on with the day. For some reason, I went back through and confronted the window attendant, wielding the rock-hard bun. The manager was summoned and offered to make me a fresh mini-sandwich and throw in a large chocolate chip cookie. (For anyone who knows me — I don’t need a cookie!) The replacement sandwich was fine.

As I drove away, it occurred to me that as good consumers, we should all insist (politely) in getting what we ordered and paid for.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at brookshomes@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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