Ellen Roseman's Stories

Toronto Star

Pubdate: June 04, 2005 Page: D2 Section: Business Edition:


Tenacity rewarded in billing disputes

Photo Caption: John Rennison torstar news service file photo


Cellphone customers must inform the company immediately if a phone is lost or stolen or they'll be held responsible for the charges. When pressed, Rogers Wireless cut the bill rung up on a lost phone.


Byline/Source: By Ellen Roseman Toronto Star


When you have a dispute about billing, you're often told: "This is company policy and there's nothing more we can do." But companies often go beyond their policies if you push hard and have a good case. Here are stories of three people who managed to break through the wall and get more relief.


Henry Dimayuga gave a Rogers Wireless cellphone to his son, 14, for both fun and safety reasons. His son lost the phone in mid-January. "This is where my nightmare started," Dimayuga told us. 


The teenager didn't know the phone was lost for the first two days. Then, fearing the consequences, he didn't tell his parents until a week later.


Before the loss was reported, however, Rogers' fraud unit called to say it had found an unusual pattern of long-distance calls to places in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, adding up to $2,700. Rogers insisted that Dimayuga was responsible for paying the long-distance bill. Company policy required customers to report losses right away.


The long-distance charges were reduced to $900 after we intervened. "It's a big relief," said Dimayuga, who has now paid in full with borrowed money. An immigrant from the Philippines, he has two full-time jobs and works 16 hours a day. Heather Armstrong, a Rogers Wireless spokeswoman, said an investigation showed the calls were not made by the family. But she referred us to the fine print on the cellular application, which says customers are responsible for calls made from their phones until they notify Rogers of a loss or theft. "We will go to great lengths to assist our customers who are inconvenienced in any way," she said, "but remind them they need to notify us of a stolen phone so we may offer the greatest assistance." 


Garrett Reardon had a beef with Rogers, which supplied his Internet service. He recently found he'd been paying $9.95 a month for a second IP (Internet Protocol) address he didn't actually have.  This had gone on for two years and amounted to $243 in extra charges.


Rogers' policy is to give refunds only for the previous three months to customers who report a pricing discrepancy, said spokeswoman Taanta Gupta. This is based on the fact that customers should be scrutinizing their bills each month and noticing when they're being overcharged.


Reardon kept pushing. He escalated his complaint to the president's office and got an offer to refund six months' worth of overcharges.


"They said it was my fault for not noticing anything and not calling," he said. "If I had known, of course I would have called." While he saw a $9.95 charge on his bill for a "network connection," he said he didn't know what it was. He thought Rogers' rates had gone up.


 "I never did agree to this second IP service," he told us, insisting he wanted the charges reversed for the full two years.


Gupta said she decided to give him a refund, despite company policy to go back only 90 days, because she felt the customer hadn't been treated fairly.


"This works both ways," she said about Rogers' 90-day refund policy. "About a year ago, we found some price discrepancies that worked against us. We contacted the customers within 90 days and we didn't charge them."



Toronto Star

Pubdate: April 23, 2005 Page: D5 Section: Business Edition:


Mail-in rebates less than they seem


Byline/Source: By Ellen Roseman Toronto Star


You're shopping for a new computer or digital camera. You find two models with the same price, but one has an attractive rebate offer and the other does not.


Which one do you pick?


Most consumers go for the rebate, but more than half never claim it, according to widely quoted statistics. People can't be bothered to do the paperwork, cut the universal product codes off the packages and keep copies of everything in case the cheque never arrives in the mail.


There's the rub. Rebates often go astray despite all the work you do to meet the requirements. Some people wait so long, and get so frustrated, they think companies deliberately don't keep their promises.


Tom Daniel followed all the instructions and waited six weeks for a $50 rebate on a computer monitor. "Guess what? No record of the rebate request. Now I'm asked to go to the trouble and expense of writing a letter and

faxing it long distance to Minnesota." Daniel got his rebate after we contacted Best Buy on his behalf.


We also helped Brendan Morrissey get a $30 rebate from Symantec Corp. "I like the product (Norton AntiVirus), but the service really bugs me," Morrissey says, adding that he had problems two years in a row getting the company to honour its rebate. Both times, he got a card in the mail saying proof of purchase hadn't been received. But he insists he sent all the documents the company requested. Elynn Wareham, a public relations consultant for Symantec,apologized for the inconvenience the rebate issue had caused.


Dean Finlay waited more than two months for Rogers Wireless to come through with a $50 rebate on his pay-as-you-go phone purchase.


"I contacted the company processing the rebate for Rogers, and they sent me the following message: 'Please note: We are waiting for client approval to release the rebates.'


"This implies that Rogers is holding it up. I really don't like the mail-in rebate idea, and it becomes even less tolerable when the offering company deliberately slows down the process," Finlay said in a public message posted at my website. 


When he tried calling Rogers to ask why the rebates hadn't been approved, "they hung up on me." Many product suppliers don't process their own rebates, but hand over the job to an outside firm. This increases the potential for errors.


Heather Armstrong, a Rogers Wireless spokeswoman, says Finlay was given the wrong client message. She promised to speed up the delivery of his rebate cheque. John Grant caught our attention with his email about "rebate exhaustion" in trying to extract $50 from Best Buy and $70 from Hewlett-Packard Co. on a computer and printer purchased at Christmas.


"After 10 phone calls and four faxes, I have finally received what was rightfully mine," he wrote. The Best Buy rebate came March 3, after he made two calls to track the money down. That was the easy part. Hewlett-Packard had no record of his application. Luckily, he'd saved a copy of his product code. But he had to fax it again and again.


He got a cheque on March 15, but only when he asked Best Buy to help him out. The retailer gave him a letter to send to Hewlett-Packard, but wouldn't communicate with the supplier directly.


Everyone he talked to had stories about rebates going AWOL.  "My advice to people is to plug away, make copies and don't let the companies wear you down," Grant says. Whether suppliers don't pay up on purpose or just build in too many safeguards against fraud, the effect is the same. The companies alienate customers and turn loyalty into disloyalty. Retailers are also becoming annoyed with a promotional tactic so prone to failure and frustration.


Best Buy Co., the largest electronics retailer in North America,will bow to customer complaints and phase out rebates over the next two years, the company said this month.


"We'd much rather have instant rebates, which you redeem on the spot," says Rick Lotman, senior vice-president of merchandising at Best Buy Canada in Vancouver.


"This is a pretty bold step for us since a lot of suppliers like rebates. They let you get a price impression out there without taking the risk."


Instant rebates would be more costly, of course. They would go to 100 per cent of customers, not just the 30 per cent or fewer who now apply for and receive the rebates.  But it's a fair thing to do - and it's long overdue.

 "I buy products, and I don't always take advantage of the rebates," Lotman says. "They add a layer of complexity to a purchase, especially of technological products, that's complex already."


If you have an interesting consumer problem you would like investigated, please send details to onyourside @ thestar.ca by email. We will get in touch with you only if we handle your complaint. You must agree to have your name used in the newspaper.




Toronto Star

Pubdate: February 12, 2005 Page: D3 Section: Business Edition: MET Length: 874


Slow response to fraudulent Visa charges

Byline/Source: By Ellen Roseman Toronto Star


What do you do when you find unauthorized charges from a retailer on your credit-card bill? Do you call the retailer or the credit-card company or both?


Here's the story of a customer, Helene Yaremko-Jarvis, who's still waiting to get rid of unauthorized charges from Rogers Wireless Inc. dating back to Oct. 27. Her three letters to Rogers brought no response. So, she turned to us for help. Thanks to our intervention, she now has an apology. And Rogers Wireless has a better idea of how to help customers in her



It turns out that someone was putting through fraudulent pay-as-you-go charges on her CIBC Visa Aerogold card. Rogers confirmed the fraud right after she reported it, but never contacted her - or advised her to call Visa.


"When she phoned into our customer-care centre, we should have at that time suggested that she phone Visa directly," says Rogers Wireless spokesman Heather Armstrong. "We apparently cannot phone Visa on the customer's behalf. They have to report it themselves. "We did not advise her to call Visa, and that was an error on Rogers Wireless' part."


Yaremko-Jarvis and her husband both have Rogers cellphones, with two phone numbers sharing the same account. He pays the monthly charges by automatic debit from his Visa card. On the same day last October, Rogers debited his Visa for $54.23 - and her Visa for $46. This was followed by two more charges of $46 each to her Visa on Nov. 1 and Nov. 12. When she called Rogers Wireless to ask about the three mysterious charges, she was told to write a letter to the investigations department.


"It would have been much more customer-friendly for your staff to be able to advise me of the requested details by telephone," she said. "I find it disconcerting that a call to Rogers Wireless is not sufficient to obtain details on credit-card debits made by Rogers Wireless."


Yaremko-Jarvis is a commercial lawyer. She knows how to make companies listen. Here's what she wrote (in capital letters) on Dec. 16:


"I hereby prohibit any further debits being made by Rogers Wireless Inc. to my Visa account. "Should there be some past authorization in this regard(which I do not recall), it is hereby withdrawn with immediate



But there were two more unauthorized debits - one on Nov. 30 for $11.50 and another on Dec. 2 for $23 - on her next Visa bill. "As a result of the pathetically slow response of your company," she said in a letter on Jan. 7, "I have been forced to cancel my Visa card to put a stop to these



She still had heard nothing when she contacted us on Feb. 3. But Rogers took things seriously and called her with an apology on Feb. 7.


If the fraud was pinned down right away, why hadn't anyone responded to her letters? And why hadn't the charges been reversed?


This was a rare case and Rogers Wireless lacked the proper controls, Armstrong said. The fraud investigation team didn't stay in close touch with the customer-service team.


We find it surprising that a telephone company insists customers complain in writing, then leaves them hanging when it comes to a written (or even verbal) reply.


Our advice: Check those bills every month, look for unauthorized charges, report them right away and get them reversed.




Toronto Star

Pubdate: November 15, 2003 Page: D3 Section: Business Edition:


Hard-headed Rogers plans kinder, gentler approach


Byline/Source: By Ellen Roseman Toronto Star


There are times when customers get into severe financial trouble and can't pay their bills. Companies need clear and consistent guidelines on how to handle these hardship cases.


Rogers AT&T Wireless gets a failing grade on how it treated Melanie Bichener, who couldn't keep up the monthly payments on her cellular phone.


In May, 2002, Bichener was diagnosed with a chronic health problem. It prevents her from working full-time in the corporate world.


"I could have applied for disability, but chose to work around my disorder instead," she says. This January, she started her own business as a customer service consultant. But sales were slow and her health worsened. By July, her situation was desperate.


"I had signed up for a two-year deal on the Rogers AT&T cellphone before I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain a full-time job," she says. She decided to use what little money she had to pay the rent and keep her home heated. Her telephone bill was about three months in arrears on Oct. 27, when she got a call from Rogers AT&T.


Hearing she was in desperate straits, the representative said she could pay 80 per cent of the outstanding amount. Rogers would write off the other 20 per cent, with no repercussions to her credit rating.


After thinking it over for a day, Bichener called Rogers and said she would accept the 80 per cent option. But she wanted to cancel her two-year contract when it ended in early November. The 80 per cent amount she had to pay was $227 and the deadline was Nov. 20.


"After this arrangement had been made, I still received calls from Rogers AT&T requesting payment of the full amount," she says.


On Nov. 12, eight days before the deadline, she went to a Rogers Video store and paid the $227. She then called Rogers AT&T to report her payment and ensure her service would be cancelled as requested. (Bichener didn't know whether her service had been cancelled. The cellphone stopped working in August and she didn't want to pay for the repairs.)


Imagine her frustration when a different Rogers representative told her the 80 per cent option didn't apply if she didn't renew her service.


A request to speak to a supervisor confirmed that Bichener now had an outstanding balance of $117.42, which would go to collection if it wasn't paid.


"After mulling it over for a few minutes, my husband called back and told Rogers AT&T to log the following in their computer system: 'As far as we are concerned, our account is paid in full. Any further balance should be sent directly to collections and we'll take it up in court.'"


Some hardship policy Rogers offered this customer. First, it said it would write off 20 per cent of what she owed without having to renew her contract. Later, it reneged on the deal promised by two representatives on the phone. She'd get the 20 per cent write-off only if she kept up a service she couldn't afford and couldn't use because her phone was broken.


"I hope you find this story as disgusting as I do and would be willing to write an article about it," Bichener said in her e-mail sent Wednesday afternoon. Rogers, to its credit, snapped to attention. By Thursday at 5 p.m., the case was settled.


"We apologized sincerely for the mismanagement of her account and assured her that we use this as a significant coaching opportunity for all the representatives involved,including the team manager," said spokesperson HeatherArmstrong. "We advised her that a credit of $117 was posted to her account and the account had been deactivated, with the necessary

documentation to avoid any negative effect at the credit bureau."


In case the balance on her final bill was not zero, Bichener was given the name and number of the vice-president of collections to call directly.


Rogers AT&T representatives do try to hold on to customers who can't pay their bills but want to stay with the company, Armstrong said. "In this case, however, it is clear that we should have accepted a settlement offer owing to financial hardship."


We can't say Rogers is worse than other large companies when it comes to customer service. But we think it's ironic that Rogers gave such shoddy treatment to a woman who's in the customer service business.(You can check out her company at www.outlooksolutions.ca.)


"I was told there were foul-ups all along in this case," Bichener told us yesterday. "You have relieved a big source of stress for me. Thank you so much."