Archive for July, 2018

Service of a Pet Scam: A Sleazy Twist on Leasing

Monday, July 30th, 2018

Photo: dogtime.com

This post might have enhanced “Service of Did you Know That When You Bought or Rented It?” published early in July. Actually it slips in between. It’s about customers who thought they’d bought something that is usually purchased or given away but was actually rented to them.

Nancy Coleman wrote “Just Bought a New Puppy? It Might Be a Rental.” It shocked me because most pet people I’ve met are kind. Like millions, I fall in love with my animal family members and once ensconced in the household, they are there to stay.  A company structured to pull a fast one over people willing to adopt a pet is sick. With the exception of a movie production company, why would anyone want to rent an animal?

Photo: health.com

Leasing company Wags Lending thinks they do or at least that someone will fall for its scam. In her Wall Street Journal article Coleman wrote that the company, headquartered in Nevada, leases pets. The 20-something woman in her story inadvertently leased her Chihuahua, Remi, from an upstate NY pet store. She said to Coleman that “An employee at The Pet Zone, told her Remi’s list price was about $1,900, but according to the contract, the puppy would have cost more than twice as much—$4,370—after two years of paying about $180 a month.”

Photo: justpuppies.com

The victim ended up paying $540 for three months plus $1,900 for Remi plus a $300 leasing fee. She wasn’t alone. “Her story—documented in records from a fraud case brought by the New York Attorney General’s office in May against the pet-store chain, and recounted to the Journal—isn’t unusual. At least six other customers gave similar accounts about The Pet Zone, which has four outlets in New York, in depositions for the same continuing lawsuit.”

Like furniture and car leases, pet leases usually run from one to three years, and like furniture and cars, pets cost more at the end. However, should the pet die or run away, the lessee is still obligated to pay for it.

Meanwhile, the FTC has twice warned about this business model in blogs; a bill banning pet leasing is waiting for N.Y. Governor Cuomo’s signature—California and Nevada already have such a ban–and Coleman reported that Wags Lending’s parent company, Bristlecone Holdings, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Coleman wrote: “There are certain compliance requirements under the Consumer Leasing Act that come into play when stores advertise a leasing option, said Lesley Fair, a senior attorney in the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education. The language used to explain the lease needs to be ‘clear and conspicuous,’ and understandable for consumers, she said.

“Businesses also specifically need to disclose how much consumers will have paid at the end of the leasing term and details about monthly payments.”

The pet industry, already at $86 billion, is expected to grow. No wonder there are bottom feeders poised to take advantage.

Have you run into a situation where you thought you were buying something but were actually leasing it? Do you agree that pets should not be leased from pet shops, period?

Photo: allpetsplace.com

 

 

 

Service of Retrospect: Cleaning Up the Past with Rose Colored Glasses

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Photo: icreatedaily.com

There a many powerful pro and con arguments about the confiscation of historic statues—of Robert E. Lee in New Orleans, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors in Baltimore or Jefferson Davis in Memphis to name a few—or the removal of names on prizes and honors of people once admired. In most cases their political positions, remarks or writings represented or reflected racist sentiments, often typical in the day, that are unacceptable now. Yet not all have been equally demoted.

Robert E. Lee statue formerly in New Orleans

Take Albert Einstein. In recently released travel diaries he wrote “some racist things about the Chinese back in the early 1920s,” Peter Dreier reported on prospect.org. “As I point out in my book,” wrote Dreier of  The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, “none of the 100 people in my Social Justice Hall of Fame was

Albert Einstein Photo: biography.com

(or is) a saint. They all had vision, courage, persistence, and talent, but they also made mistakes.” He also wrote “I would certainly incorporate Einstein racist comments in my profile of him, but that wouldn’t exclude him from being in the pantheon of great American radicals and progressives.”

Drier continued: “Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a crusader for women’s health and birth control, briefly endorsed eugenics.

Margaret Sanger Photo: pbs.org

Theodore Roosevelt’s was a foe of big business, but his ‘big stick’ imperialism outraged many progressives. Alice Paul, the great women’s suffrage leader, was an anti-Semite. Eleanor Roosevelt also absorbed the casual anti-Semitism of her upper-class WASP upbringing.”

Then there’s the former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. A division of the American Library Association [ALA]– the Association for Library Service to Children {ALSC]–renamed the award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. According to Michael Taube in The Wall Street Journal, “‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the association announced in a press release.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“Characters in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ say ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ three times,” Taube reported. “Wilder’s references to her white settler family’s manifest destiny has also troubled the black community,” he wrote.

Taub continued: “Hardly anyone would defend these sentiments today, but people are products of their times. The Wilder Award was established in 1954, and its first recipient was Laura Ingalls Wilder herself. If we judge past luminaries by today’s standards, who’s next to go?”

For 36 years the ALA collaborated on Banned Books Week with Amnesty International. Taub quoted “An ALSC blog post about it last September called the week a time to ‘celebrate intellectual freedom.’” He asked: “How does the ALSC square the spirit of Banned Books Week with its scrubbing of Wilder’s name?” and concluded “I tried to reach them, but didn’t receive a response.”

How best deal with the past when looking at it through today’s rose colored glasses?

  • Why are we inconsistent in our castigation of prominent historic figures, punishing some and not others? For example, should the World Cultural Council rename its Albert Einstein World Award of Science?
  • What does it take for some, and not others to lose their exalted place in the firmament of the admired?
  • Do you agree with the name change made by the Association for Library Service to Children from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award?
  • Should we leave well enough alone or in the forewords of book reprints, such as Ingalls Wilder’s, put in historic context her remarks and attitudes that are now considered hurtful and demeaning?

 

Eleanor Roosevelt Photo: tes.com

Service of Stopping Robocalls

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Photo: arstechnica.com

I try not to pick up calls from unusual area codes because I suspect a sales or robocall. I read that the objective is not to let these callers know they’ve reached a live number. I was wrong at least when it comes to robocalls. Read on.

So what can I do to stop the onslaught? Nothing much, according to Katherine Bindley of The Wall Street Journal. She lamented “Why can’t anyone stop this madness? When will it end?” She was inspired to research and write her article after racing out of the shower to catch a call she thought was her boss. It was a robocall. This morning the same thing happened to me. The unknown caller left no message.

In preparing for her article, she heard “There’s no silver bullet” time and again from pundits She advises that you hang up if you pick up a robocall. If you respond in any other way the robocalling company might sell your reactive number to others.

Bindley explained: “Back when phone calls were transmitted over copper wires, businesses paid a lot of money for phone systems that allowed 1,000 employees to make calls without needing 1,000 phone lines. These systems inserted caller ID so, for instance, customers all saw the same business number, regardless of which employee made the call.

Photo: ksryangroup.com

“With the internet, businesses don’t need expensive hardware. Anyone can start a mini call center with software that auto-dials numbers and spoofs caller ID. They also need a provider to ‘originate’ the call, that is, connect the internet call to the phone network.”

Bindley wrote that “developers have proposed a call-certifying protocol…. If a bad guy tries to spoof the caller ID, the call would go through, but it wouldn’t be verified. Eventually, users would see a check mark or other indicator for verified calls.” Verification that a caller has the right to use a phone number leading to the approval check could take as long as five years though Verizon expects to launch a program later this year, Bindley reported.

She suggests you add your number to the Do Not Call Registry managed by the FTC. I checked and you can access by phone at 888-382-1222—use the phone you want to register—or online at www.donotcall.gov. Once the number is on the registry for 31 days you can report unwanted sales calls using the same phone number and website.

Photo: phys.org

Your carrier might have robocall protection as T-Mobile does for free. AT&T offers a free option and with one for $4/monthly you can block categories of calls, Bindley wrote. For $3/month Verizon will send spam numbers received by wireless customers to voicemail and Sprint’s Premium caller ID rejects calls if it determines that they are likely to be SPAM. It’s also $3/month. It’s active for IOS users only now and for Android users by fall.

You can check out Hiya, a free call-blocking app. “Nomorobo, $2 a month, identifies likely scam calls and can send them straight to voice mail. Unlike some other services, you don’t have to share your contact list for it to work.” I don’t trust the judgment of filtering services if they are anything like my SPAM and junk mail programs. I can be in a back and forth with a client, editor, reporter or producer when communication stops because their most recent email ends up in my SPAM file.

Bindley wrote that she blocked a robocall but got another one from the same business two days later.

Are you irritated by robocalls? Do you try to stop them or have you given up? Don’t you hope that the robocall protection systems and their detectives will distinguish between those we want—say from the pharmacy to announce that our prescriptions are ready or from the electric company that the power is restored at our homes when we’re away—from those we don’t?

Photo: techworm.net

Service of Deadlines: Divorce American Style

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Photo: thepitcher.org

Most people must meet deadlines at work and/or at home. There are plenty associated with product introductions that, in turn, trigger marketing and media rollouts and, of course, news deadlines. Some whisk out restaurant and school meals at lunch in record time. Others note coupon redemption days; plan and attend weddings; catch trains or planes and return library books for starters.

Here’s a deadline from left field: For tax reasons you’d better hurry up and finalize your divorce according to Jim Tankersley in his New York Times article, “Wedded Bliss Lost Its Ring? Rich Should End It in ’18.” You have 5½ months before the Republican tax law kicks in.

Photo: illinoislegalaid.org

If you split after December 31, you will no longer be able to take the full amount of alimony off your Federal income taxes. This is a very big deal especially for the wealthy and think–the benefit could last for decades. In fact, from 2019 on, alimony-payers won’t be taking off a cent.

By removing the tax break Federal revenues should benefit by $7 billion over ten years.

IRS records show that 600,000 get that deduction each year, reported Tankersley. He wrote that “about 20 percent of taxpayers who currently claim the deductions are in the top 5 percent of household income earners.”

Photo: nstp.org

There are other repercussions in addition to the obvious one. The higher earning ex spouse, once the deductibility is gone, might agree to pay less alimony to compensate for the loss of the tax benefit. This will impact women and some children. “Child support payments are not deductible, but so-called unallocated support—payments that are meant to help a divorcing spouse and children at the same time—is deductible.”

Some experts predict that the new tax law might reduce the number of divorces that women initiate if it adversely impacts their alimony/income.

Photo: 80snostalgia.com

But take heart: Financial planners for the wealthiest “will have ways of working around the change.” Some spouses “may choose to forgo alimony payments and instead accept more lucrative real estate, larger shares in tax-deferred retirement accounts or some complex combination of the two that maximizes tax advantages.”

What about everyone else? Surprise surprise: “Middle-class and lower-income taxpayers have fewer of those assets—and less ability to recapture potentially lost benefits of the alimony deduction,” Tankersley wrote.

What deadlines do you find hardest to meet? Do you wait until the last minute? Have you benefited from the new tax law? Do you think that lawmakers take into consideration the repercussions that the changes they make have on citizens’ lives? The pundits couldn’t forecast whether there will be a flurry of divorces before year’s end. Do you think that there might be?

Photo: defymca.org

 

Service of Everybody Gets a Trophy: College & University Academic Honors Galore

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Photo: debate.org

Not short of recognition in my professional life, in college I was a dorm officer and on the college student council but I wasn’t much when it came to academic honors. [I made Dean’s List one semester, a shock to me most of all.] I’m impressed with my Phi Beta Kappa friends and with anyone who graduated with academic honors.

Photo: rochester.edu

I was not happy to read Melissa Korn’s Wall Street Journal article, “You Graduated Cum Laude? So Did Everyone Else.”

Korn wrote: “Nearly half of students who graduated from Lehigh University, Princeton University and the University of Southern California this year did so with cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors, or their equivalents. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, more got the designations than didn’t.” Over 50 percent of Middlebury’s graduates and at Wellesley, 41 percent were so honored, up from 1/3 in the past 10 years.

Korn quoted former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer: “A 4.0 does signal something significant, that that student is good. A 3.7, however, doesn’t. That’s just a run-of-the-mill student at any of these schools.” Rojstaczer has focused on grade inflation for years according to Korn.

“Most elite schools cap the share of the graduating class that can receive academic honors. But the caps vary widely, from 25% at Columbia University to up to 60% at Harvard,” she wrote.

Excerpts from the article:

  • “Harvard’s number hit 91% in 2001, as highlighted at the time in a Boston Globe article about generous honors policies. Soon after, the school revised its selection process.
  • “Academic researchers say that uptick is a sign of grade inflation, not of smarter students.
  • “A handful of schools, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have tried to rein in the awards.
  • “Derrick Bolton, dean of admissions for Stanford University’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars graduate program, said application readers may glance at honors designations, but don’t dwell on them.” The program that accepted 50 and rejected 3,451 students, “looks more for candidates who challenge themselves academically, even if that means a B grade along the way.”

To be eligible for academic recognition the GPAs required by the colleges and universities in the article started at 3.5 and 3.6. At Tufts, which wouldn’t share with the Journal the percentage of students awarded academic honors, you needed a 3.2 in engineering.

Harvey Mudd College

If someone is paying yearly almost $70,000–$52,666 tuition and $17,051 room and board–at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, Calif., they might expect an award, don’t you think? Harvey Mudd was the first in a list of the 50 most expensive colleges and universities in Business Insider published in February 2017.  The publication credited “Trends in College Pricing” as its source. Brown was the least expensive charging $64,566 for tuition and room and board. I went to Boston University, number 38, now at $65,110 per year, whereas Yale, number 47, where my husband graduated, cost $64,650.

Do colleges and universities think that they are doing students a favor by lowering the bar in handing out academic honors by the pound? Are they being smart? Is the likely chance a student or child will be so honored a selling point to attract candidates?

Photo: dentaltechnicianjobs.net

Service of Say What? Inadvertent Impressions Businesses Make

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

Photo: gofindtheothers.com

It’s not hard to find businesses that mean well but do their customers or themselves little good with their marketing efforts.

The Grass is Greener….

I couldn’t stop the car last weekend to snap a shot of a scruffy looking property with a small sign on the remarkably unkempt grass that promoted a lawn care business. Made me sad for the business.

Divorce Auction Style

A postcard advertising a “Divorce Liquidation Auction” would have done well to omit the words “Have Fun.” “Fun” didn’t go with the headline that indicated that two people had to sell their belongings due to an unfortunate situation. On the reverse side of the card we read that the couple had been married 20 years and had travelled a lot. I know: I’m thin-skinned, but when I saw the card I envisioned vultures circling a carcass looking for spoils. Not fun.

Warning: Read But Don’t Look

Our 2018 Malibu flashed a warning on the dashboard screen. I took my eyes off the road to see that it said “Taking your eyes off the road too long or too often could cause a crash resulting in injury or death to you or others. Focus your attention on driving.” Struck me funny.

I have driven the car since May, and find that the over-sensitive screen is a dangerous distraction as well. I barely touch it and something changes—like my favorite radio stations. I end up with links to three of the same instead of the selection I’d originally made.

I’ve given up using the address book transferred to the car from my mobile phone. As I scroll through the names with my finger touching the screen as gently as possible, I must press too hard because I mistakenly call two to three people before tapping the person/number I want to call.

I’m also fearful that General Motors and probably the world now have all the phone numbers of everyone I know or knew.

Head-Scratcher

Actor Sofia Vergara plays Gloria Pritchett on the TV sitcom “Modern Family” on ABC and also stars in Head & Shoulders shampoo commercials with her son Manolo and other family members. I like that she gets Proctor & Gamble to include her relatives but the twist in the current commercial is mean. Vergara exclaims how soft Manolo’s hair is, runs to wash hers and then shoves herself on to his chair and takes over. A mom that steals a scene from her kid: Not funny and gives the wrong impression. And I don’t think Vergara is a nasty person.

What marketing slipups or miscommunications have you noticed lately?

Sofia Vergara and son Manolo

Service of Did You Know That When You Bought or Rented It?

Monday, July 9th, 2018

1966 Ford pickup. Photo: classiccars.com

I once rented a glorious apartment with a view of the East River and Manhattan out the kitchen window; a working fireplace; large living and dining rooms; two bedrooms and a skylight in one of the bathrooms. I soon discovered it had a serious paucity of electric plugs and closets so shallow that when we closed the doors one shoulder of every jacket was crushed and wrinkled.

I was so taken by the rest of the place that I paid no attention to these flaws.

Photo: pinterest.com

Some NYC co-ops don’t permit washing machines in apartments which could be a deal-breaker if you have young children. Suburban communities often don’t allow people to hang laundry outdoors which if this is important to you, you want to know before moving in.

The subject of Douglas Belkin’s Wall Street Journal article, Luke Lambert, soon discovered that he wasn’t allowed to park his pickup truck outside–in his driveway or on the street–when he moved to Flossmore, Ill. The ban, which caused the man’s dad to borrow a sedan to visit him from Wisconsin because he got a ticket when he parked his pickup in his son’s driveway on his first visit, is one of many restrictions in this Chicago suburb.  Aboveground pools, dog leashes longer than 8 feet or grass taller than five inches are also prohibited. Residents have 24 hours to hide garbage cans after pickup.

The outlawed pickups must be stored in a garage but Lambert’s 1966 Ford was too big to fit so he parked it at his grandmother in laws’ house 10 miles away. Flossmore citizens think that theirs may be the last American community with such a residential restriction and Lambert wants to reverse it. Currently pickups are allowed outside of businesses and in church parking lots and for a few minutes outside homes to unload contents.

Lambert built a Facebook page in his effort and collected 300 signatures. The opposition suggested that people “Build a bigger garage or buy a smaller truck and park it in your current garage. No one who is not using it for business ‘needs’ a giant truck.”

According to Belkin, after a fall referendum, the trustees will make their decision. The mayor can’t predict the outcome and thinks it will be close.

Have you ever moved somewhere only to learn too late about problematic, inconvenient imperfections or rules? Do you think the conservatives in Flossmore are out of step or that Lambert should leave well enough alone?

Photo: learnwithkak.com

Service of Adventure: Food, Physical or Business

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Photo: goway.com

When I read Charles Passy’s article about his distaste for a Japanese delicacy—natto–I knew I wanted to write about his predicament. Last April I’d covered the topic of the foods I’ve tried and can’t force myself to eat again and I’ve not added to the short list that included grouse and animal entrails. I’m game most of the time.

Passy admitted in his Wall Street Journal article, “As someone who has spent a good part of his journalistic career writing about food, I take a certain pride in the fact I will eat anything and everything… such as a taco stuffed with chile-dusted fried grasshoppers and ice cream made from durian, the infamously pungent fruit.”

Natto. Photo: seriouseats.com

But he can’t tolerate the odor and texture of  Japanese fermented soybeans—natto–regardless of how they are prepared and what accompanies them. He wrote: “It smelled like a stinky cheese left outside the fridge for at least an hour too long. But even more notable was the texture: If you think okra is slimy, imagine okra that, on a scale of 1 to 10, goes to 11.”

I’ve often heard adults admit that they take no chances when it comes to food and won’t accept even a tiny taste of unfamiliar fare. Many claim to be meat and potatoes enthusiasts.

Tatsu rollercoaster. Photo: the coasterguy.com

At the same time they may be far braver than most when it comes to putting themselves in physical danger by gliding in a hot air balloon, riding upside down in a Tatsu roller coaster or putting their life in the hands of a cable and pulley for a zip-line trip down a mountain.

And then there are those who take huge chances in business.

Have you tasted natto? Are you adventuresome in some ways and apprehensive in others? In your work has there been one thing that you dislike, as Passy does natto, even if you’re pretty happy with the other 99 percent?

Fried grasshoppers. Photo: menshealth.com

Service of a Simple Transaction Done Well: Kudos LAZ Parking

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Photo: worldartsme.com

One smart, quick, knowledgeable, engaged person can make a huge difference when there are potential stumbling blocks in a transaction designed to be seamless.

We received a letter from LAZ Parking, the company that runs parking lots and grants permits at Metro-North railroad stations. We had parked in the LAZ lot in Dover Plains for 15+ years and sent a check to renew our yearly permit before the other one expired. In return, LAZ provided proof of payment to display in the car window. The system worked well.

But they changed it. [I could write many posts about so-called upgrades that turn out to be downgrades for me.]

LAZ asked us to sign up online, to download proof of car registration and supply other information. In addition to online registration systems that in my experience are often fraught with peril and traps leading to potential error, our situation had a few complications:

  • My husband had held on to the letter for at least 10 days which was 9½ days too many. Each station has a limited number of monthly parking slots and they are promptly scooped up.
  • We needed to change the account from my husband’s name to mine to match our new car registration.
  • We wanted to pay by check, not by credit card, the way the system is set up.

We were saved by Kathleen Dawson, LAZ Administration Assistant Supervisor, who shepherded our order through all the twists and turns. She was in one office and our online application was used by another. She cleared up the system’s initial confusion over the name change which caused us at first to be refused a permit, responded to all my concerns, expertly advising me and warned those at the other LAZ office about our quirky situation. What might have been a nightmare that ended up with the loss of our parking permit turned out just fine. We are grateful to Ms. Dawson and to those at the second office who expedited and approved our request the day they received our check.

Have you been as lucky as we were to have someone like Ms. Dawson guide you and lubricate a transaction that had many opportunities to become grounded? Do most companies nurture, respect and reward five star customer service support staff such as Ms. Dawson?

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