Archive for Common Cents

Metered perplexity

I opened up the water bill, and there, for the first time ever, was a reported usage of 4,000 gallons; I’d never before used more than 3,000 in a month. The details revealed the most likely reason why: the readings, usually 30 days apart, were this time 36 days apart.

Okay, fine, no big deal. Then I look at the actual return slip, and the bill is about half what it usually is. I comb through the details again, and here are two adjacent lines:

REFUSE W/90 GA — $20.42
ADV REFUSE CHG — $40.84CR

They’re refunding two months’ worth of trash pickup? Why? Is this some form of atonement for still not having picked up the late-November storm debris?

Very late addendum: I had tweeted this mystery earlier today, and right before hitting the Publish button, I went back to check the feed. Lo and behold:

Well, I’ll be durned.

Comments (2)




Fashion that conceals

I will never quite understand why InStyle handles its subscriptions this way. From the renewal form:

Please send me another year of InStyle (13 issues) at the insider’s per issue rate of ONLY $2.29 plus $0.30 postage and handling. That’s a savings of 48% off the $4.99 newsstand price.

I mean, why is it necessary to break out postage and handling separately? The only other Time Inc. magazine I buy — Entertainment Weekly — doesn’t do that. And 30 cents can’t possibly be a realistic figure: even the smallest issues of InStyle run close to 200 pages, and the Big Fashion Issues (March and September) are well over 500 pages.

Or maybe it’s the thought that nobody will bother to calculate the total ($33.67) to put on the check: instead, they’ll do it online, where they can get your credit-card number and then just automagically renew you every year whether you like it or not.

(Yes, I wrote them a check. Because.)

Comments




How now, Dow Pont?

Dave Schuler doesn’t think much of the Dow Chemical/DuPont merger:

How do two poorly run companies justify their CEOs’ eight figure compensation plans?

Step 1: Merge

Step 2: Make the combined company look better on paper by firing a lot of people.

Step 3: Divvy the company into three components: the stable, profitable agricultural business (see here), the doomed commodity chemicals business, and the highly competitive “specialty chemicals” business

Step 4: Profit!

Not as efficient as the Underpants Gnomes, who might have been able to pull this off in three steps.

That plan is clearly trolling for speculators’ dollars. The WSJ calls it “a merger made in Washington”. I think it’s a B-school grad’s fantasy. My alternative plan would be no merger, divest some brands, cut top management’s compensation commensurate with performance, hire some researchers, and actually grow the companies the old-fashioned way. In the history of the world no company has ever cost-controlled its way to greatness.

(Emphasis added.)

And doesn’t this sound a lot like The Company Formerly Known As Hewlett-Packard?

Comments (3)




Manny, Moe, Jack and Carl

Feared investor Carl Icahn has offered $863 million for the Pep Boys auto-parts chain:

Icahn’s offer Tuesday of $15.50 per share is higher than Bridgestone’s offer of $15 per share in October for the chain of 800 stores. The Japanese tire giant offered to buy the chain to add to its 2,200 stores including Tires Plus, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Hibdon Tires Plus and Wheel Works to make one of the largest parts, tire and service chains in the U.S.

Before placing his bid, Icahn had acquired a 12-percent stake in Pep Boys. This is his second try at the whole ball of wax; he’d previously offered $13.50 a share.

Pep Boys has given Bridgestone until 5 pm Eastern on Friday to top this bid, or Icahn prevails.

(Title swiped from Fark.)

Comments (1)




Beyond spent

Bank error in your favor of $200: Community Chest card. Bank error in your favor of $12,000: giggle and ignore it. Bank error not in your favor of $1.4 trillion is seriously weird:

Longtime Honolulu resident Angela Kwong swears she’s not a serial shopper.

So imagine her surprise when she logged into her bank account statement Tuesday morning only to find an outstanding balance of more than $1.4 trillion.

Nor was she the only one affected, it turns out.

Points out the Friar:

Your federal government is also surprised it’s several trillion dollars overdrawn. It was caused by a voting glitch.

I don’t think they’re surprised at all: I think this spending was committed with malice aforethought.

Comments (1)




Actual perceived paper savings

I ran a few errands yesterday, culminating in a trip to Sprouts Farmers Market, which carries a supplement I like at a price that doesn’t make my nose bleed. They checked out my four items, and handed me the shortest piece of register tape I’d seen since I’d worked at Mickey D’s forty-five years ago.

I didn’t notice until I unbagged my stuff — five cents discount for bringing my own bag — but they’d actually used both sides of the tape. No random advertising, no enormous length of paper to stuff in my desk until the statement shows up. About the only downside, and it may be specific to purchases of this size, is that the two sales-tax statements (“Tax 1” is state tax, “Tax 2” is local) ended up on opposite sides of the tape. I have no idea what it cost them to buy printers that would do this, but I’m grateful for having that much less junk to send to the shredder.

Comments (2)




Excessive generosity

The Feds do not approve:

I was making a large order of Amazon gift cards for a Christmas bonus for employees when I got this email from Amazon:

We’re contacting you regarding your recent Amazon.com order xxxxxxxxx, which included one or more gift cards. To comply with the U.S. federal regulations, purchases of gift cards from Amazon.com and its affiliated websites are limited to up to $10,000 for any customer in a single day. Because this order contained gift card purchases in excess of this limit, it has been cancelled and you won’t be charged for any items in this order.

You know, Feds, you wouldn’t have this problem if (1) you weren’t so desperate to look tough on drugs and (2) you hadn’t been steadily devaluing the freaking currency for the last hundred years.

Comments (2)




Before anyone notices

I’m sure you’ve seen this before:

Community Chest card: Bank Error In Your Favor Collect $200

As I grew older and marginally less unwise, I came to see ethical issues with accepting that sum, although my objections were actually more along the lines of “They’ll find it eventually, and then what?” Besides, $200 was a hell of a lot of money in an environment where some properties were worth half that or less.

And I didn’t think of it again outside the context of Monopoly® until this showed up on my bank’s shiny new app:

No way in hell do I have this kind of money

So far as I knew, my balance in that account on that date was a shade over $4,000. (It is, um, less now; a second account was similarly skewed.) So the line was truthful, up to the point where it wasn’t. I duly pulled up the transaction list, saw nothing out of the ordinary, and concluded that this was just some inexplicable glitch. Then again, maybe I’d landed on Free Parking and didn’t know it.

Comments (3)




Quote of the week

Meh.com has something to sell you, because they always do, and something to tell you, because it’s That Day Again:

Black Friday is the worst. Take the worst spoiled milk you’ve ever smelled, spread its rancid curds over an entire continent for an entire day, blast its fumes through the tubes of the Internet, punch yourself in the throat eight times, and max out all your credit cards. That’s Black Friday. Black Friday is spiritual ebola. Don’t thank God for this Friday. Blame Satan.

Look at what Black Friday does to people. It’s not just the tramplings and the shootings. It’s the whining and the grasping and the disappointment, so much aggro and angst over such meager rewards. It’s like one of those diabolically constructed Stanford psych lab experiment from the ’60s that proves that people are, at heart, sociopathic fascist gorillas.

Look at what Black Friday does to us. We can’t just do what we do every day: sell stuff for less than anybody else. On this one day, that’s not good enough. We have to compete with unrealistic expectations that no discount, anywhere, could possibly meet. Because it’s not about the discount. It’s about filling some void in people’s souls, some ecstatic experience that’s always one more click, one more coupon code, one more turn of the sale paper away.

[After 11 pm Central, when the next item goes up, that link will no longer lead to this text.]

Comments (3)




Clear that lot

Because you can’t spell “sales gimmick” without GMC:

GMC Sierra sale ad from mid-November 2015

I like that. A deal on models “in stock the longest,” although it’s limited to the oldest 10% on the lot. Still, that could be a hell of a lot of trucks in pickup-crazed areas like, well, the United States of America, with the notable exception of San Francisco, which has no GMC dealers.

This ad, incidentally, was found on Equestria Daily. Ponyville, I’m sure, has no GMC dealers.

Comments (1)




Sub-subprime

There is no shortage of terrible credit-card offers out there, and if you were reading this site way back in 2002, you may have seen a reference to a deal offered by First Premier Bank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which struck me as something less than wonderful. Said I at the time:

The terms for this card range from not too bad (18.9 percent APR, 25-day grace period on new purchases) to stiff ($50 annual fee) to preposterous ($119 “acceptance fee”, $72 annual “participation fee” over and above the $50).

As it happens, they’ve sent me their latest offer, and it has improved in one regard: the grace period on new purchases is now 27 days. However, the annual fee has gone to $175 for the first year, $49 thereafter, and there’s a “monthly servicing fee” of $14.50, which, they are careful to spell out, is $174 a year. And the APR? Thirty-six percent.

I’ll give them this much: none of this is in Extremely Tiny Print, and everything I’ve mentioned is explained when necessary. Still, nothing moves me to accept this “pre-approved” account.

Comments (4)




Embrace the brokeness

You want to know what’s really killing the blog? The lure of micropayments:

[I]t’s essentially impossible to have any discussion about blogging without that discussion turning toward, not blogging, but rewards for blogging — readership and pagerank and ads and Adsense clicks, and all of those numeric metrics that can add up to making more money from ads or selling products or selling the blog itself.

Many bloggers chase that reward, focusing the entire blogging effort on increasing their Adsense payments from enough money to buy a burger a month, to enough money to buy a burger a week. The entire value of what should be a joyous creative-effort is reduced, in perception, to a few dollars. And if the reward stays at a few dollars, or in fact never goes above a few pennies, they feel stupid, like they’re suckers.

Even when a blogger doesn’t actually care about money, the measure of a blog is still often based on the measures that produce money — readers, page views, pagerank.

Yeah, I watch those measures myself. But I assure you, they don’t make me a dime. In fact, my current stat service costs me $100 a year, more than the cost of actually running the site after I cash in my various referrals and kickbacks. Still, in an average month, I will churn out 15,000 words and lose about a tenth of a cent on each and every one of them. Since I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years — well, I must be making it up in volume, right?

If I were going to monetize (Jeebus, I hate that word) this stuff, I’d do it the hard way: bind it into a book or three. For the moment, though, while it’s certainly time-consuming, it’s not what I’d call budget-depleting. And if push comes to shove, I can always borrow the five most important words in the English language: “Hit the freaking tip jar!”

Oh, wait. I don’t have one of those, either.

Comments (7)




Worth less than nothing

Some people may sympathize with these folks, but I don’t:

I read that banks collected $30 billion in overdraft fees last year. That’s like $100 from every person in the country. I can imagine that there are a few flakes who have so much money they can be careless with it, and if they run up a thousand dollars in overdraft fees a month it’s no big deal. But there aren’t very many of those folks. I’ve had a couple or three overdraft charges in my life, and I life to think that I am not out of the ordinary. To make up for all the people who keep track of their money and for all the ones who don’t even have a bank account, there must be a bunch of people incurring $1000 worth of charges a year, like one person out of ten. I just don’t get it. Doesn’t $1,000 mean anything anymore?

It’s worse than you might think. With the general decline in check usage and a concomitant increase in payment-card usage — at 42nd and Treadmill, our business is now about 70 percent plastic — about the only people actually paying these fees are the few remaining check writers with no money and the people who get charged for using their overdraft protection. Deadbeats without overdraft protection have their debit cards declined, and we see about fifty of them a week. For one of the nichiest of niche markets, that’s a hell of a lot of people who are, to borrow a Briticism, totally skint. This wouldn’t bother me so much if they’d take that first decline as a warning, but they don’t: I’ve seen people present the same bad card — or worse, a whole portfolio of bad cards — week after week. Once is a mistake, maybe; twice is stupidity; three times is fraud.

Comments (5)




On average, we’re broke

Like you need a headline that tells you that:

The average American took in $44,569.20 last year, according to data released Tuesday by the Social Security Administration. It marks an increase of 3.5 percent from 2013.

Still, 67 percent of wage earners made less than or equal to the average. Median compensation came in at $28,851.21 for the year, up from $28,031.02 in 2013.

I can remember when twenty-eight K seemed like a fairly tidy sum.

(Via Fark.)

Comments (5)




Not much to overextend

I can’t say I’m too awfully surprised by this:

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning.

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com. “It’s worrisome that such a large percentage of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

Me, I’d like to know what kind of emergency manages to cost only $1000.

That said, I’m not one of the 62 percent — but I’m not so far away that I can justify bragging about it. I am, however, over 59½, which means that if something Dreadfully Terrible comes up, I can tap the 401(k) without the early-withdrawal penalty, though this is not something I particularly want to do, and besides it takes a couple of weeks for Girls Just Want To Have Funds (not its real name) to cut a check.

Comments (5)




How much is that in bits?

There’s plenty of disagreement among fanfic writers in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe as to how much a bit “really” is. Better we should ask the basis for those bits, inasmuch as our own humanoid currency is sort of questionable these days:

[W]hen you hold cash, it’s supposed to lead back into something tangible. Whatever someone has assigned value to and can’t readily be carried, portable money substitutes for. Precious metals, for whatever reason someone decided they were worth something. Jewels, perhaps. (Humans have a certain weakness for shiny objects. Ravens with slightly improved grasping digits and lower impulse control.) You can’t ask the government for that backing material any more, at least locally. There are still silver certificate bills in circulation — they were supposed to be pulled, but collectors and dusty rainy-day stashes occasionally release a bill or two — but unless they’re crisp enough to resell as that collectible, they can only be used for their face value. The value we’re all basically lying to each other about because as long as we all lie, the system remains more or less intact.

Once upon a time, the United States ran on silver. Then gold. (Today, possibly debt.) The currency must lead back to something, even if that thing doesn’t exist.

And what might that thing be in Equestria? Think power. Herewith, a possible basis:

If the name “bits” hadn’t been assigned to us, I would count Equestrian currency in sols (or lunes). Because there are times when currency leads back to labor. You clear my fields for eight hours and I’ll give you four chickens. However, I really don’t feel like keeping those clucking menaces around, so here’s a piece of paper which you can present to a man in town, and he’ll give you the chickens for me … on such small things do economies grow.

And the ultimate labor is that which makes Sun and Moon keep working.

What’s Equestria’s ultimate promise to the world? We will keep the cycle going. And that’s about as strong a backing for a monetary system as you can ask for.

So if I was working on this, I would have the money powered by pony labor, with the sisters at the top of that scale. Ultimately, money is traded out to the other nations with the understanding that the palace will maintain the orbits. Oh, there are other forms of ponyhours being traded out: send us these goods and we’ll dispatch pegasi to adjust your weather system. Access to magic — especially that which the other species don’t have — gives a nation some powerful leverage in the world economy, although some of that is countered by what said other species can bring to the table. But at the far end of the chain … there is a simple promise. What backs Equestria’s economy is the most fundamental labor to exist in that world, performed four times per cycle — or there is no cycle at all.

If this doesn’t make sense, imagine trying to explain currencies in this world, most of which have value only because large institutions with stores of arms say they do.

Comments (2)




Chipping away at your PIN

As of October first, there’s a liability shift:

Under the newly implemented regulations, if a business does not switch its credit card processing machines over to the new EMV cards or if a credit card issuer does not provide new EMV chip cards to its customers, in the event of credit card fraud, the responsibility for loss will be on either the credit card issuer or the retailer, whichever has not complied with the new law.

Scammers, of course, have seen an opportunity:

Ingenious scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, are taking advantage of the situation by contacting people by email posing as their credit card company informing them that in order to issue a new EMV chip card, they need them to either update their account by confirming some personal information or click on a link to continue the process. This is a case of you are in trouble with either option.

Which is, of course, a new way to fry the Same Old Phish.

Comments




Lots more bits

Hasbro, having learned that it can easily sell stuff with double-digit price tags to pony fans, is now upping the ante:

The newest line of My Little Pony toys is definitely not for kids.

Hasbro Inc. and Integrity Toys, Inc. are collaborating on a “high end collectible” series called <3 My Little Pony, exclusively designed (and priced) for adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. These fans are colloquially called Bronies, a mostly adult, male Internet-spawned fandom with an unusual cultural position which is nearly as mainstream as My Little Pony itself.

And I suppose it’s nice to be acknowledged:

“There’s a tremendous adult market,” Integrity Toys spokesperson Carol Roth said in an interview… “The reality is most My Little Pony collectors are in their 20s to 60s and possibly even older than that.”

Well, we do have more disposable income than do the grade-school girls in the putative target audience.

Comments (3)




Look in the Basement

A small piece of my biography:

During my days in New England, I discovered something called Filene’s Basement, oddly enough underneath a Filene’s store. Items relegated to the Basement were marked down some startling amount, and further markdowns were taken if they survived ten, then twenty, days. After 30 days, anything left was donated to charity. I learned to keep well back as shoppers fought each other for items on Day 29.

“Fought,” incidentally, is no exaggeration. It was fierce in there sometimes.

Weirdly, Filene’s Basement, at least in its latter days, was not owned by Filene’s, but both companies ended up dead. And while Filene’s isn’t coming back — Macy’s made darn sure of thatthe Basement will return as a Web storefront:

[T]he chain is back from the dead, re-launching next week as an online-only business that will have the familiar mix of home goods and apparel that customers remember from its previous incarnation. Even “Running of the Brides,” a blowout wedding gown sale at which women were known to throw some elbows in the name of nabbing the perfect dress, is being reintroduced.

Filene’s Basement was always known for having an unusually loyal customer base, so many shoppers will likely welcome its return to the marketplace. And yet their new position as an e-commerce store may make it difficult to replicate perhaps the most beloved part of shopping at the old Filene’s Basement: The thrill of the hunt.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem the same. Still, you gotta, or at least I gotta, root for the Basement. I’m still mildly buzzed that Montgomery Ward 2.0 yet survives.

Comments (1)




Speaking of loops

This supermarket chain stands firmly against the vigorous circular motion:

One probably should not assume that J. Random Customer actually realizes this.

Comments (1)




We serve further

I mentioned that I was testing out the new American Express Serve card, a prepaid debit card with the usual Amex bennies and a meager $12 annual fee (billed at $1 a month), and there are ways to avoid that fee with certain usage patterns.

Now comes a variation on the Serve theme: good old-fashioned cash-back bonuses. The news release:

American Express announced Serve Cash Back, a new prepaid debit Account option that will earn Accountholders 1% cash back on purchases. Consumers who spend in line with the 2012 – 2013 U.S. Department of Labor national averages for gas, groceries, dining out, clothing, transportation and entertainment using the Serve Cash Back Card could potentially earn more than $400 annually when earning 1% cash back.

For those who do spend that way, this sounds like a pretty sweet deal. I don’t. And the cash back is somewhat offset by a higher fee: $5.95 a month. Still, people allergic to debt are likely a growing market, and you can’t blame Amex for wanting a piece of it.

Historical note: The original green American Express card, still available for $95 a year, is a true charge card; you pay it off each month. I ran with one of those throughout the 1980s. It is curious to me that I still remember that card number, but can’t remember my current one.

Comments




Non-current currency

Roberta X had a bill to pay, and apparently they only take Roman sestertii or something:

The savages! They have no way to pay it online! Dear merciful heavens, do I have to write and mail a check, like some kind of animal? I’ll call them, or — if they haven’t quite made it out of the 19th Century — telegraph. Gads.

Mind you, in the late 19th Century, the mail arrived — and went out — twice a day. Western Union wired cash anywhere, not just for scams; in fact, their system was foolproof for the time. I could probably have hired a boy on a bicycle to deliver a check in a sealed envelope and bring back a receipt.

Then again, a proper Web-based payment system may be beyond these folks:

I just called their office, at 8:06 am, only to have a much dumber robot tell me to call back later, between the hours of eight am and seven pm.

The most charitable assumption is that the person in charge of the answering machine was late. It gets worse quickly after that.

Comments (1)




Discouragingly stationary

The bank with which I do the vast majority of my business — not one of the big chains, but big enough — has been serving up a perfectly legible online-banking interface for the last five years, which fit nicely onto my screens. It apparently did not fit nicely onto people’s phones, though, so they’ve unveiled a new interface aimed directly at those who swipe rather than those who mouse around.

Well, no, I didn’t like it much. On the upside, it’s not so different from what American Express is showing me these days, so at least I didn’t have much of a learning curve, and I suppose eventually I’ll end up with a smartphone, or at least a not-quite-so-dumb phone. I’m not going to try it on my current phone; it will probably work, but carrier charges for Web access on an account with no data plan border on the absurd.

Comments (5)




It’s right there on the sticker

I’ve visited actual Turkish bazaars, and they’re a lot more pleasant than shopping for cars in the States. So I applaud this tentative gesture by Lexus:

Would no-haggle car pricing make the car-buying process more pleasant, and make you feel more warm and cuddly toward car dealers and toward the brand? Lexus apparently hopes so, and they plan to test this kind of pricing at a dozen of their dealerships.

The general manager for Lexus U.S.A. announced the experiment [yesterday] at a Center for Automotive Research event. “While negotiation-free pricing is not revolutionary, we strongly believe the concept will further elevate transaction transparency and customer care,” he told his audience of people in the industry.

It helps that Lexus has already developed a (mostly) stellar reputation for customer care.

This is, of course, not new; Toyota’s #3 brand, Scion, not only offers fixed prices but allows for a whole lot of customer, um, customization. And no-haggle was at the heart of the short-lived Saturn experiment over at General Motors. Then again, Saturn is dead, and Scion sales are circling the drain, so Lexus is probably wise to limit this practice to a handful of dealers for now.

Consumerist is running a poll (see link), and the hard-bargainer types are at this writing trailing by a fairly substantial margin.

Comments (3)




Do it again, just a little bit cheaper

My creditworthiness having increased from zero to marginally above zero of late, the bogus mortgage-refinance offers I get in email are now being supplemented by non-bogus mortgage-refinance offers in actual snail mail. Quicken Loans sent me one yesterday, which pitched me a 15-year refi at a quoted rate seemingly far below what I’m paying now.

I was going to toss it just on general principle, but I decided to sit down and do the math anyway. Actual savings: about $29 a month.

“But it’s only 15 years, and you have a 30-year note!” Well, yeah; but of those thirty years, only eighteen remain. To me, it’s not worth the hassle for a mere seven bucks and change a week.

Comments (3)




Weirdest donor just now

GoFundMe has raised its maximum donation by a factor of three and then some. Why? Two words: “Taylor Swift.” Behold:

On July 7th, a young girl battling cancer named Naomi got a huge surprise when her favorite singer, Taylor Swift, donated $50,000 to her GoFundMe campaign. Naomi and her family were understandably surprised and grateful for such a generous gift.

“Taylor Swift’s donation was so generous that it required us to increase the donation limit on the platform,” said Rob Solomon, GoFundMe CEO. GoFundMe’s previous donation limit was set at $15,000, but has now been increased to $50,000. There are never any limits on how much a campaign can raise.

There’s a cancer named Naomi? And they say I need an editor. (“You do.”–ed.)

You might look at this and think “Yeah, Tay just crashed their site and offered to make up for it.” Nope:

Including gifts to other campaigns, Taylor Swift has given more than any other donor in GoFundMe history.

I fully expect the next rocket to Mars to have her name on it.

(Via TSwiftDaily.)

Comments




Captain Obvious drops me a line

Fake PayPal email is so common I barely notice the real PayPal email. And if they’re going to use subject lines like this, it’s just as well:

Balance Notification: You have funds in your PayPal account.

Well, duh. That’s what it’s for, you knuckleheads. I assume you’re wanting me to go forth and spend more, but hey, that’s not your call — unless, of course, I don’t have funds.

Comments (2)




Roll them all over

Few shout “We are a legitimate business!” louder than your friendly neighborhood payday-loan joint. Maybe it is. I haven’t been there. But certainly this particular operation threw away its bid for legitimacy:

The operators of a payday lending scheme that allegedly bilked millions of dollars from consumers by trapping them into loans they never authorized will be banned from the consumer lending business under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.

The settlements stem from charges the FTC filed last year alleging that Timothy A. Coppinger, Frampton T. Rowland III, and their companies targeted online payday loan applicants and, using information from lead generators and data brokers, deposited money into those applicants’ bank accounts without their permission. The defendants then withdrew reoccurring “finance” charges without any of the payments going to pay down the principal owed. The court subsequently halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets pending litigation.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants told consumers they had agreed to, and were obligated to pay for, the unauthorized “loans.” To support their claims, the defendants provided consumers with fake loan applications or other loan documents purportedly showing that consumers had authorized the loans. If consumers closed their bank accounts to stop the unauthorized debits, the defendants often sold the “loans” to debt buyers who then harassed consumers for payment.

So weasels and jackals can crossbreed. Who knew?

(Thanks to Roger Green.)

Comments (2)




Holding Serve

American Express is phasing out its old prepaid card in favor of something called Serve, and I decided I’d give the new product a test drive.

Serve from American ExpressThe most obvious difference is capacity: the old prepaid card was limited to $2,250. You can stash a million, or more, on Serve. (Not that I’d have a million, but you get the idea.) All the usual Amex bennies are in play, including product insurance. And at a buck a month, it’s cheaper than any other plastic offered by Amex.

The transaction listings might perplex the newcomer. I plugged a Serve card into the iTunes Store to cover future purchases. As is Apple’s wont, and as I expected, they requested an authorization for $1 to make sure the card was good. As I didn’t expect, this dollar stayed on the listings for eight days before being allowed to expire. This is in accordance with the card’s terms, but it seems a trifle excessive.

Saturday I swiped it to get a tankful of V-Power Nitro+. Amex responded with a $99 hold. (I was expecting maybe $75.) This was reduced Monday to the amount actually purchased: $36.10. Of course, they have no idea how big my gas tank is. But I wonder how much they’re going to hold for, say, a two-night hotel stay.

Then again, this is more information than I’m used to getting from credit cards, or even my Visa Check Card. Maybe I shouldn’t complain, since things do get ironed out on schedule.

Ads displaying Amexes (Amices?) of old bore the name C. F. Frost, who, incidentally, actually existed:

Charles Frost — or Chuck, as we like to call him —-is a real person. He was an account executive for the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather, which put together the original “Do you know me?” ads for American Express. Ogilvy and Amex thought it would be convenient to use Frost’s name on the sample ads rather than some phony moniker, which would probably turn out to be the real name of some joker in Pocatello who would sue for privacy infringement. Luckily for Chuck, the number on the credit card was not his real American Express card number.

Dear Ann Baker: Call me.

Comments




If I don’t drop dead

It appears that all American business models have been updated to include “Pester the customer as much as possible in an effort to get the sucker to buy more.” Temerity Funds [not its real name], my 401(k) “provider,” has been following this path for several years now, and it amazes them that I have a balance in the middle five figures, and not the low seven figures they think I’ll need to survive the rigors of retirement. And they’d probably be right if I were going to live to 118 or so; but I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

What is happening is this: assuming Social Security doesn’t go down the drain right away, I’ll pull somewhere around $1800 a month in retirement income. Which isn’t a lot. Then again, the austerity budget I’d been on for the past five years left me with somewhere around $1800 a month to live on. It’s uncomfortably tight, but it is doable.

And there’s an X factor from my past. Last week I got a card from my employer in the late Seventies and early Eighties, who apparently had lost track of me and needed me to verify my existence for pension purposes. I knew this existed, but as yet I hadn’t done any work on tracing it, and I figured at best it might be $100 a month. No, actually, it’s $250, assuming retirement (as Social Security does) at age 66. Things just got slightly looser.

Comments off