Monday, August 2, 2010

Almost Enough to Turn Me into a Socialist

Fear not, for the title of this post is somewhat misleading. I write this in reaction to a recent unpleasant economic transaction with a private entity, leaving me with the kind of "I've-just-been-taken-to-the-cleaners" feeling that makes liberals want to scream for government control.

I was at the Cincinnati airport on my way home from a business trip, and the flight to Baltimore was delayed due to some nasty thunderstorms. We no sooner boarded the plane an hour after the originally scheduled departure time than the pilot got on the intercom and advised us that we might as well get off the plane because he had just received word that we would be held at least another hour before being cleared for takeoff.

I figured I had best call home to tell my wife I would not be back in time for dinner after all, but unfortunately the battery on my cell phone was dead. Once off the plane and onto the airport concourse, I spotted an increasingly rare sight: public telephones! I have often wondered how soon public phones would become a relic of the past, but thankfully I found one in my time of need.

I immediately noted an advertisement sticker on the phone that said, "Out of change?" Though I probably would have been able to scrounge up the change for a call home, I do enjoy the convenience of credit cards, which this offer was advertising. I also noted a nominal per minute charge and an alternative $1.00 for three minutes. I ended up talking to my wife for about six minutes, so I expected to see a two or three dollar charge show up on my credit card.

A few days later, the charge came in from NCIC Communications of Longview, Texas for a whopping $26.72! I immediately called their "Customer Service" Department, where the kind lady told me that the $1 for three minute rate applies to their members.

"So for non-members, you charge $26.72 for a six minute call, or $4.45 per minute? There was nothing that warned me of such exorbitant rates."

"I can give you a onetime courtesy adjustment of $9.35, which would bring the total to $17.37," she replied, apparently with a straight face.

"But that is still almost three dollars a minute for a domestic call!  Are you serious?"

After taking a minute to apparently confer with her supervisor, she returned to the phone and advised: "We can reduce the amount to $13.36, which is half the original amount!"

"Oh, how generous!" I thought. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but your rate structure and business practices are quite frankly deceptive and fraudulent. I will be disputing this charge with my credit card company."

Apparently, the company's business model is to charge obscenely exorbitant rates to unsuspecting people whom they hope will either not notice or not bother disputing. For those that do dispute, they offer to settle for reduced amounts which are still, quite frankly, obscenely exorbitant.

This is the type of unseemly business practice that occasionally rears its ugly head in the private sector, causing those of the liberal bent to cry out for government control. Though I can understand the sentiment, I would just as soon keep the government out of this. For all I know, there are already government regulations in place that proscribe this sort of behavior, but I otherwise prefer a system of caveat emptor, where people daily engage in voluntary transactions. In the meantime, I have filed a dispute with my credit card company. If indeed my situation is not unique, as I suspect, there are numerous other disputes out there, and NCIC's cute business practices will eventually fail.

As for me, you can be sure I will not be using my credit card for a phone transaction again. I am simply exercising my freedom of choice, which I cherish more than I do government protection, particularly because the latter has a tendency to limit the former.


Tetamay said...

The lesson is: Check your bills and dispute unwarranted charges and keep the government out of the equation.

Tetamay said...

The moral of the story is keep some change on you all the time and stop being adventurous!

The Maryland Crustacean said...

I checked out the company's website. Their main claim to fame is that they are an "inmate telephone service."

JD Curtis said...

Oy vay!

Keep some pocket change on you at all times if travelling! (Moral of the story)

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Epilogue: The day after I noticed that the $26.72 was credited back to my credit card account, I got a letter from the issuing bank that stated: "This dispute has been resolved in your favor. The merchant has not yet provided the informaiton necessary to resolve your claim. Therefore, we have issued credit to your account..."

No government bureaucrats were involved and no animals were harmed during this exercise. The system works.