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Stealth Inflation

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the fraud-by-any-other-name dept.

The Almighty Buck 796

prostoalex writes "The New York Times on the Web explores the topic of incorrect bills and numerous surcharges with names like 'assessment', 'handling', 'restocking', etc. David Pogue quotes Business Week magazine, where it says that such small charges $100 million annually for hotels, $2 billion for banks and $11 billion for credit-card companies. Users of landline phones, cell phones, checking accounts and credit cards are starting to suspect that such huge revenue might imply the mistakes are made on purpose. Is it just another conspiracy theory, or are we becoming victims to the stealth inflation?"

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Don't forget... (-1, Troll)

SCO$699FeeTroll (695565) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630612) pay your $699 licensing fee you cock-smoking teabaggers.

Sad state of affairs... (4, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630617)

How about physicians? I had a couple appointments with my family doctor to regulate my blood pressure... At one of the earlier appointments she took an EKG. Being 24 and never having one before I wanted it explained to me. She spent 2 or 3 minutes (and I am being loose here with the timeframe, it was only as long as it took me to put on my jacket and hat) explaining the peaks and what she thought they meant.

Out the door I went into the world to get a new prescription filled and pay my co-pay...

A few weeks pass and the bill from the doctor's office comes showing what the insurance company paid, etc, and that I owed $5. No biggy, pretty typical. I did see that she charged my insurance company $103 for an "EKG Consultation Fee". Call me insane but there is absolutely no way she had the right to charge $103 for a 2 minute deal.

I went in the next time and not so calmly explained to her that she will not do that again without a) telling me what she is going to later charge, b) lying about what she was really doing, and c) being a cheat.

We wonder why insurance costs so much... It's because of hidden fees and bullshit that the medical industry decides to make a quick buck on.

That doctor made as much in 2 minutes as I do in 6 hours at work... She will NOT fleece me again like that... To those of you that say, "who cares, your insurance covered it." I say that my insurance co-pays just went up and they probably won't stop there. I am not going to stand idly by and watch this shit go down and you shouldn't either.

How about my bank? TCF here in Minnesota. I *pay* for their advanced online banking service (it's just like any other free service I have had before but it shows all the transactions immediately unlike their free version which just shows a balance). I started noticing that I was being charged for using out of network ATMs when I wasn't using them. I had four $6 charges in a six week period. I had to call them each time and get them removed. It wasn't an issue to get it removed it was the unsettling feeling that other people out there that don't have the advanced online banking are getting ripped off, a lot.

Sad state of affairs these days...

Just my worthless .02,

Re:Sad state of affairs... (5, Funny)

Frymaster (171343) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630679)

fight fire with fire.

if you think you're getting shafted by a company with "mystery" fees, just cook up an invoice for "services rendered: $11.52" and ship it off to their accounts payable department.

most of the people in accts. payable have a policy that any invoice that's less than a certain amount (twenty bucks or whatever) will just get paid. it's a great way to recoup your costs.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (5, Insightful)

sdmartin101 (601186) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630721)

Wouldn't that be mail fraud?

Re:Sad state of affairs... (1)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630831)

on both sides of the coin.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (4, Funny)

niko9 (315647) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630850)

What if you registered for a buisness license and called it, I don't know, RBE Consultants. (Randon Billing Error) This way you could bill for your time spent fixing their error. You could also start the converstation with the rep as " Hi, this call maybe monitored or recorded for quality assurance...." and you could save the call to mp3 on your computer witha Radio Shack 2.99 phone suction cup microphone.

Then just send them a bill as a consultant, something like $11.52.

Sounds like a good little side buisness to me.


Re:Sad state of affairs... (5, Informative)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630889)

Yes, the parent poster made a typo. It should be "Fight fire with a federal crime".

Don't get yourself in trouble trying to "get back at the Man." I hate the Man as much as anyone, but there are smart ways and dumb ways to fight.


Re:Sad state of affairs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630683)

Yeah, but who can complain about lady docs. Especially when they give you a physical & examine your "sexual function" ^_^

Re:Sad state of affairs... (5, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630696)

no, makes a lot of sense. For those places where you pay indirectly (ie through insurance), you must remember that you still pay. The insurance companies are never going to lose money by paying out outrageous fees without fleecing their customers in turn.

Trouble is, everyone thinks that its free as they don't have to pay any of it, and so the fees are increased and increased, and the premiums go up and up.

The other thing to watch out for is compensation paytments for everything. (you should have sued your doctor for .. something, a lawyer could give you a list :), and that would be ok, as her insurance would pay for it......

its those that cause inflation, not a 0.02 here and there.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (2)

jeffy124 (453342) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630726)

sounds like you might benefit from switching banks. they're fairly numerous and many (particularly the big nation-wide banks) have reasonable free services because of that competition. Yeah, my bank (First Union, now Wachovia) charges me a buck if I dont use their ATM, but they're branches are plentiful enough I usually dont have to worry about it. And I've never had any kind of error occur with them.

You know you're being given good service when you dont have to complain about it.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (4, Informative)

realdpk (116490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630764)

Or he could perhaps consider a credit union, where you're the shareholder as well as the customer. I use Boeing Employee's Credit Union and while I've had a couple of problems (due to their not changing my address properly in their system, making the already-faulty AVS more problematic) I'm very happy with them. I don't get nickle-and-dimed to death.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (1)

MoneyT (548795) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630839)

Wachovia is starting to make me wonder about switchin gto a different bank (or maybe a credit union). This past summer, I was going through some old bank statements that I hadn't looked at yet (i had been away for 3 months, and didn't have a chance to read my mail). I saw a charge for $10 listed as a service charge. I wondered what it was since it was much higher than the ATM charges, and it was a late night transaction. I went to the online system to double check and make sure it wasn't a misprint,and sure enough, the online transaction record showed a $10 service charge.

So I called them up wanting to know why I had been charged $10 for something, after about an hour of run arround and "system problems" I was told that they don't have the detailed records for anything older than 2 months. And so the charge wasn't showing up in their systems.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (3, Interesting)

milgr (726027) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630756)

Charging for minimal consultations is nothing new for doctors. Over 20 years ago, my father was in the hospital for a heart attack. The insurance was charged for an initial consultation by a doctor who openned the door, peeked in, and closed the door.

When he was in the hospital for subsequent heart attacks, any time a doctor would peer into the room, he would check if he was being charged, and if so, he would make sure that the doctor answered some questions.

I must be in the wrong profession to make money - if I was a doctor, I could charge $150/30 sec (25 of those seconds would be walking to the next patient's room).

Re:Sad state of affairs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630841)

One thing you may wish to check is how much of that $103 "fee" was actually paid by the insurance company. On medical bills I've seen from hospitals from when my wife had gall bladder surgery, you can see a $1000 line item that only gets reimbursed by the insurance company (at their contract rates) for $200 or so. At that rate, $103 is more like $20.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (1)

jaymz666 (34050) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630863)

My free online banking service shows all transactions as well as balance. From Fifth Third bank.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (4, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630880)

Call me insane but there is absolutely no way she had the right to charge $103 for a 2 minute deal.

You have to consider a couple of things here. The "two minute deal" was the time she spent with you. I suspect more time was spent actually "reading" the results of the EKG. Also, you need to realize that many times insurance companies will only reimburse physicians a portion of the total bill and its stuff like this that prevents many (including me) from wanting to practice medicine. I do research instead. Lemme give you an example: For instance, when my mother had her medical practice, there were certain procedures that ended up costing her money. An example is the cost to her of delivering babies. We sat down to run the numbers and found out that based upon her insurance rates, and the reimbursement from the insurance companies, each child she delivered was costing her $250. Furthermore, because physicians can be sued for delivery issues until a child reaches 21 years of age, she still has to maintain an insurance trailer until the last child she delivered reaches 21. Unbelieveable.

It is not the medical system that is out of control, it is the insurance companies and the managed care systems that foisted a con on the American public by saying managed care can do medicine for less. Instead of lowering costs, managed care has created an entirely new middle level of management that simply soaks up more money than ever before. Do a little experiment here. Go to your local HMO and look in the parking lot. The Porsches and BMWs you see do not belong to the physicians as much as they do the management staff of the hospital.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (1)

musikit (716987) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630891)

my family feels your pain. about 2 years ago my step-father had a heart attack. my mom got the bills in the mail and she noticed that she was getting charged on her insurance for a doctors visit on a day he wasn't even in the hospital! she promptly called and complained. that did nothing. she even went so far as to search through her records and find the hospital visit dates photo copy them and send them to the insurance copy asking how could he visit when my husband wasn't there? the best part is this doctor then billed her directly. she called and started screaming at the nurse/receptionist and said that if they sent her another bill for the visit she was going to sue for mail fraud.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (4, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630894)

Welcome to the new millenium. You realize, of course, that your doctor probably had no say in the amount that she billed you, either because your HMO/PPO/insurer has a set rate for each specific service or because the management company she works for sets all prices with or without her approval. You also realize that her malpractice insurer probably requires her to perform that test because one 25-year-old in Pensiltucky, AL didn't have one once, died that weekend from a heart attack while rocked on crystal meth, and left behind parents that filed a lawsuit against the doctor for $BIGNUM. Finally, I know you're considering that the EKG machine that you or I could probably build for $100 plus some Free software actually cost her or her employeer about $60,000 by the time the manufacturer recoups their FDA-testing outlay, and that like it or not, that machine's got to be paid for somehow.

OK, yeah, of course I'm being sarcastic. It's amazingly easy to underestimate exactly how much it costs to provide medical services. You're considering the apparent work that went into your 5-minute consultation. She's considering:

  • Her salary
  • Her rent
  • Her electricity
  • Her heating/AC
  • Her transcriptionist
  • Her malpractice insurance
  • Her receptionist
  • Her phone system
  • Her disposable supplies
  • Her equipment investment
  • Her student loans
  • About 200 other "little" things that have to be included into the right-hand side of the equation.

Sure, some doctors ( NOT ALL! ) make a pretty good living, but you'd be surprised to see how slim their profit margins probably are.

Re:Sad state of affairs... (4, Insightful)

Davak (526912) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630910)

I did see that she charged my insurance company $103 for an "EKG Consultation Fee". Call me insane but there is absolutely no way she had the right to charge $103 for a 2 minute deal.

Let me defend my profession a bit. $103 dollars for an evaluation of an EKG is very, very cheap. An EKG is an easy way to rule multiple life-threating illnesses. Compare an EKG to an CT scan, for example. and it probably saves many, many more lives per dollar than many other studies.

With insurance the way it is, the doctor probably billed for twice that much... but only took what the insurance was willing to pay.

Included in that fee is the cost of the machine including upkeep, malpractice insurance, and the greater than 7 years of training that the doctor has received.

"Did you need an EKG" is another question completely. If you are an older man/woman with hypertension, then an EKG is not a useless test... especially if you were having any symptoms. Some docs (like myself) might use a different blood pressure medication if there are related EKG changes.

If you are 20 with hypertension, then it's harder to defend. Even then (thanks to the lawyers) anybody with pain above the belt will probably get an EKG because cardiac disease is so common.

Looking at a normal EKG for 2 minutes is probably about 1 minute too long. However, it's normal... but it's not useless. If we knew the answer without the EKG, then it wouldn't be a very useful test, would it? If the EKG would have been abnormal, then the doctor would have had to spend more time on it.

Anyway, rant off. Medicine as a lot of thing wrong with it. $100 EKG is not one of those things.


Re:Sad state of affairs... (1)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630967)

I went in the next time and not so calmly explained to her that she will not do that again without a) telling me what she is going to later charge, b) lying about what she was really doing, and c) being a cheat.

You should also point out to her that when she became a doctor, she promised to obligate herself to a higher ethical standard of conduct than what she displayed. And that there are state and federal laws regarding insurance fraud to which she is also accountable. What she did is absolutely unconscienable, and were I you, I'd be getting a new physician. And writing a letter of complaint to my insurance company explaining exactly why, with a cc to your state's dept. of insurance.

My answer (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630626)

Is it just another conspiracy theory, or are we becoming victims to the stealth inflation?

Yes, in that order.

Stealth Inflation (4, Funny)

Pingular (670773) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630630)

Next week: Ninja Tax!

Re:Stealth Inflation (5, Funny)

Trigun (685027) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630670)

But I haven't any ninjas to tax!

Re:Stealth Inflation (4, Funny)

webtre (717698) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630745)

You do, you just can't see them :)

Re:Stealth Inflation (0, Troll)

Pingular (670773) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630782)

But I haven't any ninjas to tax!
here's one []

You DO have ninjas to tax... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630849)

But, like stealth inflation, you just can't see them. Whaddaya expect? They're ninjas!

Re:Stealth Inflation (1)

Pelorat (174667) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630801)

Already got it. I spent a lot of money on caltrops last year.

Inflation (5, Interesting)

musingmelpomene (703985) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630643)

Inflation hasn't only gone up because of things like this, but because of the increasing dollar amount of taxes being subtracted from paychecks. Even if your paycheck is the same as 10 years ago, your take-home pay is very likely less. These surcharges are yet another way that make you think you're making the same amount - when really, you're making less and less, every day.

Re:Inflation-patch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630912)

Don't forget all the other tricks that companies use, like playing with the labeling on a product or gradually decreasing the amounts. Or the mistakes those scanners make at the checkout.
There's so many opportunities for abuse, for one bent to the bottom line.

Infiltration: Sacred Jihad Against Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630646)

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PLEASE bring the mirror tool back! (n/t) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630921)


everyone knows this is a scam... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630661)

...think of it this way; if you cut your bill short by a few cents, the system would cut off your service faster than you realized your mistake. And yet they can't employ the same error checking the other way around?.......

or other random fees liek EP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630662)

this EP is for all my goo friends everywhere and to those who pretend to be my friends a punch in the groin and kic to the face

#1 incorrect/extortion bill (0, Offtopic)

Brahmastra (685988) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630667)

$699 for you know what

What the... (0, Funny)

neiffer (698776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630668)

This article is totally right! I was just looking at my software bill for this month. What are all these $699 charges for Linux? I'm glad I checked!

Credit Card Processing (1)

Havokmon (89874) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630669)

How about a $20 "Y2K Fee" to 100,000 merchants?

Oh yes (4, Insightful)

ActionPlant (721843) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630675)

Maybe I'm REALLY paranoid, but I figured it was intentional long ago, and have since merely accepted it. Since when does "handling" in the shipping and handling for a two pound item justify an extra $10 expense? Online, I've taken to shopping where I can get free shipping. It feels more honest, and I like making the statement that I appreciate it.


Re:Oh yes (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630774)

Since when does "handling" in the shipping and handling for a two pound item justify an extra $10 expense?

You've just described 95% of eBay auctions:

Brand new CD, mint condition! Bidding starts at $0.01, S&H only $9.00 within the US! Please email for overseas quotes!

Re:Oh yes (2, Interesting)

Peyna (14792) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630854)

I bet if you had 2 identical auctions except one had free shipping and the other had a $10 shipping charge, the one with free shipping would sell for more than $10 greater than the one with the shipping charge.

Re:Oh yes (3, Insightful)

realdpk (116490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630793)

Congrats. You've uncovered the secret for Making Money Fast on eBay - charge excessive handling fees to pad your profits.

Re:Oh yes (1)

RetroGeek (206522) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630812)

I've taken to shopping where I can get free shipping.

Which simply means that the shipping/ handling cost is hidden in the price of the item.

SOMEONE has to handle the item, and it costs money.

I would rather see the cost. I HATE hidden taxes no matter who assesses them.

Re:Oh yes (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630945)


The box.
The tape.
The label.
The time to box, tape and label it.
Profit % on all the above.
Profit on total.

Stealth tax (4, Interesting)

RealProgrammer (723725) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630676)

It all started with adding the sales tax to an item's advertised price to make up the real cost to purchase it.

That still annoys me.

Re:Stealth tax (1)

Glove d'OJ (227281) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630732)

Of course, if you see that the price is $5 higher than the competitor, and it costs $4.95 to ship the unit with him, are you really getting a good bargain?

Take your time, do the math. I'll wait.

Sometimes "free" shipping aint so free. That is why is listing by the "total cost," and not just the list price.

Re: Stealth Inflation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630686)

Damn, the headline led me to believe this story was going to be about some secret stealth blimps. :(

Think about it, if we had invisible blimps over Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe we could find Osama and Saddam. Or maybe even invisible WMD!

Human nature (4, Insightful)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630690)

This shouldn't really be a surprise unless you still believe in the essential goodness of humankind (!)

It's a simple-enough risk calculation - how much will I gain by people not noticing or not bothering for $xxx, how much will I lose by annoying customers. If that comes out positive, it's a good business (and only business) decision to do it. You'd need to re-analyse the figures periodically, and figure in public opinion when news breaks like this, but essentially it's money for nothing.

So, why are we surprised ?


Re:Human nature (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630796)

of course, if you cut your initial price to the point where its competitive, then you'll start losing money - and so, to make it up, you'll have to charge extra once they're hooked.

I suppose once upona time, people paid the fair price for things up front, and add-on charges were minimal, if at all. Now, due to the pressures of getting the customer in the first place... you have to find other ways of making money.

Its a bit like free shipping - you know you're paying the shipping fee in the price of the item. You know its costing you a little more than the other shop. and you don't mind.

or.. its a bit like open source. You give the product away for free, and make your money by selling support, bugfixes, or enhancements.

Inflationbait (2, Funny)

Byzandula (83077) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630694)

I wasn't aware that the Iraq war would inflate the price of the B-2 bomber. Guess I'll have to get the model without leather and heated seats.


Byzandula -Beware the lolipop of mediocrity; One lick and you will suck forever.

Is there a difference? (5, Insightful)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630703)

Now I doubt that the companies intentionally make the mistakes in order to extract more money from the customer...

Now that being said, I think that the companies intentionally do make extra charges all around and hide them intricately in deals as they see there. It wasnt 800 minutes but 700 plus 100 minutes. Now no one in the world is going to ask about that. I know to ask about extra hidden charges, but no that.

I think that the companies then through the complication of such systems easily profit from mistakes related to calculating the charges and fees. And they are not going to do anything to fix such errors.

So the question remains by not doing anything is that the same as actually cheating the customer... This client says YES.

What about all the extra charges on my phone bill? (2, Interesting)

FlyGirl (11285) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630709)

Like the "lifeline service fee" that gives free phone service to people who can't afford it... It's just another hidden tax.

There's also the "airport service fees" at airports.

And I love how, the few times I have been in the hospital, I end up getting 30 different bills from 30 different organizations and SELDOM does the whole thing get handled by insurance companies without my having to get involved.

Re:What about all the extra charges on my phone bi (1)

haystor (102186) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630830)

Until you've paid I advise getting involved as little as possible. In fact, I advise against getting involved by paying and trying to get the money back. Its amazing how much harder they'll work to recoup money vs. how hard they work to return your money.

I also have a semi-firm policy of ignoring bills that arrive for the first time more than a year after services. If you wait to bill me until after I've filed away receipts from last year and have a fuzzier memory of the event, you can wait a few years longer.

Re:What about all the extra charges on my phone bi (1)

crushinghellhammer (727226) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630926)

A sad effect of socialism. Take from the (increasingly-less-)haves and give to the have-nots. While I'm all in favor of poor people getting telephone connections at reduced rates, why does the company want to charge customers that pay the regular rate an additional amount for a facility they won't be using. Also, the 911 fee...don't you think that should be free? If they've disabled your making long-distance and then local calls, but still leave you with a dial-tone, can't you call 911 in an emergency without having to pay a fee???

must be an accident (5, Funny)

dslbrian (318993) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630713)

...starting to suspect that such huge revenue might imply the mistakes are made on purpose.

I'm sure its all accidental .. and the fact that the charges are never in the consumers favor is a mere coincidence.

Of course sales of 'random billing error' plugin modules are skyrocketing! ... again, coincidence

Re:must be an accident (4, Funny)

smack_attack (171144) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630981)

I've seen BofA's overdraft code...

function overdraft()
$overdraft = $num*'29.50';
return rand_reason($num);

Just one more horror story (4, Interesting)

sameb (532621) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630720)

It's sad that when people tell horror stories, others reply, "Yeah, that's about normal." We should not sit idly by while companies continue to 'mistakenly' swindle consumers out of money. I have personally spent countless hours fighting with RCN (a cable/phone/internet) company to refund $182.91 that they owe me. The full story is available at my RCN sucks [] page. I've had to resort to telling my credit card company to refuse payment, because RCN still refuses to return the money they owe me.

"Restocking" fees, especially! (4, Interesting)

MsWillow (17812) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630739)

I'd be inclined to agree, at least some of these ridiculous surcharges are deliberate. Recently, I purchased some DDR Ram, for which they tried to charge me extra to test it. When it arrived, I installed it, and my machine did nothing at all. I got the RMA, and sent it back for refund - they told me I'd get the "restocking" fee.

Thankfully, I'd used VISA to buy it, and complained to my bank, which refunded it in toto. The company did, eventually, issue me a credit - not only did they take out their "restocking" fee, but charged me to test it when it got there, *and* then credited me based on the current price of the ram, not what I'd paid!

Thank heaven for VISA. I did get *all* my money back (had to let the bank take the pitiful excuse for a refund that the company issued).

So yes, these "hidden" charges are, in at least some cases, the way companies can increase their profit margins. Caveat emptor, indeed!

Re:"Restocking" fees, especially! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630773)

What's the name of the outfit? Just so that I know whom to avoid.

Re:"Restocking" fees, especially! (1)

MsWillow (17812) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630970)

DCC Sales.

Cell Phone charges. (1)

JRSiebz (691639) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630750)

My sister has a cell phone and a whole bunch of roaming charges showed up on her bill. The problem with this is that she was physically local, making local calls. The provider said that sometimes the calls use different towers and sometimes show up as roaming charges, and removed the charges.

But if they know this happens, why don't the charges get removed by the phone company before a customer is billed. I'm sure a bunch of people just payed it, not thinking twice... cuz people are dumb.

Oh and I stayed ambiguous not to incrimiate Cincinnati Bell Wireless (AT&T)...oh..oops ;-)

Re:Cell Phone charges. (0, Troll)

Acidic_Diarrhea (641390) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630886)

Because people are dumb they just paid the erroneous fee? People who are dumb use words like "payed" or "cuz." People who are busy and may not have time to take notice of fees that shouldn't be on their bill may just pay them.

I don't think you should be calling people who have neither the time nor inclination to look over their bill closely, "dumb."

Re:Cell Phone charges. (1)

JRSiebz (691639) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630941)

I just meant that all people are dumb. All.

Grocery Stores (4, Informative)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630751)

In California a year or three ago one of the major grocery store chains was slapped with a class action lawsuit and lost, IIRC. They were just ringing items up slightly wrong, like collard greens as the more expensive kale (happened to me. Twice. I don't shop at that chain anymore) or $.99 instead of $.79 for misc. food in a can, small stuff, stuff you probably don't notice 99% of the time. Spread it out across a year, they could screw customers out of maybe $100 each. Multiply that by however many people you've got buying groceries at your stores and that's a lot of "revenue."

Re:Grocery Stores (1)

nojomofo (123944) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630966)

The flip side of this coin (at least here in Massachusetts) is that if you catch them, they have to give you 1 of the item for free, and correct the price on all of the rest. My wife an I check prices carefully, and we've been known to get $15 worth of chicken for free, because it rang up for 5 cents too much.

911 Fee (1)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630757)

I love how they charge us all a flat rate fee on our cell phone bills for 911 service. Its because they have to update their systems to meet FCC requirements for E-911, but the way I see it, is that I am being charged for trying to call for help. So the first time I see a telephone in a car accident, I will ask for the dollar they charge me on my cell phone bill before calling for help. And then charge him for the help i provided.

I'm not collecting a salary for my service (that would void me out of the good samaritan law), i am mearly getting a service fee for the training needed to help him.

Just look at Ebay.... (2, Informative)

lysium (644252) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630775)

How many times have you seen items that weigh a few ounces require $10 - $15 dollars for shipping and handling? I've even seen situations where the postage on the package is not even half of what was charged.

If two-bit entrepenuers have figured out that this is a sneaky and effective profitmaker, I am sure it is not lost on the bigger, hungerier corporations....


Re:Just look at Ebay.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630847)

I've even seen situations where the postage on the package is not even half of what was charged.

That's it, I'm leaving you negative feedback.


Is this so surprising? (1)

Metallic Matty (579124) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630776)

Honestly, you must consider the fact that throughout all time, people have use euphemisms in order to hide the reality. Confusing language is the tool of every good businessman, like it or not.

Re:Is this so surprising? (1)

Tony (765) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630838)

Confusing language is the tool of every good businessman, like it or not.

For certain confusing definitions of "good," certainly. If "good" means (as I use it, when applied to people), "The world is a better place because of their existence," then no good businessman confuses language for profit.

But by that definition, there "good" and "businessman" should not be used in a sentence, unless it's, "The only good businessman is a jailed businessman."

Re:Is this so surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630890)

I don't believe he means good as in a good person, I think he means good as in good at what he does.

Though certainly, it should would be correct in saying a good businessman is a jailed businessman, hehe. Anonymity is like a warm blanket.

A hooker charged me for a Condom (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630780)

.... it should be covered in the mutually negotiated fee!

It is a conspiracy theory (3, Interesting)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630787)

The poster proposes a false dilemma:
"Is it just another conspiracy theory, or are
we becoming victims to the stealth inflation?"
Clearly both are true, if one accepts the
non-standard uses of "stealth" and "inflation".

I've been waiting for a class action (5, Informative)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630790)

against these cell companies under unfair competition statutes. California's, which has been widely criticized, nontheless would be perfect for these chickn-$#!t hidden fees and deceptive practices.
    SECTION 17200

    17200. As used in this chapter, unfair competition shall mean and
    include any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice
    and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act
    prohibited by Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17500) of Part 3 of
    Division 7 of the Business and Professions Code.
The beauty (or horror, depending on your perspective) is the "unfair" part. What was not technically illegal in the past may now be sued for if it is "unfair."

Next case, hidden bank and ATM fees...

You don't need a conspiracy theory (4, Insightful)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630791)

Assume a background of random errors. Now in usual circumstances, clients are able to fix mistakes quickly: if someone overcharges in a shop, or if you get shoddy goods or service, it's easy to complain and get your money back. As more and more sales get done online, as credit card statements get longer and more complex, as suppliers get futher and further away, we will see the less disciplined suppliers making more profit.

Example: the company I use for registering domain names made a mistake and charged for a domain name that was actually not available. Now, after some hours of trying to get service, I just let it fall. Hours' work to get $35 back is just not worthwhile. I'm not even annoyed with the company, it's my choice to let it slide.

So, over time, there will be an inflation in the greyness of transactions, ironically quite the reverse of what you'd expect from a more and more automated system.

Haha, this gives me a terrible idea. In decades from now, I guess we'll have shifted to a system whereby basic consumables are paid by taxes levied on our level of income. Much simpler and eventually the same result. Think RIAA taxes, but on the entire arena of consumer products.

OK, sorry, ruined your evening.

Been going on for year with teleco's (5, Interesting)

Puff65535 (135814) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630797)

Back in the 80's my mom used to record _all_ of her long distance calls and numbers on the calendar next to the phone (having only one phone, and little kids who didn't use it helped) and every few bills they'd try and screw us out of 50 cents to a dollar. After 2 years of calling up and screaming she started going into the main office and grumping in person, demanding the manager etc. After a couple of those and proof that we weren't home on days when calls were billed our bill mysteriously quit having problems and has been that way for the last 15 years.

Re:Been going on for year with teleco's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630931)

Yeah, cos they couldn't possibly have gotten fucking sick to death of her constant whining and harping about 50 freaking cents, and fixed the problem with their billing system. It must have been a conspiracy.


Here is why people get away with it... (1)

neiffer (698776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630805)

I know we all have a sad story about this, and looking the person's post about medical fees, it reminds me of at least three or four times I have been screwed by medical misbilling. BUT, the simple truth is, these bastards know they can get away with it. ...the hotel know they can jack up the fee 10 bucks because it's late and you guarenteed it with a credit card ...the e-tailer that sells you the memory or video card knows they can tack on 6 dollars special handling fee (or something else made up; I was charged $3.50 last week handling fee for an automated refund from a company that owed me $4.20) because i'm not going to return their card for a silly 6 bucks because i want to play games now, not wait 6 days for the return and rebuy elsewhere ...and the most important one, people that don't know or are too ignorant to check...people get screwed alllllll the time and they just don't know enough to ask.

Traditional buisness practice (2, Insightful)

sanctimonius hypocrt (235536) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630806)

Many companies have a policy of "settle on audit". They adjust their business practices so that any errors will be in their favor; then if they're caught they apologize and settle. This is similar to an earlier policy called "Devil take the hindmost".

anyone..anyone.. (1)

billimad (629204) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630810)

voodoo economics!

Number Portability Inflation (read profit) Scam (4, Interesting)

simi-lost (639853) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630815)

I have to point out on my new Sprint bill, there is a $2.50 charge A MONTH for Number Portability, should I ever decide to change to another carrier. I know they had said it would be a reasonable fee, but that is outragous. Multiply that $2.50 per customer, per month, and that's one HELL of a profit. Sure would love to start a movement to blow that scam out of the water...

new business model... (1)

advocate_one (662832) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630817)

1. Announce service

2. Make mistakes

3. ?*?*?...

4. Profit!!!!

Nah, this has been going on forever... (3, Interesting)

jjn1056 (85209) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630818)

When I got my first student loan back in 1992, the cut out 4.5% right away... Called origination-destination charges or something like that...

They took like $600 US before the check even arrived at the school!

You might notice these fees apply more to people who are in need. I remember when I first got out of school I had trouble saving money, and a few times my bank account fell below the minimum and they got me for $25 bucks. Of course now that I make a good income, I find that I don't get caught on many of those hidden fees. Everyone wants to be nice to me now :)

Of course I do pay higher taxes, but I really didn't notice that as much as you would think.

Why not just switch companies? (1)

zymano (581466) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630819)

The credit card and phone businesses are the biggest culprits. Tell them of your dissatisfaction and move your biz somewhere else.
The phone bills are the BIGGEST joke. Hidden fees everywhere . Making this a big matter by the media will help and put the spotlight on the problem . The only answer might be with legislation by congress.

What about plain old bad credit card charges? (1)

UpLateDrinkingCoffee (605179) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630820)

A few weeks ago, two back to back $35 charges showed up on a credit card that I almost never use from some company called netvalve that I've never heard of. They claim it was a "mistake" and immediately removed the charges, but I wonder how many people out there just didn't notice and never complained? I may have missed the "mistake" if I had been using the card.

I think there's a LOT of this nickel and diming going on... I switched banks because of it, but it's a little harder for servies which there is no real competition (land line, etc.)

Qwest gave me $31 this month (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630823)

I called and asked why I had a $31 credit this month and the phone rep. said that it was an overcharge compensation having to do with DEX. She couldn't explain it any further but said that all Qwest customers were getting it.

So, after reading the summary on this topic I'd normally agree, but after this experience I'm not sure I would. It's costing Qwest money to fix the problems, so I don't think it was a purposeful mistake.

VerizonWireless sucks (1)

Corvus (27991) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630828)

My Sept 2003 VerizonWireless bill had an error on it to the tune of $220 for early termination, plus reactivation, plus taxes on that. This was Verizon's fault, and I called them right away. They promised to fix it asap. Didn't do it. Next month, I called again. Nothing happend. Just talked with them again yesterday, and they swear it will be done on Friday. Needless to say, when I call tomorrow, I expect to get another run around.

Or maybe they don't take you serious unless you call them at least 3 times. :-)

This isn't new (1)

planetmn (724378) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630835)

It's just the most recent revenue stream.

In college, my roommates and I had a "family talk" plan with Cingular. Every month, you had to call up because of bogus roaming charges or similar increases. They are betting on the fact that most people won't bother, especially for only $1 or less. But if one million people are overcharged by 30 cents, and only 100,000 complain, the company has now made $300,000 and as long as they can settle the 100,000 complainers with that amount or less, they come out ahead.

Look at rebates. The whole idea behind them is that even with a 100% money rebate, only x% of people will actually send in the rebate, and only y% will be valid. Hell, how many people will complain if they deny a rebate submission, I would, but I have a spite factor.

In terms of the cellular industry, or any other industry with competition and technology bringing down prices, the companies will look for new methods to get back any lost revenue.

Just make sure you always fight it, write an email, make some phone calls, but most importantly Don't use companies that screw you over!


MCI Long Distance (1, Redundant)

nojomofo (123944) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630848)

My main experience with this sort of thing was with MCI long distance. I will never willingly do business with MCI, Worldcom or any related company again. Everything they did was entirely intentional and designed to prey on their customers.

I started out with a plan that was 5 cents a minute, no monthly fee. I never looked at my bills very carefully. About a year later, I noticed that there was a $2.95 / month fee, and daytime calls were 10 cents per minute. I thought about it, and decided that I may have actually started out like that it it might have been my imagination that I started out a 5 cents, no fee.

Another several months go by. In this time, I start online billing (no paper statement, charge to credit card (I think)). Eventually, I noticed that I was now paying $5.95 per month, 25 cents per minute during the day and 10 cents evening and weekends. So emailed customer service, and their response was something like: "We notified you of the change on the back of your statement. By not complaining, you agreed to the new rates.". I searched, and there was no notification on my online statement. There was a notification in small print about 5 clicks away on something called "paper statement" which was apparently different from the online statement, but that I had no reason to suspect had any information not contained on my statement.

That was enough. I called them to tell them to go to hell, at which point they offered to switch me to a 5 cents / minute plan with no fee. Gee, why on Earth would I believe for a second that they'd leave me on that plan? I said no thanks, and signed up for bigredwire, which charges me 4 cents a minute, no fee, and has continued to do so for about a year now.

Such shady business practices. Hoping that I wouldn't look at my bill closely enough to see how they were screwing me, and then lying about it when I called them on it. If that's how they treat their customers....

A first hand example (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630856)

We had a nailed-up Centrex ISDN connection to another build for about 4 years through PacBell aka SBC. We replaced it with SDSL a few months ago. It took 4 months of calling, faxing, and sending complaints to the state attorney general's office for them to stop billing us for the ISDN. Every fsking time we called, we took down names and were given assurances that it would be taken off and nothing happend. I can't help but think that it's a pattern and that they see a nice revenue stream from companies that don't take the time to fight.

Electric Company... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630859)

How about the "delivery" charge my electric company charges me? They didn't even install all the wiring and poles out there. The provincial government did long ago an then this company took over when it was privatised.

The BusinessWeek article (1)

andy1307 (656570) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630866)

Fees! Fees! Fees! Companies can't raise prices, so they're socking consumers with hundreds of hidden charges--and that's creating stealth inflation and fueling a popular backlash

America used to be the land of the free. Now, it's the land of the fee. Companies, hard-pressed for money, are taking every possible opportunity to nickel-and-dime people to death. Need a monthly brokerage account statement mailed to you? Ameritrade (AMTD ) may charge you $2 per statement. Want your hotel room cleaned? The Alexander Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., will bill you an extra $2.50 daily for housekeeping. Have to return a new camcorder? Best Buy (BBY ) Co. will dock you 15% as a "restocking fee." Want to buy a season ticket for pro football? The New York Jets will make you pay $50 for the privilege of getting on their waiting list.

The U.S. economy has become sneaky. Inflation is officially low, but Americans face an ever-growing mountain of extra charges that are pushing up the true cost of purchases. No area is safe, from retail to finance to travel to sports. "You have companies charging fees for things that were free on an unprecedented scale," says Claes G. Fornell, marketing professor at the University of Michigan Business School.

The extra hits -- each one typically small by itself -- add up to big money. AT&T (T ) could bring in as much as $475 million by charging its long-distance customers a new 99 cents monthly "regulatory assessment fee." Fresh fees for services such as housekeeping will generate $100 million for hotels this year, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Fees on consumers who pay bills online bring banks an estimated $2 billion. And credit-card late-payment fees -- up by 11% over the past year, on average -- could reach an astonishing $11 billion this year, estimates investment bank R.K. Hammer.

The fee frenzy is mainly an attempt by Corporate America to escape the brutal price wars of the past few years. Companies can't raise list prices without losing business, so they are burying higher charges in the fine print instead. "It's much easier to raise a price through obscure fees and surcharges than it is to raise a sales price," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

The plethora of stealth charges makes it much harder for consumers to use the Internet to do comparison shopping, as they started to do in the late 1990s. The result is that apparently simple buying decisions are turning into a hopeless and discouraging labyrinth. In response, frustrated consumers are fueling a backlash, including the creation of new vigilante organizations to pressure companies to roll back fees.

The growing significance of extra fees means that inflation is understated. Surprisingly, many add-on charges are not reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index. One reason is that many companies, especially in airlines and telecom, haven't provided the BLS with a full breakdown of their charges. In addition, fees for such things as credit-card late payments and airline-ticket changes -- both rising -- are not included in the government's figures. The implication: Fears of deflation may be overblown. Instead, the true rate of inflation, so important for setting monetary policy, is probably higher than the 2% or so that the BLS is reporting.

State and local governments are also willing participants in the fee game. Rather than hike taxes, politicians are hitting up Americans with a bewildering array of fees, fines, and penalties. Cash-strapped states will pull in $2.6 billion in new revenues this year by raising more than 200 different fees on everything from fishing licenses to fingerprint processing to driving with new tires. On Aug. 15, the fine for driving without possession of a driver's license in New Jersey jumped to $173, up from $44. Some of the charges are ridiculous: With some exceptions, blind Massachusetts residents will now have to shell out $10 once, and $15 every five years, for certification that proves they are legally blind.

Already, the new wave of consumer outrage is having serious consequences for politicians. One reason California Governor Gray Davis lost so much support was the popular outrage after he hiked car-registration fees that he had cut several years ago. They will triple this year, to an average of $234 annually, up from $76.

Corporations are feeling the heat as well. A string of suits involving fee abuses filed by class-action lawyers, state attorneys general, and private groups like the AARP are under way. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer made Sears, Roebuck & Co. and EchoStar Communications (DISH ) Corp. pay millions of dollars to settle claims of excessive surcharges on recycling car batteries and undisclosed satellite-service termination fees. "We were not aware New York had a law capping the fee, and once we knew we changed it almost immediately," says Sears spokesman Bill Masterson. Echostar points out that there was no finding of wrongdoing and that it settled to avoid costly litigation. And a California Superior Court judge has ordered MasterCard and Visa to refund $800 million to customers for charging hidden fees on purchases made in foreign currencies. Visa denies the charges and is fighting the ruling. MasterCard plans to appeal the suggested restitution procedures.

There are other signs that popular dissatisfaction with fees may finally be having an impact. Fees for using ATMs have been a bane of consumers for years. On Sept. 3, Washington Mutual (WM ), one of the most aggressive retail banks in the country, stopped levying such charges on users of its ATMs in the New York area, even ones with accounts at other banks. Meanwhile, Congress is weighing tougher disclosure requirements for mutual-fund fees and for mortgage closing costs, which can be hundreds of dollars. "There are incredible abuses out there," says Housing & Urban Development Dept. Secretary Mel Martinez.

Fees have long been a fact of life in some industries, such as financial services and travel. Car renters, for example, are used to having their bills inflated by extra charges, such as gas-tank refill penalties.

But the urge to raise fees has gotten out of hand. One of the worst offenders is the telecom industry, which advertises cheap wireless and long-distance calling plans and then lards on extra charges that add 20% to consumers' cell-phone bills, on average. Many wireless-service providers are charging extra to help pay for new technology to enable customers to switch companies without giving up their phone numbers. Sprint PCS, for example, is charging 18 million customers $1.10 a month, which would amount to $238 million annually. Sprint refuses to confirm or deny the total. AT&T's regulatory assessment fee, charged to its long-distance customers, covers such items as property taxes and expenses associated with regulatory proceedings.

Phone companies justify their extra fees as the only way to cover expenses without losing customers. "Sprint's recovery of these costs via the surcharges will end when these costs are recovered as permitted by law," says spokesman Dan Wilinsky. Adds AT&T spokesman Bob Nersesian: "If you're advertising a higher rate based on your expenses, and your competitors are advertising a lower rate but adding various fees at the bottom of the line, what are you supposed to do?"

Other companies use charges to weed out unprofitable customers or to change their behavior. Some airlines have recently started charging passengers $50 for paper tickets and $25 for every bag over 50 pounds. Ameritrade's $2 fee for monthly statements encourages people to wait for free quarterly statements or to get updates on their accounts online. And most online brokerages impose an extra fee on small-time investors who do not make a minimum number of trades. E*Trade Group Inc. and TD Waterhouse introduced in 2001 "maintenance" fees on brokerage accounts. "Our customers have access to streaming quotes, a rich set of research tools," says Connie Dotson, E*Trade's chief communications officer. "If the account itself doesn't generate the revenues to offset the cost, then for that value we charge a maintenance fee."

Package-delivery companies such as United Parcel Service (UPS ) Inc. and FedEx (FDX ) Corp. have offset increased expenses by adding on fee after fee over the past few years. Starting in 1999, package-delivery companies charged $1 per package for deliveries to remote areas. Now, they tack on "fuel surcharges" for the gas in the planes, trains, and trucks used to deliver packages. These fees are broken out on bills for regular customers, though not always for infrequent ones. Indeed, Airborne (ABF ) Inc. has listed a 25 cents charge for handwritten airbills on its Web site even though the company says it doesn't charge it. "It covers us in case we do decide to charge the fee in the future," says spokesman Robert Mintz.

In the retail sector, fees take a different form. Target (TGT ) Corp. and Best Buy Co. make customers pay a "restocking fee" of 15% for the privilege of returning electronics items such as camcorders, laptops, and radar detectors. Although neither Target nor Best Buy will disclose how much they earn from such fees, it's not small change for consumers. Best Buy justifies the penalty as a way to discourage people who would take the camcorder, say, and return it after using it once. Target did not return repeated calls.

So many people have asked about these restocking fees that Massachusetts' consumer-affairs department posted an alert about the practices on the Web in August. It warned that some retailers made people pay such fees even when they bought a defective product. "That's illegal," says Tatum Zuckerman, at the state's consumer hotline.

Not to be outdone, the original leader in fees, financial services, is finding new ways to raise revenue from customers. The growing dependence of banks on fee income has spawned a new breed of consulting, such as at Houston-based Strunk & Associates LP, which helps banks find new sources of revenue. One example: offering protection against bouncing checks, for a fee. Strunk justifies such fees as a way to improve customer service.

No one can beat the credit-card industry for its fee inventiveness. Deadlines for paying bills have been shortened to as little as two weeks, and they're strictly enforced, producing more late fees. Not coincidentally, the number of credit-card issuers with $35 late fees doubled last year, says Consumer Action. People can avoid late fees by paying their bills over the phone or online. But some banks and credit-card companies charge for that, too. Washington Mutual charges virtually all of its customers a total of $60 a year to pay their bills online. And it costs $15 to pay bills at the last minute over the phone at MBNA Corp. and Providian Financial (PVN ) Corp. MBNA and Providian say it takes staff time to process these payments by phone and that customers can pay online for free.

It does make sense to charge a premium for added services that cost more to provide, rather than force all customers to pay the same amount, whether or not they use the extra services. Splitting out such fees helps keep basic costs low. One example: charging extra for airline food. United Airlines Inc. has been trying out making passengers on certain flights pay $10 for chicken sandwiches supplied by TGI Friday's and meals from Eli's Cheesecake. Northwest Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. have also started to charge for food. "It's proven to be extremely popular," says US Airways spokesman David Castelveter. "Customers have a choice."

But many fees have no such justification, and ultimately, the niggling could cost companies their customers. Consider Natalie Armstrong in Gorham, Me. She and her husband have been back to Sears only once since her husband Lester was ambushed in January by $29 in late-payment fees along with a $1 "service" charge from a Sears credit card for a $14 part for his saw. After he convinced one clerk that his payment was actually on time, the company hit him with $30 more in fees. In the end, he handed over $60 in cash to a salesperson. After being contacted by BusinessWeek, Sears pledged to refund the late-fee charges.

Some banks are backing down after a barrage of criticism. Bank of America stopped charging customers to pay bills online last May when it discovered it could get more of their business if it offered the service for free. Last December, Bank One (ONE ) Corp. ditched a $3 charge for no-frills checking-account customers to use a branch teller when it discovered that irate customers were bolting to rivals. "Imagine if you are a retail store and your goal is to sell sweaters, and you're charging admission," says Charles W. Scharf, president and CEO of retail banking, who changed the policy after he got his job in May, 2002. "It's counterproductive."

Still, many businesses are holding firm. The New York Jets responded to fans outraged over the waiting-list fee by announcing that people lucky enough to get season tickets could deduct the $50 they paid for waiting for them. The goal of the fee, says the Jets, is to prune the list to fans who are genuinely interested in buying tickets. "Some people aren't even alive who are on the list," says spokesman Ron Colangelo.

Nobody figures fees will be eliminated entirely. But as the country recovers from an era of corporate scandal, it's not too much to ask that companies keep prices easy to understand. That way people will know they're getting what they pay for.

By Emily Thornton
With Michael Arndt in Chicago

Re:The BusinessWeek article (1)

andy1307 (656570) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630923)

Following the publication of this article, these letters appeared in BW

As a state government attorney representing Maine's telecommunications consumers, I regularly hear from customers who are furious about the number of indecipherable surcharges on their phone bills. While you mentioned that fees typically add 15% to the cost of long-distance service, you neglected to mention that fees and hidden rate components on local phone bills typically add over 50% to the total price. "Anatomy of a phone bill" on our Web site has an explanation of each phone surcharge ( [] ).

Wayne R. Jortner Senior Counsel, Maine Public Advocate Augusta, Me.

When Fees Become Abuse

Fees, charges, penalties? I can top that. How about being whacked when the vendor cannot provide the service? I recently moved two blocks away, and Earthlink, (ELNK ), my DSL supplier, claimed that it could not provide service at my new place, so they socked me $150 for "early termination." No amount of reason or abuse would shake them from this shakedown. Happy coda: I signed up with my local cable monopoly. No complaints so far.

Ian Keay Palo Alto, Calif.

Money rules (4, Interesting)

thelenm (213782) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630879)

When it comes to money (specifically, other people getting their hands on yours), everything is done on purpose. Everything. People will do anything they need to do, and will fight harder for money than they will for their own lives. Haven't you figured that out by now?

The REAL Conspiracy (1)

CDR1313 (151522) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630884)

Here's my take on it. The companies started making all these "mistakes" that net them some extra cash. While all this is nice and lovely, there is going to come a time when the trial lawyers take them to task for some outrageous zillion dollar settlement. Everyone will be part of the class action suit. The companies will lose the case, which means the lawyers will earn about a zillion dollars while the people may get a penny or two. I'm sure somewhere along the lines the lawyers work out some kind of kickback to the companies so they aren't really out a zillion smackers. To summarize:

Consumers get screwed
Lawyers sue
Lawyers get rich
Consumers happy
Lawyers compensate companies
Companies don't change a thing
Consumers still get screwed - but are happy about it

repeat ad infinitum

The only thing left is to start your own business and write everything off as a business expense.

Banks did this stuff all the time... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7630887)

I used to work for an outsource bank data processor. We had a customer who required us to apply debits before credits because it generated more fees that way.

Not all banks did this, and it wasn't standard practice (at the time -- don't know now). It was odd enough that it was the talk of our company for a couple of weeks.

Rebates (1)

jaymz666 (34050) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630903)

It's just like the mail in rebate scam that goes around....

How many people forget to send in those $5 rebates for items?

Coffee prices... (1)

temojen (678985) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630909)

Here's annother one...

Ever notice the weight of a "pound" of coffee?

Most of them are 300 grams. Not 454g (1lb) or 500g (1/2 kg). 300grams.

This sucks (4, Interesting)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630965)

I've noticed this for years and its gotten entirely out of hand. I am now forced to ask people stupid questions like "How much does the $19.95 a day truck cost?" I was shocked to find out that at UHaul it actually cost 19.95 plus mileage.

I refuse to get phone service because of this, cell or otherwise. It is insane that the priveledge of using over 100 year old technology to talk to people costs on order of 1/2 the amount to power my house for a month.

I pay over $1,600 dollars a year in taxes for my house which is in a city. I always thought that city == trash pickup because of said taxes. Nope, they charge me 15 bucks a month on my water bill for trash, plus 4 dollars "maintence" on the sewer systems. I dunno what the sewer charge is for.

The only way that this is going to stop is if people stop paying for it. I have asked hotels to take off the safe charge.

Back to the phone thing. I promptly canceled my last phone after the 12.95 a month phone cost me over $26 (yes thats double!). I told them that it was deceitful and false advertising and under no circumstances was I goint to pay that, and I have been without a phone for 6 months or so (my work does pay for a cell, so I'm not that hardcore). This phone thing really pissed me off because it was a switch of providers that I agreed to because it was going to save me $10 a month. Being that I was writing a check for over $26 before and after, I do not see how I was saving anything. These extra costs make price comparison imposible and I think that it should be illegal.

Stealth inflation builds real margins (3, Interesting)

rm007 (616365) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630971)

Things such as deregulation, increased competition and globalization etc. have all squeezed profit margins. Adding these charges or systematically making mistakes that only a minority will catch all help to increase profits while keeping the headline cost of the product or service the same. Of course it makes comparing genuine prices impossible, but that's the point. It's also the point of making things like cell phone plans as complex as possible - they don't want you to be able to compare between competitors.

The *real* stealth theft ... (2, Insightful)

duncan bayne (544299) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630972)

... is by Government:

What makes it possible for a government to increase its funds by inflation is the ignorance of the public. The people must ignore the fact that the government has chosen inflation as a fiscal system and plans to go on with inflation endlessly. It must ascribe the general rise in prices to other causes than to the policy of the government and must assume that prices will drop again in a not-too-distant future. If this opinion fades away, inflation comes to a catastrophic breakdown.

Sprint (1)

wytcld (179112) | more than 10 years ago | (#7630973)

I used to live in NYC, with Verizon for local calls and Sprint for long distance. The Sprint charges showed up on the Verizon bill, along with an extra charge of $2.25 from Sprint for the "convenience" of the single bill. I never requested the single bill. Sprint had no option to have their bill sent separately, which would have been fine by me. I'm sure they were saving money by not having to conduct their own mailing and processing. So they were basically charging me for sending me the bill. Wish I could charge my customers extra for the service of billing them. Shouldn't this sort of nonsense be illegal? To make it even sillier, the $2.25 had a two-month delay, so two months after my final payment to Verizon, I get an additional bill for $2.25. I still use SprintPCS - haven't seen anything silly in the billing - but I'll never use Sprint landline long distance again!
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