In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Law Enforcement, Self-Help, Social commentary on December 14, 2020 at 12:12 am

It’s easy to be intimidated by a large corporation—such as a bank or phone company—when you’ve been ripped off. After all, it’s well-known, has millions of dollars, and legions of attorneys.

But when that happens, it’s essential to remember two words: Who/Whom?

Translation: Who can do What to Whom

When you’re dealing with people whose greed is equaled only by their arrogance, there is only one way to prevail: You need to make them afraid of you.

And that can be achieved only by finding someone—or some agency—they fear, and turning them into your ally.

A friend of mine—Lynn—tried to order a calendar from an online calendar company. She put in the required information—including her debit card number—but kept getting “Error” messages.

Eventually she quit trying.

Lynn never got the calendar—but she wound up with four separate charges to her debit card, totaling $71.32.

She tried to get a refund from the company—which claimed they couldn’t find the charges.

Meanwhile, Lynn’s bank had in fact confirmed the charges—since the money had been taken from her account. And the bank—Bank of America—promised to remove the charges within 72 hours.

Three days came and went—and no reimbursement had been made to her account. 

Bank of America Corporate Center.jpg

Bank of America Corporate Center

So Lynn called BofA again—and was told it would take about 45 days to run “an investigation” into her loss.

Luckily, an investigator-friend of hers advised her to file a complaint with the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  It can be reached at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ 

According to its website, the agency operates as follows: 

  • “We create clear rules to implement the law and preserve choices for consumers.”
  • “We enforce federal consumer financial laws by investigating cases of potential wrongdoing and taking action.”
  • “We supervise financial companies to ensure compliance with federal consumer laws.”

So she called the agency—at (855) 411-2372 on a Friday—and waited to see what happened. 

Two days later—a Sunday—she called Bank of America to check her balance. To her surprise, she found that the bank had found a way to reverse the fraudulent charges that had been made to her debit card.

And it had done in far less than 45 days.

Clearly, someone at BofA had gotten the message: This is no woman—or agency—to take lightly.

CFPB seal.png

Then there’s this case: From November, 2011 to February 2012, AT&T demanded that Dave (not his real name) pay for a service the company had failed to provide.

They had promised to supply him with Uverse high-speed Internet—at 25 MBPs a second. Instead, he had gotten only 6 MBPs—and a big dot in the middle of his computer screen while watching YouTube videos. 

Finally, an AT&T rep told him the blunt truth: His geographical area in San Francisco was not yet supplied with the fiber-optic cables that could provide high-speed Internet service. 

Dave canceled Uverse—and began getting a series of bills from AT&T.

After getting a phone call from a collection agency, Dave decided to ask me to intervene on his behalf.

I decided to go directly to the Office of the President of AT&T.

Why? Because the man at the top of an organization cannot fob you off with the excuse: “My hands are tied. I can’t do it.” He can do anything he wants.

I found the name of the president by a quick search on Google under: “AT&T Corporate Offices.”

And at the top of the heap stood Randall L. Stephenson––Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of AT&T Inc.

I didn’t expect to speak with Stephenson. One of his chief lieutenants would do nicely—such as a woman I’ll call Margie.

SOS - Report Fraud to the Office of Investigative Services

First, I introduced myself and said I was authorized to act on Dave’s behalf. Then I handed the phone to Dave (who was sitting next to me) so he could confirm this. 

After that, I briefly outlined the problems Dave had been having. 

Margie—using Dave’s phone number—quickly accessed the computerized records documenting all I had told her. She said she needed three or four days to fully investigate the matter before getting back to me.

Police long ago learned the “good cop/bad cop” routine usually works wonders. So I decided to apply a variation of this with Margie. 

I said that Dave wanted to resolve this quietly and amicably. But, if necessary, he was prepared to do so through the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—both of which had jurisdiction over AT&T. 

Margie hurriedly said there was no need to conduct an investigation after all. In fact, she added, she was writing a credit to Dave of $150.00 that very minute.

Why had Margie changed her mind?

Just as banks use every excuse to charge their customers for anything they can get away with, so do phone companies. AT&T wouldn’t want the PUC and FCC to start asking: “Is AT&T generally dunning customers for money they don’t owe?”

I had no doubt the answer would have proven to be: “Yes.”

And I believe that Margie felt the same way. 

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