Amazon.com Abusive and Invasive Customer service

by Allen Williams


Recently, I was in the market for some new R-12 hoses to refurbish an older AC gauge set when I happened on an advertisement from Amazon featuring all three replacement hoses for about $17+ bucks.  It seemed like a good deal except for the long delay in shipping the goods but I wasn’t in any hurry so I thought I’d sign up.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Amazon.com doesn’t allow ‘guest purchases’ as does EBAY, its ‘members only’ at Amazon and your order is conditional upon membership acceptance.  I received the following confirmation memo Jan 16, sent to me at our sites email address.

 Amazon

Order Confirmation

Hello Allen Williams,


Thank you for shopping with us. You ordered "Atoplee 3pcs (2500~500)PSI...". We’ll send a confirmation when your item ships.

Details Order #105-5734003-9497812

Arriving:
Monday, February 6 -
Tuesday, February 28

Amazon.com

 



 


 


This was the typical automated response however, the next day I received a follow-up email which I expected to be an actual ship date but instead my ‘account’ was frozen!

Subject: Re: Your Amazon.com order cannot be shipped
On 1/16/  12:24 PM, address-verification@amazon.com wrote:

There was a problem processing your order. You will not be able to access your account or place orders with us until we confirm your information.

You can help us resolve this issue by replying to this message with the billing name, address, and phone number registered to your card. Please reply from the email address registered to your Amazon.com account.

If needed, update your information with the card issuer.

For your security, we restrict access to your billing details to a team of account specialists. Our Customer Service team cannot access these details or provide you with more information on this issue. They can only verify that we sent this request.

We ask that you not open new accounts as any order you place may be delayed.

Amazon.com


This makes no sense unless the real purpose of being an Amazon member is to open all of your transactions to government phishers. All the personal 'verification' needed was to PING the card in amount of $1.00 to confirm its validity otherwise the card would be rejected outright. What Amazon is really saying here is that we don't trust you to be who you claim to be without outside confirmation. That's not membership, it's abuse.

Apparently Amazon no longer limits abuse to its employees but is now including customers as Salon reports: Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers“You might find your Prime membership morally indefensible after reading these stories about worker mistreatment.“ Don’t be overly shocked, this is simply globalism and its New World Order business practices. It’s the future of American business. Oh that’s just sour grapes. Really? Well how about Amazon used ‘neo-Nazi’ guards to control workers in German factory? Oh, too harsh, still? How about the Orwellian work environment at Amazon as in Forbes’ assessment, “What Amazon's Work Culture Tells Us About Employee Disengagement

But what disturbs me most is the Huff Post Blog reporting a $600 million dollar deal Amazon struck with the CIA for cloud services which likely means the CIA has access to all purchases made by Amazon customers. The Blog further reports: ”.. a signer in Cincinnati wrote: "If Amazon chooses to sell out their customers to the CIA, I will never visit their site again. Betrayal shouldn't be the price of convenience.” This certainly goes a long way towards explaining why Amazon would be so interested in ‘confirming’ mine and others customer information.

On Jan 17th, I called the company and spoke to a representative who was to ‘look into the problem.’  I told them what had happened and the lady I spoke with indicated that I had to respond with the email address that I opened the account with.  Well, duh.. I DID that and they acknowledged it by responding to the ORIGINAL email address that I opened the account with!!.  (Actually, I responded with both my email addresses and still received the same mind numbing response.)

So, now we know what they’re saying here is NOT the real issue.  Note that I DIDN’T GIVE permission by FAX or in my telephone conversation with the AMAZON rep to verify anything with my card issuer for ANY REASON.  They simply took it upon themselves to contact the bank anyway.  That’s uncalled for as Amazon already had the information and acknowledged it with their reply but here’s their moronic response.

Hello,
We encountered an issue with your account, and have removed your access to this account because 
the card issuer has refused to confirm your name and billing address for your Visa ending in 56.

You will not be able to access your account or place orders with us until we verify your information.
To resolve this issue, please allow the card issuer to grant our request, or send the information 
below to our secure fax line:
-- A copy of your statement for the payment card used, including the billing address
-- The last two digits of the payment card
-- Your name, phone number, and email address  
You can find our fax number on the Amazon.com Help page:
https://www.amazon.com/help/addressverification
We will convert your fax to a secure electronic image. To protect your information, 
we restrict access to your billing details to a team of account specialists.
Our Customer Service team can confirm that we sent this email, but they cannot view 
your fax or share more information about this issue.
You can expect a response from us within 24 hours of sending your fax.
If you would like us to confirm your information with the card issuer, reply to this email 
after you have arranged for them to grant our request.
In the meantime, please do not open new accounts because any new order that you place may be 
delayed. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
 
Amazon.com
 
Yes, secure like YAHOO and FACEBOOK which had millions of their ‘secure’ customer records 
hacked. And might they also be passing my business information along to the NSA or FBI as
BEST BUY technical people are currently doing for the FBI? 

The customer rep never addressed my reply or indicated why my bank had to confirm my identity.
A few days later I got another email asking why I discontinued my account. Interestingly enough,
Amazon’s BEZOS owns the Washington Post and since I have been a written critic of that
intellectual rag, the Amazon episode begins to make a bit more sense. 
Trump may be on to something in Donald Trump's war on Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the Washington Post  Looks like Amazon.com has been getting a pretty cushy tax break in their rise to economic fame.

And of course, we all know the ‘journalistic integrity’ of WAPO as in After the WaPost’s Latest Shot, It’s Time to Call ‘Fake News’ By Its Real Name ‘Weaponized Journalism My observation to the WAPO editor on instructions from Jeff Bezos for their news coverage is that company policy (written or otherwise) dictates news coverage just as it would with any other firm subsidiary.  Don’t think for a moment that WAPO isn’t looking out for the Amazon billionaire’s interests.

Amazon’s request for my credit card statement is clearly ‘over the top’ and BS pure and simple.  
If you can't believe I who I say I am; we can not have any meaningful business relationship. I've
purchased many things online from EBAY and other suppliers and have never experienced such a request.
There is another possibility, the company is advertising the sale of an item they don't have and won't 
have available unless a sufficient number of people express interest before they order from their
China supplier. In that case you might want a verifiable customer base to motivate the Chinese.

If you’re an Amazon customer get prepared for more invasive scrutiny of your account information, and if you’re not, don’t JOIN!.









Auto Insurers like Farm Bureau Financial Services Moving to Real Time Driver Surveillance (Updated)

by Allen Williams


Today's insurance market is simply the pits especially where automobile coverage is concerned. Consumer complaints are on the rise and even though one can get a feel for how he or she may fair under insurer policies from these complaints, there is little relief from industry abuses. One such example is Farm Bureau Financial Services of West Des Moines. Iowa, a holding company that has acquired a number of state farm bureaus through the years including Kansas in 2001.

Farm Bureau is a financial conglomerate that provides Home and Auto coverage through its subsidiaries as well as questionable innovative technologies like driveology'. View the FBFS Driver real time monitoring brochure here: (https://www.fbfs.com/insurance/auto-insurance/driveology) Whats that you may ask? Note that the company's safe driving software will be rating YOUR contribution to global warming as a qualifier for premium auto discounts.

We now live in a technological age where government and its affiliated partners can render total information control over every individual. Under real time driver management surveillance, most people will never qualify for any significant discounts. It will be nothing more than an intrusive incursion into ones privacy.

Farm Bureau has a history of making promises which never materialize. I was involved in several rate saving programs in the past promising discounts but about halfway through, a general rate increase nullified the discount. I even requested a 7500 mile travel limit option but it didn't result in any noticeable rate reduction as I wound up with double digit rate increases of 18%, 13.5%, and 13%  respectively for the last three years. The company raises insurance premiums on drivers with no accidents to help offset its uninsured loss claims.

As you might imagine in new technologies, the Farm Bureau website does not give any system details on its driver monitoring package. Their safety brochure mailed to potential insurance renewals is all the information that is available. They want you to talk to their agent where nothing promised is in writing to establish that the insurer wasn't acting in good faith in the event of future litigation. I'll define what that means a bit later.

Now before one can actually qualify for the kind of savings they hint at with their driver monitor (up to 30%) you need to own the right car. What might that be you respond? Well the advertisement I received with last years 13.5% rate increase infers that I may only expect to receive the maximum discounted savings IF my car qualifies. Now given the fact that Farm Bureau raised my auto rates 18% last year with no claims for the last 15 to 20 years that Ive been insured, I have to conclude that one must have the latest vehicle technology in addition to their software if any real savings are possible. So, what must a person do?

Well for starters I must accept their electronic surveillance package in my car (it could be as simple as a flash drive plugged into my cars USB port, if I had one) that would query and store my vehicles health, environmental and operating data.

Expect this to be a points based rating system not unlike trading carbon credits. For example, you just had a new CO exhaust monitor installed in the vehicle, that's +5 points but you also have a substandard performing catalytic converter and that's (-)50 points. Get the drift or am I going too fast?

In addition, the FB insurance system records how often the brake pedal is actuated, your distance traveled, the speed of the vehicle and if the driver is wearing a seat belt. I bet it will also test driver alertness on long trips as most new cars have a camera screen which is perfect for receiving visual messages and alarms from your driving safely monitor. It will send various messages that need to be responded to in a certain amount of time along the lines of a drunk detector on start-up which requires you to type in a random series of numbers in sequence in 10 or so seconds or you can't start the car. Remember, older drivers with arthritis and other physical impairments will be challenged to satisfy such tests. And, it would most likely result in a serious penalty (-)1000 points, etc in the driveology system if you fail it.

The Farm Bureau software surveillance system is capable of virtually infinite expansion as any new WIFI device can communicate with your vehicle WIFI. So say, there is a new device marker for a school zone, the marker will notify the FBFS system in your car enabling it to determine if you're speeding in that region, and if so (-) 100 points. And lets not forget that weather is available across the WIFI network which allows insurers to determine that you're driving too fast on wet slippery roads and then more point penalties. Also, they will know what you' re listening to on the radio and if you are texting because these are all WIFI access devices. And because most fast food restaurants also have WIFI, the company will be aware of what you're eating and drinking. This information will be sold to their business partners per their privacy notification policy.

The Farm Bureau driver monitor will also know the last time your car was serviced and if the environment is being harmed by using the AC too often. [UPDATE] These intrusive measures are being offered as a 'social responsibility' effort but also a 'profit enhancer' for companies. Telogis offers real time driver monitoring.  See (https://www.telogis.com/benefits/social-responsibility)
Here's an example of what's already underway in commercial fleet operation: "Using Telogis Fleet (https://www.telogis.com/solutions/fleet) you can measure progress on green metrics. Using baseline data, ongoing collection and record-keeping of GHG outputs, you can report on your current carbon footprint and track green fleet initiatives. ..It all adds up to shrinking your carbon footprint and minimizing carbon emissions. Calculate your potential CO2 reductions using our GPS ROI calculator."
(https://www.telogis.com/benefits/your-roi/gps-roi)

Driver monitors can also interface with the police license scanner system ALPR - (http://www.theiacp.org/ALPR) alerting an expired license (-)1500 points (plus a ticket). Or perhaps, you did not schedule that emissions test when told to by the system within the time window allotted (-) 500 points. The FB driveology data is viewable externally as their brochure claims but you cant correct it. It will testify against you in any legal proceeding resulting from a citation or an accident.

Now after your car has spied on you for a period of time, I mean monitored your driving habits for a year or so, you become eligible for advanced premium discounts. But I'd be surprised if anyone could qualify for a dime of rebate under such a program, more than likely the FB system will document scores of reasons why one can't earn a premium break and will then be justification for endless rate increases just as one experiences each year for those over retirement age.

Statistics is the lifeblood of the insurance industry; these people are always looking for ways to minimize their risks and boost profits at the drivers expense so your personal freedom and privacy under the 4th amendment is of little concern. So, do not be surprised if the insurance industry is already lobbying government to require this invasive technology under penalty of law. Forcing individuals to upgrade equipment and purchase services they do not need or want is a time honored globalist tradition right along with getting the government to do their dirty work. (If you have forgotten that just revisit Obamacare.)

Companies like Farm Bureau also force you to subscribe to their quarterly Kansas Living magazine as a condition of purchasing their auto insurance. Kansas Living is no longer the voice of agriculture but a paid platform of partner advertising subsidized by the policy holder. You can't cancel it because your FB auto insurance is contingent upon remaining a Kansas Living subscriber.

So, how effective is Farm Bureaus claim management you may think? Well, in short, they almost never return your phone calls. Particularly, if you have a question about their rates do not expect to get an answer in your lifetime. For a supposedly rural company they come off like the snobbish global company they truly are. One recent user named Rachel from Kansas (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/insurance/farm-bureau-homeowners.htm) laments: 

"Extremely dissatisfied with Farm Bureau. We have paid additional to get residential home equipment breakdown coverage. Our heat and air unit outside needs replacement. It has been eleven days since we have filed our claim. We have tried to contact the insurance agent several times. He does not pick up his phone and neither does he answer back."
I certainly have to agree with her assessment based on my personal experiences with Farm Bureau.

Then there is Debra (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/insurance/farm-bureau-homeowners.htm) from the Indiana branch of Farm Bureau:
"I've had Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance for 6 SIX years, paying approx $200/month which equals over $14k and had NO ZERO claims, not even 1 speeding ticket, yet my insurance rates keep increasing - on my 11 yo vehicle! I am even over 50. Called my agent and he said "Well, I can't explain it. Sorry. I'll even shop around for you!"
" Here are more FBFS complaints from the consumer protection website (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/insurance/farm_bureau_auto.html).

Folks there is a reason behind Farm Bureaus rude and callous behavior, they simply don't have to perform because if there is any misdoings you're the one (or your attorney) who has to prove that the insurer was not acting in good faith and its just about impossible to prove given the legal boundary conditions that have to be satisfied simultaneously. Now you know the value of insurance lobbying. Yes, state governments have provided some cushy legal protection for the insurance cartel's deep pockets. Here is an excellent example from Findlaw as to how the claim game is played.

On October 9, 1999, Roger Bellville (Bellville) and his wife, Sue Ellen, were involved in a motor vehicle accident with Guy Schueler. Ellen died at the scene Bellville was unharmed. (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ia-supreme-court/1256710.html)

Now here's the explanation of 'good faith' in legal terms as I mentioned earlier: 
2. Subjective element: knowledge of lack of reasonable basis. Even when the insurer lacks a reasonable basis for its denial of a claim, liability for bad faith will not attach unless the insurer knew or should have known that the basis for denying its insured's claim was [Sampson, 582 N.W.2d at 150; Kiner v. Reliance Ins. Co]., unreasonable. An insurer's negligent or sub-par 463 N.W.2d 9, 13 (Iowa 1990). investigation or evaluation of a claim is relevant to the fact finder's determination of whether the insurer should have known its denial lacked Reuter, 469 N.W.2d at 254; Bad Faith Actions a reasonable basis. 5:08, at 5-42 ([A] breach of the duty to investigate constitutes a § But an improper investigation, standing substitute for knowledge.) alone, is not sufficient cause for recovery if the insurer in fact has Reuter, 469 an objectively reasonable basis for denying the claim. N.W.2d at 254-55; accord Seastrom v. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co., 601 5:08, at 5-42 (stating N.W.2d 339, 347 (Iowa 1999); Bad Faith Actions § a negligent investigation does not constitute bad faith by itself). With this background, we turn now to an analysis of the plaintiff's bad faith claim.

So bad faith actions ARE NOT proof of bad faith itself and precisely what insurance adjuster actions could ever be deemed unreasonable in a court of law? And how could you prove that the insurer knew or should have known that his basis for denying the claim was unreasonable? Anything the adjuster does will be deemed reasonable; the appellate court has already affirmed that assumption in this particular case.

Farm Bureaus real time driver monitoring system is a privacy threat and a consumer rip off.


Parts - Geek .. not a good choice for automobile parts!”

by Allen Williams


Recently, I had to upgrade my automobile air conditioning system from R12 to R134a. Getting AC parts for a 1991 Nissan is no easy task. After some research on the Net, I happened upon Parts Geek which seemed to have exactly what I needed at reasonable prices.

I did most of the AC work on my own car, flushing the lines, installing a new compressor, o-rings, etc. I ordered a new Filter-Drier from Parts Geek and it arrived promptly, now note their return policy:

"Return Policy - IMPORTANT PLEASE READ
We have a 30 day return policy. We must be contacted within 30 days of receipt for an RMA number. We will not accept any returns after 30 days, no exceptions. All returns including cores require an RMA number. You MUST fill out a support ticket on our website for an RMA number. We will NOT accept return requests via phone. DO NOT send back any parts without first obtaining an RMA number via e-mail, or else your credit will be delayed significantly. Please visit our website and click on Customer Service for further details."
I installed the new filter-drier and pulled down the system to 29 inches of mercury but the AC system began to leak as soon as the vacuum pump shut off. I checked the system for leaks but couldn't identify any even though the system had green dye in the PAG oil and had been run briefly.

I had to put my car in a local Kansas AC shop and they called to tell me the new Filter-Drier was defective, leaking around the sight glass. The shop replaced the filter drier, pumped it down and charged the system with R134a. It then worked fine.

Now instead of being able to repair and upgrade my auto AC system for less than $200, I wound up paying over $500 because of that defective drier not to mention the time and aggravation I experienced getting an approved RMA number to get the defective part returned for credit. And then they wouldn't pay the shipping for me to return their defective part!

You get a confirming email from Parts-Geek on any order which contains the customer order number, if you don't have that number they won't assist you. They have no other way to identify your order. And Parts Geek has no telephone contact number on their website, I had to do a separate search to acquire their 800 number. When you call, you get their automated menu so they can screen customers by the type of part ordered. Parts-Geek customer representatives are rude, not very knowledgeable and like to make you keep repeating the order number as you attempt to resolve a parts issue. Here is their order policy:


"Please do not reply to this message. This e-mail was sent from a notification-only e-mail address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. If you need to contact Customer Service, please open a support ticket on our Customer Service page.

To track your package, please visit the carriers website and simply input the tracking number. All UPS tracking numbers begin with 1Z, (e.g., 1Z69R2R70315956544) All FedEx numbers are 15 digits long and do not include any letters (e.g., 04751198048715). All US MAIL tracking numbers are 20 digits long and do not include any letters (e.g., 0123 4567 8910 1112).

* Please note that ALL tracking information may not be available immediately or at the same time. Please allow 24 hours after recieving the tracking number for the shipping carrier to update their web site.

* As indicated on our website, we do not offer weekend or holiday delivery. Therefore, any overnight or second day orders placed on Friday will not arrive until the following business day.

* If you receive a damaged package, do not accept the package. You can either refuse the package or contact the shipping carrier to refuse the package. You have 24 hours to refuse the package. We will not be responsible for the return of carrier damaged products.

* We have a 30 day return policy. No returns are accepted without a return authorization number. We must be contacted within 30 days of receipt for an RMA number. We will not accept any returns after 30 days, no exceptions."

How would you get an RMA for a carrier damaged package? The answer: You wouldn't and if that carrier turned out to be UPS, you'd likely be out the entire cost of whatever you bought.  I had to get an approved RMA to return the defective filter-drier.  I included an email from my local AC Shop indicating the filter-drier was defective.as I wasn't certain they'd take my word for it. I also had to pay to ship back the defective filter-drier; they refuse to pay any return shipping charges no matter what the circumstances. Here are some further testimonies to Parts Geek's crappy service, there are plenty of other complaints.

I was asked to rate Parts Geek on Trust Pilot: Click here to rate us on Trustpilot  I gave them one star out of five because that was as low as the system would let me go. Here was the Parts-Geek credit response on the defective filter-drier I returned.

"Please DO NOT REPLY to this message. (we will not receive it)

To contact us you MUST open a support ticket on our Customer Service page.

This is to inform you that your credit was processed today.

Invoice Number: 15-xxxxxxxx
Shipping: $9.95
Parts: $12.08
Total Credit: $22.03
"

UPDATE 7/15/2016
Bank ledger entries show the following credits from Parts-Geek..same order..same carrier..same destination


06/29/2016

 

CREDIT 1831 

06/28/16 75785902 PARTS 

GEEK, LLC 800-5419352  

NJ 

 

 

9.95

 

06/28/2016

 

CREDIT 1834 

06/27/16 78773002 PARTS 

GEEK, LLC 800-5419352  

NJ 

 

 

22.03

 
But on the second filter-drier I inadvertently ordered I only received $9.95 credit. When I asked the customer rep why I didn't get the full amount of $12.08, he hung up on me. The next time I called, I asked why is there a difference in shipping charges, i.e. (1st -drier) $22.03 - $12.08 = $9.95  and (2nd Drier) $12.08 - 9.95 = $2.13?  He claims I had to pay return shipping on an order that I refused deleivery on. This makes no sense!  You can also read my complaints on Yelp.

During the 2nd call to Parts-Geek, the customer rep said he needed to put me on hold while he checks into the shipping discrepancy and then after about 10+ minutes on hold, listening to their endless repetitive elevator music, the connection was terminated.  Both of these identical parts traveled via the same carrier to the same location, so the refund should have been the same. The order refund was INTENTIONALLY shorted, there is no other plausible explanation. No doubt, it's how they limit their expenses on damaged or defective items. Parts-Geek also overcharges you on the shipping, I spent $9.02 USPS charges to use the same carrier as Part-Geek to return a defective filter-drier to the same location that I was charged $9.95 to have it shipped to me originally from a commercial business. It's not a lot of money to be out for sure but if this is done on small orders what might you expect on a large one when returning a defective item?

Apparently, Parts Geek doesn't bother checking anything before it ships out, What's quality control? Basically you get whatever is on the shelf in whatever condition it is at the time. Who cares? They already got your money. And, they'll probably put your item right back on the shelf when they receive it and then ship it out to someone else.

Update 7/18/2016  I can see why Parts Geek is not a member of the Better Business Bureau but I went ahead and added my complaint to the New Jersey affiliate anyway, complaint ID 11568737.  I'd say the following complaints pretty much characterize Parts Geek practices, i.e. problems with Product/Service.

This business is not BBB accredited.

Customer Complaints Summary Read complaint details

628 complaints closed with BBB in last 3 years | 201 closed in last 12 months
 
Complaint Type Total Closed Complaints
Advertising/Sales Issues 59
Billing/Collection Issues 31
Delivery Issues 104
Guarantee/Warranty Issues 20
Problems with Product/Service 414
Total Closed Complaints 628

Read Complaints | Definitions | BBB Complaint Process | File a Complaint against Parts Geek
See Trends in Complaints on Parts Geek | View Complaints Summary by Resolution Pie Chart on Parts Geek

As long as there are no consequences to their business the customer abuses at Parts Geek will continue.  Firing inept and/or rude representatives will not accomplish anything, Parts-Geek will simply train new inept and rude ones to take their place,  

UPDATE 7/22/2016

07/21/2016
CREDIT 1803 
07/20/16 74948702 PARTS 
GEEK, LLC 800-5419352  
NJ 
 
12.08

After this article posted with its BBB Parts Geek complaint history,  the company finally saw the error of their ways and repaid me for the expenses of returning the defective filter-drier and the shipping costs associated with refusing a second filter-drier.  Now that's properly serving your customers, just as JC Whitney and other great companies do.  I now recant my earlier recommendation: They need to be put out of business.

UPDATE 7/33-2018

This article may also be found on Sitejabber at  https://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/partsgeek.com#402
Note that there are 296 Parts Geek reviews at Sitejabber of which 268 are unfavorable.



Shipping Damaged Goods..accident or company policy?

by Allen Williams

I'm one of those individuals who does virtually everything across the Internet. It is in that spirit that I sought and found a set of replacement radiator cooling fan motors on Junkyard dog.for my dad's 1991 Nissan Sentra E (which I now own since his passing). The car has deep sentimental value and I have sought to maintain it as it was when he was alive.

Photo: The parts carton delivered by UPS


Although the company that I ultimately ordered the parts from, Sunrise Nissan- California, didn't show up on the Internet search, they obviously got the information that I filled out in the salvage query because they sent me an e-mail with price and availability. Their shipping cost was the lowest of any of the companies that I had negotiated with for transport. (And now I know why)

I decided to order. The item arrived from Sunrise Nissan delivered by United Parcel Service (UPS) on the evening of June 8th, some 15 days after it was ordered. 

I could hear things rattling around inside as the UPS agent handed me the carton. The package was wrapped around multiple times with plastic wrap and quite difficult to get open. The packaging was not at all like the shipping containers that I've received with vintage auto parts in the past; this one had a noticeable dent on one end and it looked more like a cocoon than a box. {No, I didn't mistakenly show the wrong shrimp, I mean shipping carton here. The parts were actually delivered in an old frozen shrimp carton. Frankly, I was surprised not to find any dead shrimp along with the fans when I opened the box.}

Opening the shipping carton

At this point, I'm not certain if this particular auto salvage operation also sells or prepares shrimp at their location but it might be wise to scan any shrimp you order from California with a metal detector before serving.

Both fan assemblies were broken. The driver's side was the least damaged with only one mounting tab missing. I found it at the bottom of the box.  Fortunately, I was able to repair it satisfactorily

Photo: Inspecting the parts..

The second fan shroud was extensively damaged. One of the broken frame sections was lying underneath the fan blade as you see top center.

There is a fracture about 3/4" from the right hand side of the missing top piece penetrating through the entire shroud assembly. The lower frame was broken clear through at its bottom as shown in the photo top. It was not found in the shipping carton.  Either, the shipper or UPS, placed the broken shroud parts in the bottom of the shrimp carton along with the two fan assemblies.

The supplier was: SUNRISE NISSAN & KIA AUTO DISMANTLING, 3450 SUNRISE BLVD, RANCHO CORDOVA, CA 95742. PHONE (916) 631-8795 FAX (916) 631-8849 e-mail: (now protected)  STORE HOURS - M-F 8am-5pm SAT 9am-4pm STD PACIFIC All parts guaranteed 6 months

After placing a complaint call, UPS made arrangements the following day to pick up the packaging for 'inspection'. What? They didn't photograph it after picking up such an unusual package from the shipper? I e-mailed both UPS and Sunrise Nissan the evening of June 10th complaining of the damage and including these photographs. UPS sent an e-mail acknowledgement of receipt of the pictures on 6/11/09, stating:

"Thank you for sending us the photos of the damaged package. We will now inspect the package and notify your shipper of the results. We will contact the shipper by the end of the next business day. If you are the receiver, please stay in contact with your shipper for additional information regarding the final disposition of the claim.


Thanks,

Gregory Marshall

UPS Damage Exception Group

1-800-651-2352 ext. 4511"

Photo: Original Fan Shroud assemblies.. 


Sunrise Nissan has not responded to date. Lacking the common courtesy to respond to its customers gives one an indication of what their 6-month fan warranty might be worth.  Is it a wonder that California is going broke?

So, whose fault is it for the damaged items? Both the Shipper and Carrier will blame each other for the damage; it's the consumer who loses.

I was fortunate, neither fan motor was damaged, both work satisfactorily and replacing the shroud will cost about $52.08.

But why not just use the original fan shroud assemblies already on the vehicle which were in good shape? Well, ordinarily that would have been a viable solution but in this case, the replacement fans mount differently in the shroud assemblies than the originals as shown below.

Photo: The Nissan original and replacement fan shroud..


Although both are '91 fan shrouds, the replacements ordered from Sunrise Nissan utilize a triangular mount that's actually part of the motor and can't be removed.

Swampers or auto dismantlers have no particular incentive to remove parts undamaged.. getting orders filled quickly is what counts.  And, UPS already has quite a reputation for damaged goods and often refuses to pay claims on things it wrecks in transit.  One claimant writes: "I shipped a wall sculpture at THE UPS STORE in Lagrange KY on February 25, 2009. The item was undamaged and in good condition when I took it to them for shipment to my home in Virginia. I paid 90.50 for shipping, handling and insurance on my sculpture. When it arrived in Virginia I found my 822.50 sculpture had been totally destroyed. "

Another writes: "I shipped a desktop phone system to a customer by packing it in a heavy box, wrapping each phone 2x in large-cell bubble wrap, and adding Styrofoam peanuts for extra protection. The customer contacted me stating the phones arrived looking like they had been smashed by hammers.."

It's why consumer advocacy sites like "Angie's List and others have sprung up on the Internet. Angie's List serves some 750,000 consumers with ratings on who's good, who isn't and who's in the 'penalty box'. Suppliers do not pay to get on Angie's List, they must earn their way on in either in providing good or unsatisfactory service.

Today's consumer not only faces the risk of receiving merchandise like this from unscrupulous sellers, but also has to deal with callous shippers like UPS who often damage otherwise satisfactory and serviceable goods in transit. Carriers make their money on the sheer volume of merchandise they ship; careful handling is NOT conducive to maximizing company profits. It's better to push the volume to the highest maintainable level and let the smashed articles accumulate as they may. After all, UPS faces no real retribution other than unpopular publicity and if you deny most of the damage claims, you're profit ahead.

Shipping UPS should not be a first choice. It should only be done for items that are inexpensive and easily replaced or simply can't be broken. Remember, your money is never damaged in transit and seldom lost.

Why 'tax free' municipal bonds are a bad Investment

by Allen Williams


The lure of municipal bonds as a ‘tax free’ investment can be very appealing, however, it’s the risks that significantly decrease its potential, risks that are never satisfactorily explained by the purveyors of these instruments, other than in ambiguous terms. The claim is that one would require an investment paying 8% to provide the same benefit as a tax free municipal bond, but is that true?

Congress ensures that no one truly attains tax-free status on any investment beyond themselves, despite many statements to the contrary, because of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Government simply adjusts the tax tables and reduces the social security benefit by an equivalent amount for tax-free interest received.

NuVeen offers tax free bond investments in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The company offers four basic types of municipal bonds that claim tax-free status. They are ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘R.’ We will confine discussion here to ‘A’ and ‘B’ bonds. ‘B’ bonds perform nearly identical to ‘A’ bonds but provide slightly less yield because they lack liquidity. Once purchased, they require a holding period before they can be sold. ‘A’ municipal bonds provide a slightly better return than class ‘B’ municipal bonds because the management fee has thus far been less. But, you may expect to pay at least a 4.0% ‘commission’ up front for the privilege of purchasing ‘A’ tax free bonds. The company’s prospectus notes that certain ‘special’ charges may apply when buying $50,000 or more of ‘A’ bonds depending on who offers them and the terms of the fund.

One may expect to pay a monthly management fee anywhere from 0.53% to 0.75% on the gross assets invested to manage the funds, regardless of the type bond purchased or its performance throughout the time of the holding. There is a penalty for selling class ‘B’ bonds ‘too quickly’, thereby depriving the fund manager of his ‘hard earned’ management fee.

A first investment in ‘B’ tax-free municipal bonds was made during the late summer, i.e. Aug. of 1998 through NuVeen Investments or The Boston Group as they are now known. Although the funds were purchased in late August, it was Oct 8th of that year before the first dividend check was received. It seems that the Capitol One true blue Kansas broker was able to collect the interest on my investment, as the funds were deposited with him for 7 weeks while Nuveen ‘processed’ the new account. When questioned on this, the broker indicated that it was typical because of the high demand for these investments. So, either the broker enhanced his earnings or both he and the company benefited during this time. It’s tantamount to buying a $300,000 house with 20% down and closing several months later. The realtor pockets the interest on your $60,ooo down payment with no credit to you during the wait. And, that’s in addition to the selling commission; it’s one reason why realtors favor substantial down payments.

NuVeen seems to function loosely and haphazardly at best for an investment firm. Reports on the bond funds investment performance tended to skip data such as the dividend rate during the period of interest. Early on, I had been required to garner a signature medallion notarization to buy or sell my bond shares over the telephone, which was done on March 4th, 2005 in anticipation of divesting some of my holdings. However, on March 23rd I received a notice from the company that my Telephone privileges had been cancelled.

NuVeen was informed that no one had authority beyond me to cancel since I was the sole owner of the account and had a valid notarization. However, I had to Fax a second copy of the original notarized form (and threaten them) in addition to the one I had already mailed. It was Sept. 22, 2005 before I finally got the company to re-instate the telephone privileges that I had requested in my original March 4th letter. The broker had apparently acted to thwart my ability to sell without utilizing his services.

The holding period for converting Kansas Class ‘B’ to Class ‘A’ tax-free municipal bonds was changed from 6 to 5 years and then back to 6 years again on little more than company whimsy. Class ‘B’ bond rollovers are automatic after 6 years, whether you want them to or not and whether or not it is favorable to you, the holder. In the former case, it prevented me from divesting some of my holdings for more lucrative financial opportunities because an earlier buyout of Nuveen put me right back in the CDSC band that I was just exiting under the original terms. So, instead of being able to sell at the end of the 6th year from the original five-year hold, I had to wait until the 7th year before I could divest.

The ‘tax free’ fund was trading at $10.63 per share in Sept of 1998. Despite some brief upswings, the fund had fallen to $10.54 by the following year and at the end of the 6 year holding period, just before the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac bankruptcies, had settled in around $10.15 per share. So, what does this translate to in terms of dollars and cents? Well, first let’s calculate the cost of bond conversion. What? You thought they just transferred the shares like you deposit money? Not so, here’s how conversion works on a typical $10,000 class ‘B’ investment purchased at $10.63 per share and now worth $10.44 per share:

940.734 class ‘B’ shares x $10.44/share = $9821.26

Class ‘A’ bonds typically command a higher per share price than ‘B’ bonds largely due to their liquidity. So, you will likely lose shares as well as portfolio value in any bond transitions since there is no set time prior to Dec. 31st of the last holding year to require the company to effect conversion. It likely won’t be the next business day from the anniversary of purchase as is the case with a bank investment. The transaction is done automatically by the company if the shares have not been divested and you don’t get any options for the time of conversion. So now, class ‘A’ shares at $10.53/share are purchased by the Fund:

$9821.26/10.53 = 932.693 of class ‘A’ shares

In this case, 8.04 shares per $10,000 of investment were lost in the roll over. So, the holder has lost both capital and shares as a result of the ‘B’ to ‘A’ municipal bond conversion. Now, sum the losses for a $100,000 to $250,000 investment in bonds and you’re looking at some serious capital gain losses.

Well just sell off the ‘B’ bonds before they convert and there’s no problem, right? Well that’s not-quite true. A purchaser pays no up front fee to buy class ‘B’ bonds but pays a Contingent Deferred Sales Charge, i.e. CDSC, if they are sold anytime before 6 years and you may expect this requirement to change occasionally in favor of the bond issuer especially after you own the investment.

The CDSC charge is graduated based on the number of years the bond is held as follows: 5% the first year, 4% the second and 3rd years, 3% the 4th year, 2% during the 5th and 1% during the 6th. So, class ‘B’ bonds must be held 7 years before there is no CDSC sales charge to the holder, assuming the company doesn’t decide to ‘up’ the requirement. Yes, issuers of municipal bonds get to ‘change the rules ‘ after you own the investment due to buyouts and mergers just like banks, except banks usually continue to honor any preexisting CD terms from the financial institution bought. However, investment concerns like NuVeen, dealing in municipal bonds, do not. There is also the problem of declining share worth because bond values fluctuate like stock market shares, so losing $0.50 cents per share on the sellout is of greater concern than paying small CDSC commissions. There is an optimum time to sell.

NuVeen has a history of buyouts since my original 1998 purchase, the most recent is their acquisition by the Boston Group. Buyouts often present a convenient terminus for changing the rules on existing investments. This company has altered dividend quantities, dividend pay out times, the hold time for divesting bonds as well as the holding period for conversion to Class ‘A’ bonds.

Dividends from the fund were initially due on the 4th of the month but the most recent buyout settled on the 9th and often was the 11th before they were actually distributed. It should be noted that there is no penalty to the company, no matter when they make the distribution. The monthly holding time requirement for selling bonds shifted to the 29th of the month, i.e. if the bonds are sold prior to this date, the holder automatically forfeits the dividend for that month. So, if I held the investment until the 28th of the month and then sold, I would lose my dividend because its not prorated and the sale was prior to the 29th. You won’t read this on their website at http://www.Nuveen.com, change notification comes by letter and it can come at anytime.

In November of 2007, I received just such a letter: "We would like to take this opportunity to inform you of a change that will take place regarding your NuVeen investments bond mutual fund dividends. Starting in December of 2007, you can expect to receive your monthly dividend check approximately four days later than you receive that check currently. This change is a result of moving the record date from on or about the 9th of each month to three business days prior to the payable date. Moving the record date will allow a larger window during which investments received will be eligible to earn the dividend payable the following month." - Nuveen Investments.

This is pure nonsense. The shift has been made to facilitate the brokerage, first in collection of the monthly management fee and secondly, to accommodate delayed interest payments from the participating states, it gives no benefit whatsoever to the bondholder. The Nuveen letter also fails to note a corresponding shift in the monthly holding time, prior to divesting, as a result of the dividend change.

Tax-free municipal bonds work along the same lines as a ‘slush fund.’ They’re intended to be ready resources for states that can’t manage money. Interestingly enough, both Kansas and Michigan fall into that category with high tax economies and poor growth. States with poor economic policies seek to increase taxes to pay the interest on what they borrow through the sale of bonds. Impoverishment of the citizenry and cheating investors is of no concern to those who hold political office, staying elected is the only objective. Investment firms like NuVeen are ready to capitalize on state's poor fiscal management.

Income tax table adjustments and negotiating lower bond rates are means by which states can ameliorate interest burden and hedge against future operating costs at the expense of taxpayers.

Unlike fixed investments, bond interest rates fluctuate with economic conditions. Bond rates generally fall when the economy is good and increase when it is bad because states are more likely to vorrow during poor economic times. However, Kansas NuVeen municipal bonds ‘went south’ right from the start and were poor performers during the time of my holdings, regardless of the condition of the economy, demonstrating a steady downward trend over a ten-year period.

Figure: Ten Year trend of Bond prices and Dividends for NuVeen Investments

My dividends began at 0.0370 per share initially, dropping to 0.0345 and then to 0.028 per share in April of 2004, a 24% drop in dividend rates in just 6 years. The rate remained at 0.028 through December of 2006. Shares were trading for $10.28 during this same period.

The supposed strength of tax free muni-bonds is the taxes you don’t pay. The NuVeen motto claims, "it’s not what you earn, its what you keep." So how much did I keep due to NuVeen bond fund performance? Well, in 1999 the tax benefit was $152 dollars per 1000 of capital allocated to bonds but by 2006 the savings were down to $101 dollars per 1000. This is a 35.6% drop in tax benefits for capital invested in bonds in addition to the 24% drop in dividend rates during the same period.

It’s an obvious conclusion at this point that the fund is managed for the benefit of the states that sell the bonds.