Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Should we believe social media influencers?

Posted in advice, Google, scams, youtube by commorancy on May 14, 2019

There are many, many YouTubers (and Instagramers) who claim to profess knowledge of a given topic. By far, a vast majority are in the beauty industry. After all, beauty sells. Unfortunately, while they may be pretty, many have few brain cells in their heads. Let’s explore.

Social Media Sites: YouTube and Instagram

With the advent of social media sites, many young people have rabidly jumped on board to create content for these platforms. Some of these people (dare I say ‘kids’) have chosen to specialize in specific areas, like beauty products. I’ll focus on these ‘influencers’ in this article. Can these (or any) ‘influencers’ be trusted?

The short answer to this question is, no. These are young people (many aged between 18 and 21) who have acquired just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Yet, they in no way should be considered “professional”, let alone “knowledgeable”. I won’t name any names here. Even if I wanted to name names, there are actually far too many of these types of beauty channels to even point out a single one. Suffice it to say, there are many, many far too young beauty advocates on YouTube who may already have money, a palette of makeup and very strong opinions, yet actually have no skill or talent at all. Instead, with their limited talent at applying makeup, they have managed to amass a large following of young followers. Some have gained enough followers that they have been able to get product endorsements, sponsorships, monetization or have been approached to create product lines. Gaining followers is actually what they are good at, not applying the makeup, not creating the hairstyles, not selling makeup brushes.

In fact, many of their ideas can be downright dangerous. What they are actually good at is…

Hawking Products

And… that’s not a reason to celebrate or follow anyone. As these “kids” become “personalities” on screen, what you’re buying into isn’t the their products, but their drama. Watching an 18 year old drag queen apply makeup like a pro may seem enthralling, but the reality is you have no idea how many times that person may have applied it until they got the application just perfect. Maybe they even hired someone to apply it on them pretending as though they applied it. As we all know, “Practice Makes Perfect.” No where is this concept more important than on YouTube. Yet, fakery is everywhere, even in these beauty videos.

YouTube videos make the application of beauty products seem like a breeze. What you aren’t seeing is all of days worth of practice and product testing that the YouTube “personality” (and I use that term very loosely) endured to make that video appear perfect. Even then, give them a few months and they couldn’t even reproduce that look, if they even produced it the first time. Who knows if they even really applied the makeup themselves?

Unfortunately, the goal of being a celebrity is the want of money. In fact, many YouTuber’s goals are to make money from the platform. That’s their #1 goal. It’s not about you, the viewer. It is about you, the consumer funneling money into their channel (and eventually into their products). Whether that money is via clicking advertisements or via Patreon or buying into their sponsored products.

This is why the once “down to earth” YouTuber turns into a flamboyant, loud, arrogant, controversial dramatic personality trying to get you to buy the latest Morphe brush set that you don’t really need. It’s about making THEM money and parting you from yours. It’s not about reality, it’s about sales and fakery.

Drama Advertising

YouTube drama and scandals are quite commonplace in the YouTube beauty arena. On the one hand you have a seeming drag queen who’s boisterous, loud and obnoxious. On the other, you have another large personality who feels they are also entitled. When the two clash, it becomes a huge social media blow up. It ends up all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, yes, YouTube.

The scandal and drama fuels their channels with tons of new subscribers, viewers and brings their brand front and center. Effectively, it’s ‘dramadvertising’. The question is, is whether all of that drama is …

Fake

One of the problems with YouTube is that so much of what you see is fake. With perfect cuts between takes, filters, expensive lighting and cameras and, yes, even the perfect application of makeup, the camera can make someone appear flawless.

With the makeup (or more specifically, fakeup), when you turn the ring lights off and take that person out into natural lighting, not only will the makeup application look like crap, you’ll be able to see very crease, flaw and imperfection in the application. Even then, the makeup is so overbearing, you wouldn’t really want to wear it anyway. With the right lighting and cameras, you can hide just about any imperfection. With the wrong lighting, let’s just say that the personality is an amateur.

Additionally, much of the drama that shows up on YouTube is entirely fake and is staged as a publicity stunt. Just like YouTube celebs sometimes have seeming congenial collabs with one another, they can also script scandals in the same way. It’s so easy for two personalities to meet and agree (to publicly disagree), to make a scene on social media designed to get their channels more viewers, more divisive comments and basically stir the pot. Sometimes stirring the pot is the only way to gain more viewers.

Several large beauty personalities have tried this approach in the recent past. Again, I won’t name names as they don’t deserve to be named on Randocity. I won’t give them the satisfaction of increasing their channel’s membership at the cost of my time spent writing this article. No. If you want to find those scandals from the recent past, you’ll need to head on over to Google and do some searching.

Knowledge, Age and Acting

I’m not going to say there aren’t prodigies in this world. There are. Unfortunately, none of them are on YouTube hawking beauty products. What you see on YouTube is random, usually “pretty” young guys and girls who have gained a following because of their seeming talents. Oh, they have a talent, but it’s not teaching you beauty techniques. Oh, no no. The talent they have is parting you from your money and being a general scam artist.

At 19, I didn’t have enough knowledge enough in any subject to be considered “professional” at anything. These same aged personalities on YouTube are also in this same boat. If they have any knowledge, it’s likely because they paid for it by hiring someone to show it to them, or more likely, do it for them. That’s not knowledge acquisition, that’s acting… and not even very good acting at that.

In fact, anyone on YouTube who has a channel is acting. Some of that acting is, in general, for the betterment of the viewers by showing the viewers something interesting. This should be considered entertainment, not advice.

While I can buy into an actor on stage telling me a story, I can’t buy into an actor behind a camera trying to sell me Morphe brushes. This was tried in the 90s via many, many…

Infomercials

Before YouTube became a thing, infomercials ruled. The talent that might have jumped in front of a camera for YouTube instead did so for Guthy Renker or other similar production companies. These companies have hawked all sorts of garbage throughout the 90s and 00s on late night TV.

These things including psychic readings, beauty products, acne products, hair care products, kitchen gadgets and even money making books. The array of crap advertised on infomercials is as varied as it is endless. Thankfully, infomercials were typically one-and-done. Meaning, only one infomercial was ever produced and when its run finally ran out months (or years later), the product disappeared from the airwaves.

YouTube

With YouTube, we now have a situation where the same crap that was hawked via late night infomercials has moved to YouTube as a daily, biweekly or weekly “show” (again, I use this term loosely). Because many of these personalities produce their own material, the structure of the video is random and chaotic. The one thing that isn’t random is their want for money.

Worse, viewers seem to buy into this random chaos from a random “young” person. It makes them see more “real”. Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing at all real about a guy dressing up in drag for a camera. That’s a show.

In all likelihood, when that “kid” gets home, the makeup, nails and hair all goes away and they go back to being average kid living with their parents. It’s all for the camera.

This is the fallacy of YouTube. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s not even accurate. It’s fakery and deception at its finest. The “Hi Guys… I appreciate you so, so much” is so disingenuous, it makes me want to gag. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard a similar phrase from a YouTuber. It’s all superficial and fake. Many of these kids turned personalities are likely even mentally disturbed. Yet, they can somehow compose themselves enough in front of a camera to appear ‘sane’ and ‘normal’. These are people who are not and should never be role models, let alone ever consider befriending in real life.

Yet, companies like Morphe extend sponsorships to these damaged folks, not because they’re good role models, but because they have 1 million or more YouTube subscribers… in other words, for all of the wrong reasons.

What is your damage?

An age old question, but very applicable to many YouTube personalities. Far too many of them, in fact. I simply do not feel comfortable taking advice from someone I don’t know, let alone from a drag queen whose claim to fame is putting on flawless makeup using a social platform without any formal training. Really? You expect me to believe what you have to say simply because you’re “famous” or because you look like you know what you’re doing? No.

YouTube Fame

Many YouTubers seem to think that being famous on YouTube actually means something. It doesn’t. If you want to be famous, and I mean seriously famous, you train to become an actor and you get hired in a blockbuster a film or highly rated TV series… then put on a performance that wins awards. That’s fame. And, that’s fame for all the “right” reasons… including displaying actual talent.

Being on YouTube because you can run a camera isn’t fame. It isn’t even celebrity. If anything it’s considered being a “minor” celebrity… and that’s being extremely generous. Being on YouTube doesn’t require skill, it only requires a camera, an idea and your opinions. Again, I won’t name any channels because the point of this article isn’t to send you off to a YouTube channel to become a subscriber, it’s to point out the problems with YouTube as a platform… and where YouTube stands today.

It’s called YouTube with a YOU

There’s a ‘YOU’ in the name. Which means, it’s about you. The real you. Not about a sponsor. Not about your cat. Not about makeup. Not about advertising. It’s about YOU. I think the platform has lost its reason why it came to be. When YouTube became about making money and lost actually being about ‘YOU’, then it became yet another lame commercial platform to sell stuff. And, that’s exactly what it’s become. One big advertising platform… from the embedded ads in the videos to the ads served up verbally in the videos by the creators.

In fact, it should probably be renamed ‘AdTube’ as that’s what it has become. It’s not about the ‘YOU’, it’s about the ‘advertising’, making money and selling you, the viewer, something, anything.

I used to go to YouTube to find interesting people doing interesting things. To find funny, amateur videos. Today, it’s about selling you something and making the creator money. When I go into a video and within 1-3 minutes a strategic product placement appears, I click away. Too many videos are now following this format.

With YouTube’s crackdown on monetization, that’s making even the biggest channels less and less money. I’m all for that. If YouTube turned off monetization tomorrow, it wouldn’t make many creators happy, but it would bring the platform back to its roots… the reason the ‘YOU’ in YouTube exists.

YouTube should move the the highly commercial channels into a new network called AdTube. Get them off the YouTube platform and let YouTube go back to its roots. Turn AdTube into the network that allows these highly commercial, highly sponsored, advertising heavy videos (and channels) to operate. YouTube doesn’t need these. In fact, because YouTube has basically degraded so badly, it’s really just a matter of time before the platform ultimately implodes under its own weight and stigma. Google needs to make a choice and they need to make it fast.

Making Choices

We, as consumers, need to wake up and stop following (and buying stuff from) brainless YouTubers who have no skills or talents other than holding a camera. You have a choice to watch or click away. You don’t even have to visit YouTube. Use your own critical thinking and stop watching channels that have 5, 10, 15 ads along with paid sponsorships in the video. That’s not what YouTube is about, that’s what both YouTube and Instagram have become.

You don’t have to watch this drivel. You have choices. Turn it off and spend time doing something creative or with your friends or family. Learn something… like how to draw or paint or play a guitar. Pick up something that you can do and learn to do it. You don’t need to watch someone on YouTube to be creative. In fact, watching YouTube does the opposite of making you creative. It robs you of precious time that you could be learning a skill, craft or how to play music. Spend that time bettering yourself rather than giving your money to someone and wishing you could be like them.

In fact, you don’t want to be like them. They may appear wholesome and friendly on YouTube, but chances are they are far, far different from what they portray themselves to be. As I said, they’re actors putting on a character. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s a character designed to rope you in and have you spend money on them.

Authentic YouTubers

Just to clarify, this article is not intending to rail against every YouTuber. I’m specifically calling out the big 1, 2, 10 and 50 million subscriber channels playing every trick in the book to get you to spend money. And more specifically, this article is aimed squarely at the beauty industry channels. These very large, seemingly successful channels are solely about one thing. Getting you to buy something. Chances are, if you do buy that something, that channel stands to make a hefty cut of the profits and you’re left with a mediocre product you likely can’t return and may not even be able to use.

If you want to buy products, do it at a store. Try the product out and then decide if you want it. Use your OWN judgement to see if it works for you. Don’t believe the hype a beauty channel spouts. Believe what you see in person… at a store.

I’m not at all saying not to watch YouTube or even Instagram with the right frame of mind. Consider all social media channels as strictly entertainment. If it makes you laugh or gives you some other emotional response, great. But, don’t get invested in the channel as if it were real or believable or even an authority. It’s none of that. It’s simply entertainment, plain and simple. In fact, this part applies to ANY YouTube channel. They’re all simply entertainment with fallible and inaccurate information offered in video form, even with the most well meaning of intentions. As the saying goes, “Take it with a grain of salt.” Which ultimately means, disregard the information as inaccurate and only watch as you would pure fictional entertainment. If the video content peaks your interest, go Google the topic and find out more from reputable sources.

From this perspective, YouTube is fine to watch… but don’t invest money into the channel or into products hawked on the channel solely because you feel some kind of responsibility to the channel creator or because you believe what they say. Definitely, no. Simply by watching a YouTube channel does not obligate you to anything. The creator spent time putting together the video, yes. But you have no obligation to give them any money in return for watching their content. It was on them that they created and posted. Don’t let the creator “guilt” you into feeling like you “need” to give them money. You don’t. You also don’t need to buy anything advertised on any channel.

If you do decide to donate to a channel or buy products from them, do it because you sincerely want to do it, not out of some sense of duty (or guilt) because you “watched” their videos. No, YouTube and Instagram and all other social media should be considered strictly entertainment. You don’t need to open your wallet to any social media influencer… and you probably shouldn’t.

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Should I buy an Xbox 360?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams, video game console by commorancy on December 3, 2018

Xbox 360 EThis question seems to be common for some reason. I’ve seen it asked on Quora and on various other sites. I’ve even seen YouTube channels discussing the purchase of Xbox 360s. Let’s explore.

Design Flaws

First, a little history. The difficulty with the Xbox 360 was the Xbox team’s design of Xbox 360’s main board. Because this system was designed by an in-house design team at Xbox, they got a lot of things wrong with the hardware design based on incorrect assumptions. The primary problem was cooling the GPU down properly. This issue compounded with the thin flexible main board (intended to flex as the system got hot). The difficulty with this flexion is that it doesn’t want to work with surface mounted components and it could lead to the board becoming permanently warped and did lead to the GPU unseating itself unceremoniously.

For this reason, the later Xbox 360 editions, specifically the Slim models, clamped the board to the aluminum chassis to limit flexion of the board around the GPU and CPU. However, even this updated clamping system only delayed the inevitable… the Red Ring of Death commonly known as the RRoD. The difficulty of the design was primarily as result of using lower temp solder that would become molten at GPU operating temperatures. This meant that as the board flexed, as the CPU and GPU heated, as the fans and the hard drive caused vibration and even as external audio sounds from neighboring TVs and stereo system caused vibration, this could cause the GPU to lose solder cohesion and shift this chip off it is surface mount pads.

This GPU shifting would leave the system with the Red Ring of Death. One fix for this was using a towel and wrapping it around the Xbox 360 to let it heat up. What this did was cause the internal temperature of the Xbox 360 to rise which allowed the solder to reflow under the GPU and cause the chip to sort of move its way back onto its correct pads. The difficulty is that this was a temporary fix. The operating conditions that led to the original Red Ring of Death would eventually see to it that it would happen again, usually in only a few days. For the towel reason alone, you should avoid buying used Xbox 360s. It means that someone could have toweled their system right before selling it to you… and it might only run for a few days.

Refurbishment Process

Because of the design problems that led to the Xbox 360’s RRoD, the Xbox hardware team decided to try different things to see if they could improve the situation. As mentioned, one of these changes was the chassis clamp. Other changes included better and smarter positioned heat sinks. All of these changes only treated the symptom, not the actual design problem.

Ultimately, the primary fix for an Xbox 360 suffering from RRoD is to reball the chip with a higher melting point solder and then remount the chip. Then, adding on the smarter heat sinks to ensure proper heat dissipation from the chassis. Once the chip was reballed with higher melting point solder, it should no longer shift its position under standard operating conditions. Of course, the board could still flex and warp which could lead to other surface mount chip failures besides the GPU.

Companies like Gamestop employ either internal or third party refurbishers to perform refurbishment on Xbox 360s before selling them as ‘certified refurbished’. The problem is that reballing chips is time consuming and expensive. Gamestop doesn’t seem to want to afford such refurbishment processes and instead lets the refurbisher perform whatever they deem appropriate short of reballing, which is usually inadequate to provide a long term stable fix to these consoles.

Buying Refurbished

When you buy an Xbox 360 that’s been refurbished from Gamestop, the store has no idea what work has been performed on any unit. It might be simple DVD drive replacement to full main board replacement from other Xbox 360s. It’s possible to actually find frankenboxes with refurbished Xbox 360s having been rebuilt from a bunch of different generation parts. This means you could see some parts from the first gen, second gen, third gen Xboxes and so on… all coming together into the same unit. It means that the heat sinks might be the incorrect version for that version of the unit. Who really knows what you might find inside?

This is the problem with buying refurbished units from not only Gamestop, but any company. The design decisions that made the Xbox 360s so problematic compound into making the purchase of any used or refurbished Xbox 360 system a grab bag of problems.

Not Built to Last

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 was not designed to last. It was designed to fail because of a set of design decisions that just didn’t work out. In short, it’s a lemon. It’s not just one version that’s the problem, it covers all generations.

Sure, some have claimed their their Elite has lasted. Some have claimed their slims have lasted. Even the last version of the Xbox 360, the Xbox 360 E suffered from the Red Light of Death. There has not been one version of the Xbox 360 produced that has been immune to the Red Ring of Death (or Red Light of Death) problem. You can’t rely on buying a more recent version of the Xbox 360 on the assumption that the failures have been eliminated. Some versions of the Xbox may have been a bit less susceptible, but at some point they will all succumb to failure.

Don’t believe the current sales hype that because this is the newest version of the Xbox 360 that it won’t have a problem. It very likely will. In fact, you should consider the Xbox 360 a unit with limited mileage. At some point, the system will fail and you’ll be left with a dead brick. The question is, when it will happen. It could happen 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or even 3 years in the future. The point is, you spend your money and you just don’t know. However, because of the age of these systems now, it’s more likely the system will fail sooner than later.

Aging Hardware

The last Xbox 360 E model was discontinued in spring of 2016. This means that any Xbox 360 you might consider purchasing is now over two years old as of this article. That’s only if it’s an E model. Any other models will be much older.

There’s nothing new about any of these systems. Though, it’s entirely possible that some warehouse somewhere has some Xbox 360 E models stashed as new unopened stock. If you could find one of these, you might have some possibility of longevity with that Xbox 360. However, anyone claiming to be selling new unopened stock is probably scamming with a used or refurbished unit. I wouldn’t even trust Gamestop with this kind of a claim, even as big a company as they are. The only way you could trust this statement is to have them show you the merchandise. If you’re buying over the Internet sight unseen, don’t trust anyone.

No. You should always consider any systems on sale as, at best, used. Even refurbished consoles should be considered suspect. Better, don’t consider the purchase of any Xbox 360 at all.

Should I Buy?

In fact, you shouldn’t. Because of all of the aforementioned problems with the design, there’s just no way to know exactly what kind of condition any Xbox might be in. Unless you want to disassemble the unit to find out what’s on the inside and that you understand what you’re looking at, you should avoid spending any money towards an Xbox 360.

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 is a risky investment that you might only get a few days of use out of before your new purchase dies. The Xbox 360 was a risky investment when buying it new. When buying it used or refurbished, the chances of receiving a unit that lasts only a few weeks is very high. In fact, it could be that the unit might last you long enough to get past the return policy, but a few days after that the unit dies. Then where are you?

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Compatibility

While not every Xbox 360 game has been made compatible with the Xbox One, many Xbox 360 games have been made to function on the Xbox One. Unless you want to play a game that isn’t compatible with the Xbox One, there’s no real reason to buy an Xbox 360.

For this reason, putting your money towards an Xbox One not only guarantees a better hardware experience, it also guarantees you’ll be able to play not only Xbox One games, but also all compatible Xbox 360 games. This is a much better deal than wasting your money on an old console that could die at any moment.

Xbox 360 Purchase Disclaimer

With that said, if you can find someone willing to sell you a fully functional Xbox 360 for $25 or less, then it’s probably fine to buy it… as long as you understand the unit may only work for a few days. If you’re considering spending well more than $25 for an Xbox 360 console bundle, you should consider the purchase of Xbox One instead and avoid the almost certain limited lifespan of the Xbox 360.

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Is DealDash a Scam?

Posted in scam, scams by commorancy on October 1, 2018

I’ve always been fond of online auctions, until I found DealDash several years ago. I’ve also seen a number of people who have complained about DealDash and how it operates. Let’s explore if it’s a scam.

Auctions and Bidding

In a traditional auction, you’re actually buying from a seller who has put an item up for consignment to the auction house. This is how eBay works it. The seller uses the eBay platform to pay for their auction. If the item sells, eBay gets a cut of the profit. This is a typical auction from a typical auction house.

Bidders pay nothing to bid at eBay. You simply join the platform and off you go on your merry bidding way. You will pay for any auctions you win or any Buy-It-Nows you buy, but if you bid and don’t win, you pay nothing. This is important when understanding the difference between a site like eBay and DealDash.

At eBay, auctions have a finite end. If the auction closes at 6PM today, then it’s over at 6PM. Whomever was the highest bidder at 6PM is the winner of that auction.

DealDash Auctions

With DealDash, the auctions here work a bit differently. Instead of joining and bidding for free, you must pay for your bids. The bid cost can range between 12¢ and 60¢ per bid. In order to get started on DealDash, you’ll be required to pay for some initial bids. Sometimes DealDash offers bid sales for as low as 12¢ per bid.

As for the auctions themselves, they work quite a bit differently from eBay. Unlike eBay’s fixed close time, DealDash has no fixed auction close. Their auctions infinitely run and continue to extend until the 10 second countdown timer runs out without any further bids. As long as even one bid happens within that 10 second countdown, the auction extends with another 10 second countdown timer. Basically, an auction can run infinitely or until no one else places a bid. Bids also increment the item cost at 1¢ per bid. You spend 12-60 cents to raise the bid on an item by 1¢. Admittedly, that means the item cost goes up very slowly, but it also means that the bidding can go on for days with enough bidders.

Bid Extensions

You’re probably wondering about how people can manage to bid within 10 seconds. To answer your question, they don’t. Bidders use a feature that DealDash offers known as Bid Buddy. See below for more details. Suffice it to say that DealDash’s automated system continues punching in those bids in an automated way so users don’t have to. You’ll also notice that many of those bids are made right at the last moment of second 9. There’s no way a human could time a bid that precisely.

However, there has been some speculation that some of the bidding is rigged by DealDash. That speculation alleges that DealDash itself has its own set of automated bidders driving up auction prices and bringing attention to those auctions. I can’t tell one way or another if this is true. I’ll leave that speculation alone because of Bid Buddy and how it works.

Buy-It-Now

Both eBay and DealDash offer a Buy-It-Now option. However, these work entirely differently between DealDash and eBay. The eBay Buy-It-Now feature can be standalone or attached to an auction. If it’s standalone, you can only buy that product through Buy-It-Now. If it’s attached to an auction, you can only use Buy-It-Now before the auction begins. Once an auction has a first bid, the Buy-It-Now option disappears for that item.

With DealDash, if you bid on an auction, you are eligible to Buy-It-Now when the auction finally closes. You’ll buy the item at whatever price that DealDash offers, which they claim is usually at a substantial discount. In addition to buying the item, you’ll also get all of your bids back for free. This means you can reuse those bids again on future auctions. It’s not a bad deal if you really want that item. However, if you decline the Buy-It-Now purchase, you lose all of your bids. There’s a big incentive to bid on items where you are likely to buy it when the auction closes no matter the price.

Bid Buddy

DealDash offers an automated bidding service called Bid Buddy. It continues to bid on your behalf even when you’re not around to do so. eBay also has a similar feature, but it’s tied to the actual bidding process and doesn’t have a name. If you put in your maximum bid on an eBay auction, eBay will continue to bid on your behalf at the current bid increment until your maximum bid is reached. After that, you’d be responsible for upping your maximum bid or bidding manually.

Bid Buddy works in a similar way. It continues to bid on your behalf until you’ve run out of bids or reached the maximum number of bids set on that auction. The reason to use Bid Buddy is clear. Those who are using Bid Buddy get priority over those who are manually bidding. It is in your best interest to set up and use Bid Buddy rather than manually bidding. Otherwise, your manual bid will always be last in line.

So far, So good

So far, there’s nothing here extraordinarily bad about how DealDash works. Other than the infinitely open auction which I don’t personally like, it’s pretty straightforward in how it all works.

Products and Quality

Here’s where this site falls down hard. Do you go to DealDash to buy merchandise for a great deal or to spend time gambling to win? If it’s the former reason, then you might run into problems considering all of the below. If it’s for the latter reason, you might want to seek gambling help.

DealDash claims to offer overstocked products at “discount” prices. The difficulty with this business model is that DealDash is in this business to make money off of bidding with the side effect of an eventual sale of a product. They are not a retailer, not a discounter and definitely not in any way a reputable store. They are an auction house and that’s how they run it.

As a buyer, you’ll notice there’s nothing mentioned about a Return Policy or what to do if you receive damaged or unacceptable goods. Indeed, there’s nothing on any of DealDash’s auction listings that even mention the quality or authenticity of the merchandise that you will receive if you buy or win the bid.

The products purport to be genuine, but are they? Also, unlike eBay where there’s a seller behind each and every product, with DealDash, DealDash is the seller. This means that if you have a question about the sale of a product, you have to go to DealDash to get it answered. Worse, buyers have tried doing this with no response from DealDash.

If you’re actually wanting the product you’re bidding on, you might want to consider that what you’ll receive may entirely differ from the listing. In other words, the trust level with DealDash’s merchandise is very, very low. If you really want that merchandise, you can probably find it cheaper from a more reliable seller on eBay or Amazon without the bidding fees. On eBay, both the sellers and the products themselves have a reputation score. You can see what buyers are saying about both the product in the listing and of the seller’s reputation. You’ll notice that on DealDash, there is no reputation information about the seller nor reviews from buyers about the product or what they received. DealDash is a black box.

Being the black box that it is, unfortunately, DealDash is about as scammy as it can get from a site like this. If you can’t readily see what other buyers have received from a listing, then how do you know that you’ll receive anything of value? You don’t.

Additionally, because DealDash is not a traditional store, returning any merchandise may be next to impossible, particularly when you can’t get in touch with anyone at DealDash. If the item you receive is damaged, misrepresented or outright garbage, you’re stuck with it. Otherwise, you’ll have to dispute the credit card charge. The only other thing you can do is complain about DealDash… and many people have done exactly that on RipOff Report. However, other than venting your frustrations to the world or forcing a chargeback, you may not be able to get your money back.

Jumpers and No Jumper Auctions

Here’s where DealDash also gets just a little bit more scammy with their auction site piece. A jumper is a person who jumps in at the last minute and begins bidding on an auction when they think the auction time is about to run out. Unfortunately, jumpers on DealDash effectively mean nothing. A “No Jumper Auction” is simply a way to allow early bidders not to be outbid by someone who wants to jump in at the last minute. With DealDash, there is no such thing as a ‘last minute’. On eBay, there is a ‘last minute’ because auctions have a hard close time. On DealDash, the auction is infinitely extended so long as even one person continues bidding.

A “No Jumper Auction” sets a minimum bid point that after that no new bidders are allowed to enter the auction. If the no jumper point is set to $5, that means new bidders attempting to bid after $5 will be unable to do so. Only bidders who placed at least one bid below $5 will be able to continue bidding on that auction.

This then excludes users from auctions after the no jumper bid price has been met. On eBay, this is called ‘sniping’ or ‘snipers’. A sniper is a little different from a jumper in that because the auction close time is finite, snipers join in during the last 30 second countdown to try and outbid the current high bidder. With DealDash, a “No Jumper” feature is entirely pointless and just gives DealDash a way to manipulate auctions and who can bid. This feature only serves to force people into auctions early or wait for another one to start. This feature is simply a way to lower competition and allow early birds to win the auction more quickly without extra folks jumping in and keeping the auction open much longer. That seems to go against the idea of DealDash making more money. It’s kind of a weird feature for DealDash to add a limit auctions and prevent even more bidding, losing DealDash even more money in this process.

The scammy part of this is that apparently these “No Jumper” auctions don’t work properly, or DealDash is able to manipulate the “No Jumper” price randomly against would-be bidders. Some bidders have claimed to join in on standard “No Jumper” auctions with the default threshold set to $5. Yet, the auction price never reached $5 and they were unable to bid with DealDash claiming they were a jumper. Fishy. It seems this feature is being manipulated by DealDash in a way that prevents certain bidders (new or not) from bidding on that “No Jumper” auction.

Is DealDash worth it?

DealDash is ultimately an addictive form of legalized gambling, but it actually feels much like playing slot machines in Vegas. Mostly you lose, rarely you win and you spend a lot of money doing it…. which is how DealDash likes it. It’s what keeps them in business. If you’re willing to Buy-It-Now, you can buy back some of your bids at the cost of the product stated in the listing. But, don’t expect the price of the Buy-It-Now merchandise to be any less expensive than what you’ll find in a retail store, according to many who’d done this.

Some complainants who’ve used the Buy-It-Now option have been quite disappointed in the process. One user claimed that instead of getting their bids back as was promised, the “total value” of the bids was deducted from the price of the Buy-It-Now item. However, the “total value” of the bids applied to the reduction in the item’s cost were substantially lower than what the user paid for the actual bids. They might deduct at 12¢ per bid when the user paid 60¢ for the bids. Assuming you can actually get your bids back instead of this deduction thing, that’ll buy you a little more time to bid on new items and addict you further to this form of legalized gambling. This getting-bids-back idea is a little like losing $500 at BlackJack and then winning back $100. You’ve still lost $400. It’s simply a way to make you feel a little better about having lost $400.

If you get a high off of gambling, DealDash may be worth it… particularly if you don’t care about whatever it is you might win.

If you do happen to win the bid on item, then you’ll lose all of your bids plus whatever the winning cost of the item. If you happen to win a bundle of bids, then you’ll lose your bids only to gain some back. If you win the bid on a pair of earrings, you’ve lost however many bids it took to win that bid plus the cost of those earrings.

Consider if you don’t do Buy-It-Now often and you continually keep losing bids, you need to keep track of how much money you’ve spent there. You need to keep track because all of your lost bid money adds up when you finally do win a bid. For example, if you’ve spent $500 buying and losing bids for a while, then win a $50 coffeemaker, technically you’ve spent $550 for that coffeemaker. That’s not such a great deal. You could have bought 11 coffeemakers for the amount of money you spent to win that bid at DealDash. You simply can’t ignore all of the money you’ve spent on bids as non-existent. Those bid costs add into the cost of any items you bid and win. This means you can’t claim you got a toaster for $5. It was $5 plus the cost of however many bids it took you to get there.

Scam or Not?

The idea behind the site is fine, the execution of it is poor. If DealDash had partnered with legitimate sellers to back each of the auction products and if DealDash had allowed buyers to review the product listings for quality and authenticity and if DealDash offered a buyer’s protection plan and an actual Return Policy like a legitimate store, I might be more inclined to say it’s not a scam.

As it is, because DealDash doesn’t act like a legitimate store and also doesn’t offer feedback from buyers nor is there a buyer and seller relationship to ask questions, I cannot recommend the use of this site for any purpose… not for buying products and definitely not to get your gambling fix.

There’s too much of a chance to lose far too much bid money and very slim chances you’ll actually win a bid. Of course, you’ll be given the option to Buy-It-Now and get your bids back on auctions where you lost the bids, but that’s of little consolation if the merchandise you receive is trash, assuming you receive anything at all. Between the bids you pay for and the Buy-It-Now, this is how DealDash makes money. The rest is all an addictive game.

Testimonials

Don’t be fooled by people holding up a piece of merchandise that they claim to have received from winning an auction. There’s no guarantee those are legitimate photos. You have no idea if the merchandise you will receive is legitimate, counterfeit, refurbished, used, hot or in any other condition.

Even if the “winner” photos are legitimate, what you don’t know is how much those people have spent in bids to DealDash to “win” the privilege to buy the item at that price. They could have been bidding for years and have already spent a ton on bids before they finally won an iPad. In fact, they could very well have spent more than simply going to the Apple store and paying full price for one.

It’s just like being in a Casino. When you hear the bells ring and see the lights flash on a machine because someone has hit the jackpot, you really don’t know if that’s a win or if someone is simply making back a little money towards what they’ve already lost.

Recommendation

Site Recommendation: 👎 Avoid!
Reasons:

  • Highly Addictive
  • Form of gambling
  • Not a store
  • No Return Policy listed
  • No Product Reviews
  • No User Reviews
  • No Seller Reviews
  • Auction items don’t describe authenticity or condition
  • Pay to bid
  • Pay to win (separate from item cost)
  • Costly
  • Difficult to Communicate with DealDash
  • Mostly a scam to separate you from your money
  • Doesn’t operate like a legitimate store
  • May be less costly to shop elsewhere
  • Questionable business practices

As always, if you find Randocity a fascinating read, please leave a comment below and please click the Follow button in the upper right under the Search bar to be notified of any new Randocity articles.

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Rant Time: MagicJack – Scam or Legit?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams by commorancy on September 11, 2018

magicJackThe magicJack company offers a voice over IP phone service. You can use it with an app on your phone or by a device plugged into an actual landline-type phone. It does require Internet to function. Either way you go, it’s VoIP and they have very questionable and deceptive billing practices. Let’s explore.

Internet Phone Service Choices

If you’re in need of phone services on a device that only has access to WiFi, then a voice over IP service (VoIP) is what you need. There are many different VoIP services available on the Internet. You can even make audio and video calls via Facetime on iOS, via Skype on pretty much any mobile or desktop computer or even via Google Hangouts. For this reason, magicJack is yet another VoIP phone service in a sea of choices.

Why would you want to choose magicJack? Initially, they were one of the lowest priced VoIP phone services. They also offered a tiny computer dongle that made it easy to plug in a standard home phone. That was then. Today, mobile devices make this a different story. Lately, this company has raised their prices dramatically and they’re performing some quite deceptive and questionable billing practices.

911 Service

As with any phone service that offers the ability to use 911, the service must tack on charges to the bill by the municipality. You’d think that part of the invoice that magicJack is already collecting in payment of services would also cover for those 911 services. I certainly did. Instead, magicJack isn’t willing to part with any of their service revenue to actually cover services that, you know, they provide as part of your phone service… like any other phone company does.

MagicJack seems to think they can simply pass on said charges right to you in an email invoice and have you pay them separately. Here’s where magicJack gets firmly into scam and deceptive billing territory.

I’m sorry magicJack, but you’re forcing the 911 service when we don’t really need it or want it on that magicJack VoIP phone line. If you’re going to force this service as part of the overall service, then damned well you need to suck it up and pay the expenses from what we pay you. There is no way in hell I’m going to pay an ‘extra’ bill simply because you are unwilling to use the collected service fees to pay for those bills, like any other carrier on the planet. It’s not my problem that you choose not to do this.

You, magicJack, need to pay those bills to the 911 service. It’s your service, you forced 911 onto my line and now you must pay the piper. If you can’t do this, then you need to go out of business. This means, you need to collect the 911 service fees at the time you collect the payment for your services. And you know what, you already collected well enough money from me to cover those 911 service fees many times over. So, hop to it and pay that bill. This is not my bill to pay, it’s yours.

MagicJack Services

Should I consider magicJack services as an option when choosing a VoIP phone service? Not only no, but hell no. This service doesn’t deserve any business from anyone! This is especially true considering how many alternatives exist for making phone calls in apps today. Skip the stupidly deceptive billing hassles and choose a service that will bill you properly for ALL services rendered at the time of payment.

MagicJack is entirely misinformed if they think they can randomly send extra bills for whatever things that they deem are appropriate. Worse, magicJack is collecting payments for that 911 service, but you have no idea if that money will actually make it to the 911 municipal services in your area. That money might not even make it there and you may still receive a bill. In fact, if the municipality does send you a bill, you need to contact them and tell them to resend their bill to magicJack and collect their fees owed from magicJack, which has already been collected in the funds to cover any and all phone services. If magicJack claims otherwise, they are lying. If you are currently using magicJack’s services, you should cancel now (even if you have credit remaining).

Is magicJack a scam? Yes, considering these types of unethical and dubious billing practices. Even though their VoIP service works, it’s not without many perils dealing with this company. As with any service you buy into, Caveat Emptor.

MagicJack Headquarters

Here is the absolute biggest red flag of this scam company. MagicJack claims their corporate headquarters address is located here:

PO BOX 6785
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Uh, no. Your headquarters cannot be inside of a PO Box.

Yelp claims that magicJack’s US address is here:

5700 Georgia Ave
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Better, but still not accurate. This is not their corporate headquarters. This is simply a US office address. Who knows how many people actually work there? We all should know by 2018 just how many scams originate from Florida.

When you visit magicJack’s web site, no where on any of the pages does it show their actual physical headquarters address. This is a HUGE red flag. Where is magicJack’s actual headquarters?

magicJack Vocaltev Ltd (opens Google Maps)
Ha-Omanut Street 12
Netanya, Israel

As a point of consumer caution, you should always be extra careful when purchasing utility and fundamental services from any Israeli (or other middle east) companies. Worse, when companies cannot even be honest about where their corporate headquarters are on their own web site, that says SCAM in big red letters.

Class Action Lawsuit

Here’s another situation where this company needs to be in a class action lawsuit. I’m quite certain there are a number of folks who have been tricked into this scammy outfit and are now paying the price for their unethical and scammy business practices. However, because they are located in Israel, setting up a class action lawsuit against this company may be practically impossible. Better, just avoid the company and buy your phone services from U.S. based (or other local) companies where they are required to follow all local laws.

Rating: 1 star out of 10
Phone Service: 5 out of 10 (too many restrictions, limits call length)
Customer Service: 1 star out of 10
Billing: 0 stars out of 10
Overall: Scam outfit, cannot recommend.

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Don’t rent at Blockbuster Express Kiosks

Posted in business, fraud, scam, scams by commorancy on September 6, 2010

[Updated: 04/15/2017 — In 2012, Redbox purchased all of the remaining Blockbuster Express kiosks which have now become Redbox kiosks. The original article follows.]

I’ve rented at both Redbox and now Blockbuster. I’ve never had any difficulties renting or returning at Redbox. However, at Blockbuster I had the worst experience when returning my movie. Note, this was the first time I’d ever used Blockbuster’s machine. Note, Blockbuster’s machine sucks.

Poor Vending Machine Design

I’ll start by saying that DVD rentals via vending machine, not the best idea. Yes, that includes Redbox. The issue isn’t renting, it’s returning. If you rent at a store, returning the DVD is actually simple… drop it off in the bin. At a vending kiosk, you’re have to wait to turn in the movie because you have to use the screen to initiate the return function. This means, you have to stand in line and wait until everyone else is done. Stupid.

These machines are monstrous, yet they can’t even provide a proper return mechanism. My experience with Blockbuster returning a rented DVD was horrible. I stood in line 20 minutes waiting to return my movie (singular). After all that, the time was a couple minutes past 9 and Blockbuster still charged the extra $1 fee. Seriously, there is no grace period at all?

The worst part is, however, that when I called customer service, they refused to refund the money. They offered a promo code instead. Hello, no, I want a refund, not a promo code. After the debacle that is the returns process, I don’t intend to rent from their shoddy vending machine ever again. I’d already made that decision right after they charged me the extra day’s fee. This is why I didn’t want a promo code. The bad customer service experience was just the topper that capped it all.

Return Mechanism

These hulking machines are huge. There should be no reason why there isn’t a simple return and go slot (i.e., no waiting). It’s completely ludicrous that you need to wait for someone else to finish their long transaction before you can return a movie. It seriously needs a drop and go slot. A slot that always accepts returns no matter what someone may be doing on the rental side. Their computer already knows that that specific movie copy is tied to my account. There is no reason to have to initiate anything. An always-active returns slot is a no-brainer. Yet, these kiosks don’t have one. Neither does Redbox. However, there are far more Redbox kiosks around. If one is that occupied, I could just drive to another. Unfortunately, with the Blockbuster kiosks, you had to return your discs to the one where you rented. You couldn’t return at just any kiosk even if you did know where another one was.

In this case, the kiosk should shutdown all new purchases for 20 minutes prior to 9PM to allow for express returns. This would put the system into return only mode and allow those only needing to return to push their way through before the 9PM deadline. This prevents those people who want to spend 15-20 minutes hogging the kiosk reading every movie synopsis and hemming and hawing over ever title in the unit from doing immediately before return time.

Blockbuster go boom

It’s no wonder Blockbuster’s kiosks are now a thing of the past. They really had no idea of customer service or how to operate such a rental service to the public. I’ll stick with Redbox, thank you very much. I’ve had no issues with customer service or returns at Redbox. Yet, on my very first call to Blockbuster customer service (I waited on hold for at least 10 minutes), they were unwilling to even do what I requested (refund the extra day fee that they don’t rightly deserve).

So, I called the bank and the bank reversed the charges. Too bad Blockbuster.

Here’s your word of warning. If you want to rent from Blockbuster’s kiosk, you may experience something very similar with returns. Not only is customer service an atrocious process, they won’t even issue refunds when appropriate. Worse, if you go even 1 minute past 9PM when returning, they will stick you for that extra day’s fee (no grace period). I have no respect for Blockbuster and I do not intend to rent anything further from either their stupid kiosk or any store they own.

While these rentals are cheap enough, it’s not worth the hassle when you want to get a refund for ill gotten charges. Believe me, Blockbuster needs to shutter the doors and go away. Let’s hope Redbox makes that happen (and they did) and oh, Blockbuster, you should really take a look at Redbox to see what customer service really is, m’kay?

[03/15/2017 Comment: This article was written before the Blockbuster kiosks were bought out by Redbox in 2012. Thankfully, these Blockbuster kiosks no longer exist. They have all been replaced by Redbox kiosks which are much more abundant and easy to locate and use… thanks to the Redbox app. I leave this article up as a history of how Blockbuster kiosks functioned and as a testament to how bad Blockbuster’s customer service was at the time.]

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Is Obama hostile towards big business?

To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper. Note, I am neither condoning nor praising Obama’s handling of his regulatory efforts. However, I would like to point out certain corrections that do need to be made.

“The truth is that not even the Franklin Roosevelt administration was as hostile to and ignorant about free enterprise as this [Obama’s] administration is.”
–Steve Forbes.

But, is Obama really hostile towards business? Or, is he making needed corrections? There is a fine line here. This issue also points out a serious problem in politics today. That problem is, you guessed it, money. Without money, the world doesn’t work. Without money, candidates don’t get elected. Without money, businesses don’t sell things and make money. Back up the train.. Businesses make plenty of money without governmental help. The trouble is that businesses want to be able to make laws that enable their businesses to make more money and then have the government be lenient with them when issues arise.

The reality, though, is that like the separation of church and state, the government now needs separation of business and state. The two are oil and water, they don’t mix. Government needs to be able to make law without interference from any party. But, businesses have deep pockets and hefty lawyers. These two elements help elect officials and help sway these same officials into making good on promises they made towards these businesses during the election.

Obama’s corrections

While I don’t agree with every single thing Obama has done, I do agree that change is necessary. The change that he is making is intended to correct the issues that led to the economic downturn. The trouble comes with statements from people like Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes that he is the end-all-be-all-know-it-all when it comes to all-things-business. The trouble is, he doesn’t. Yes, he runs a successful magazine, but that doesn’t make him an authority. That makes him a successful business owner.

Obama is walking that fine line. A fine line that shouldn’t even be necessary. But, there it is. The line that’s there to help Obama help the economy, help spur business and growth and reduce the chances of a repeated failure. At the same time, the line is there to show that government values business, but isn’t there to socialize it. The trouble is, this economic downturn was of our own making. By our, I mean Wall Street. The housing bubble was just that, a bubble. Bubbles eventually burst and this bubble was no exception. It’s not as if analysts and intelligent minded people couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. When the mortgage interest rates got down to 1% and all of those ARM and specialty loans were being issued like water flowing down the Mississippi, trouble was inevitable. We just didn’t know that banks and insurance companies were tying their financial soundness to these extremely risky loans using credit default swaps.

Until the bubble burst, no one really knew just how deep the rabbit hole went. Then, everything came crashing down and all of the nasty subprime mortgage and credit default swap issues came into view in their all fugly detailed glory. The first evidence of that was Bear Stearns followed by AIG (and the subsequent governmental bailout). I still think they should have let AIG fold, I digress.

Government and Business

It’s high time that government distanced itself from corporate businesses. It’s high time congress made laws to separate government from business (including political support). It’s high time that government stopped being a pawn for corporate businesses. Forbes clearly seems to think that Free Enterprise requires socialism to function. Free Enterprise is not part of and does not need socialism. Free Enterprise means that businesses can do whatever they need to do (within the limits of the laws) to make their business succeed. Clearly, there have not been laws enabled that have dramatically impacted Free Enterprise. The laws that have been enacted have been placed there to prevent corporations from producing risky investment vehicles with a high likelyhood of crashing down again. If businesses are now floundering, it’s not because of laws. It’s because corporations have lost their way and are still expecting handouts. Well, you can keep your hand out, but don’t expect the government to be dropping any coin in it.

Corporations have relied, no… depended on the US Government for handouts. That time needs to end. Subsidies for business need to go away. Businesses need to fend for themselves just like Free Enterprise mandates. If a business can’t make it on its own, then let it fail. I’ll repeat, LET IT FAIL. Failure is also part of Free Enterprise. Businesses that will succeed, will succeed because they produce a good product or service. Businesses that fail, will fail because they don’t produce good products or services.

Lost our way

America, and specifically corporate enterprises, have lost their way. For far too long have big corporations depended on favorable governmental conditions (sounds like a weather report) to help them stay in business. Well, that train has left (and must leave). It should be solely up to you and your business practices alone to make or break your company. It is the quality of your products, services and support that makes people want to buy your products or invest in your company. Nothing has changed about this aspect of Free Enterprise.

We need to go back to a time when quality was the key. When providing a superior product was the answer to getting people to buy things. If that also means deflation, then so be it. Businesses need to find their way by learning how to do more with less. How to manage their staff better and stop over-hiring. At the same time, many of them need to stop under-hiring and also value the employees that they have right now.

The key to keeping your business flowing is by keeping your employees active, productive and happy. Morale is a big problem in companies during any downturn. Once fear sets in over the next reduction in force (RIF), then morale falls to all-time-lows. No, taking the employees on an outing doesn’t boost morale. The way to boost morale is to stop RIFing the staff out the door. Yes, I know it gives a temporary boost to the stock price and makes the shareholders happy, but that’s a temporary fix with limited effects. Once the dust settles, the employees who are left become disgruntled, unhappy and produce less. This is completely backwards thinking. Which is why business has lost its way.

Shareholder value vs quality products

I know, someone’s going to say that it is all about ‘shareholder value’. That may be the way things seem now, but it is wrong. Currently accepted actions that lead to improved shareholder value tend to undercut production, stifle innovation, reduce profit margins and lower productivity. Why would you intentionally do this to your business? So, while these measures may seem to help the stock price, it does nothing to help the company improve its quality of products and services. In fact, in the long run, these actions almost always negatively impact the bottom line. So, the fundamental question is, are you in business to make the shareholders happy or are you in business to sell quality products and services? This fundamental question must be answered.

The true answer to this question also shows that Free Enterprise priorities today are all wrong. It used to be that the customer is #1. Now, shareholders are #1 and customers are #2. This is both wrong and stupid. Until businesses go back to the idea that the customer is #1, corporations will continue to fail and need governmental subsidies. While shareholders are considered #1, there is really no such thing as Free Enterprise when it comes to multi-million dollar corporations… which is why they always need a handout from the government.

Newest Scam: Law enforcement agencies target unsuspecting motorists with bogus citations

Posted in bankruptcy, corruption, ponzi schemes, scam, scams by commorancy on March 2, 2010

I’ve long suspected that this is happening, but now I’ve been a victim of this exact situation.  In the state of the economy, especially here in California, local law enforcement agencies are apparently under the budgetary microscope. As a result, it now appears that law enforcement agencies have now joined the ranks of the scam artists… with one exception, they are legally sanctioned entities.  In my case, my car was stated to have been located near an expired parking meter and cited for this parking infraction when it was no where near the location on that date.  I do drive near that parking structure.  Near yes, but almost never closer than 2-3 miles near it.  Close enough that a local cop could have written down my plate number, seen the make, model and color and then used that information to create the scam citation.  Yes, I could have contested the ticket, but the main issue is that the citation had nearly every bit of information about my vehicle correct except the body style (which was conveniently absent from the notice to pay).  On top of that, the citation was issued so late in the contest process, I basically didn’t have time to contest it.  However, the license plate number was correct, plate expiration year correct, make correct, color correct.  The only thing that wasn’t correct and, of course, wasn’t written on the notice to pay the citation was the body style… how convenient.  The other two things that were conveniently missing from their ‘system’.. the VIN and the month of the plate expiration.  Two bits of information that would have conclusively proven my vehicle wasn’t there, but this information was conveniently absent.

Worse, law enforcement agencies can dig through the state’s plate database and simply choose license plates at random, write a citation based on some random vehicle incident, throw the ticket away and collect the money. That is assuming you don’t contest.  The issue, though, is that if the officer is thorough enough about the make, color and license specifics, then they have you regardless of what the body style says to be or where you claim to have been at the time.  Of course, if you happen to have conclusive proof that your vehicle wasn’t where the officer claims it was on the citation.. like a date stamped photograph of your vehicle at that moment in time (and how likely is that to happen) or some other proof your vehicle was locked up, then you’re likely going to end up paying the scam citation.  Even contesting it, you may still end up paying. As long as the vehicle is in your name and the citation is tied to your plate, you’re liable period.

Honestly though, would you actually be able to successfully contest this?  I mean, you can, yes.  But, is it worth the effort?  Sure, you could retain a lawyer, but that would cost you much more than the $45-$90 just to pay the citation.  You could do it yourself and go to court.  Again, they know this is a hassle and they are apparently exploiting this fact.  They know you’ll pay because the amount is too small for all that hassle.

Incidents like these are exactly what government and law enforcement don’t need or want right now.  Setting up scams to bring in cash isn’t the answer.  But yet, it is happening.. likely every day.  Note that in my case and because my car actually wasn’t where the officer claimed it was, I never received an initial citation.  The only notice I received was from the collection agency.  One officer stated to me when I called about this issue. “It might have just blown away”.  Uh-huh.. riiiight.  Maybe I didn’t receive it because my vehicle wasn’t actually there.  But, that doesn’t matter.  As long as the officer is thorough enough to go through the license database or write down your vehicle as you drive around town, they can easily set up scam citations to collect between $45 and $90 for the city, county (or the University in this case).  And worse, as long as it’s in your name and the majority of the information is correct, even a judge may still find you liable for the fine.

Government problems just beginning

These issues are the beginning of the end of the government as we know it.  When cops are now involved in state legalized racketeering, then there’s really no hope that this government can continue to exist.  We are about to head back to the old west of lawlessness.  If the police can no longer be trusted not to scam individuals out of their hard earned money, the no one can be trusted.  This is the era in which the US and local governments will collapse.  It will collapse under its own weight and ungainly methodologies.  By unscrupulously taking advantage of its own infrastructure for illicit monetary gain, the end of this government draws near.  It’s only a matter of time.

Government was initially designed to serve the people.  Unfortunately, now it’s just the opposite.  It now looks like people are now forced to serve the government.  As long as these scams continue unabated, there is no hope for law enforcement agencies to gain any respect or trust from the people, let alone the government.  And then they wonder why people no longer trust cops.  Hello?  Looks like the lights are on but no one’s home.

Our governments were designed to help us (the people).  Unfortunately, now government appears to be helping itself more than the people.  Of course, this issue is not the beginning.  In reality, we can consider sales tax, use taxes, income tax all forms of legalized monetary scams.  Ways to part you from your money.   Sure, it’s supposed to help us through programs, but the only thing it really does is help government remain in power.  If the American people stood up and finally said no to paying government fees, taxes and assessments in mass, it would be all over for government agencies.  They simply would not be able to function.  But, that’s not going to happen.  Too many Americans believe that government is still necessary.  But, do we need a government like this?  A government that is no better than your average street thug dealing dope?

I’m not saying that government deals in dope, but don’t they?  Just look at the FDA.  It’s supposed to help protect us.  But then, big pharma companies just use the FDA to put their expensive and hazardous drugs onto the market.  Some of these drugs make us highly addicted or, worse, the drugs become lethal.  Again, it’s another ‘legalized’ form of controlled chaos.  I guess it’s all really a point of view at this point.  It can only be called protection, though, if people don’t die.  When people begin to die because big pharma decides to push the latest pill, then that isn’t any better than the drugs being shipped in from outside the US.  So, how is the FDA really any better than a big drug cartel?

Government rethink

I think it’s time to rethink our governmental system.  It is now time to realize that what our forefathers put in place is now collapsing under its own weight.  Is there a governmental system that could work?  Good question. We already know that other governmental forms like socialism and communism don’t really work.   A democracy could work, but I think we’ve put so many laws into place that it’s now simply collapsing.  I think there’s a point at which there are too many laws and I think we’ve already reached and exceeded that number.  Worse, our governments have bastardized the bill of rights to fit the criteria of their point of view instead of what they actually mean.  So, for example, you can claim the right to bear arms as long as you’re in a state where it’s legal to do so.  Huh?  How is that possible?  The right to bear arms is a given right and cannot be revoked by any state.   Again, as for the fourth amendment, what’s actually considered an ‘unreasonable search and seizure’?   Because our forefathers weren’t more specific on this aspect, it is left open to interpretation.  Interpretation leads to modification.  Modification leads to the law only being valid under specific conditions.  These modifications were not sanctioned by the bill of rights.  Of course, so when it comes down to whether or not it violates the Bill of Rights, then it has to go in front of the Supreme Court.  And, oh yes, this court is appointed by the President.  If that is not conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.

Yes, it’s time to consider a new government.  One that goes back to our roots.  One that doesn’t try to save every business in the US.  One that focuses on the people as people, not as a business.  Free enterprise and entrepreneurship will survive no matter what.  Businesses can fend for themselves.  We no longer need businesses putting politicians in their back pockets simply to help keep the revenue flowing.  This isn’t a nanny state, yet I believe that’s where we are fast heading, if not already there.  Businesses don’t need any government officials ‘on their team’.  But, big business will always argue that it does.  That’s only because they want laws passed that benefit their ability to continue to make money.  Truth is, no one looks out for an individual.  Why should any third party look out for a company?

Government has sewn the seeds of its own destruction with situations such as all of the above.  It’s now time for us to find another fundamental way to continue our society (and the human species).  In the grand scheme of things, the government is probably the least important thing we have today.  What’s most important is Earth and ours, the human species.  Clearly, where we are today isn’t the answer.

Paypal: Don’t trust them with your checking account!

Posted in banking, best practices, scam, scams by commorancy on April 1, 2009

Paypal has been in business for how many years now?  Yet, they still can’t manage to find a way to verify a person without using a bank account?  Since day 1 of Paypal, I’ve been sternly opposed to giving my checking account routing information to Paypal.  Why?  It’s very simple.  I don’t trust them.  I never have.  I never will.

Why you should never give out bank account + routing information to anyone!

Let me first say that when I discuss ‘routing numbers’, this means a combination of both your account and your routing number. Clearly, you wouldn’t just give out only a routing number as that’s not useful. It is only useful when in combination with an account number.

When you give someone a signed check, you implicitly give them your routing information.  That’s a danger when you write a check to a company.  The protection, of course, is that you’ve given them a physical paper check for a specific amount and you know exactly how much that check was.   So, when the check number arrives at the bank and drafts that amount of money from your account, it was expected.  They can’t draw more than the amount the check was written.

Routing numbers, on the other hand, are effectively blank checks.  When you give a company your routing number, you are handing them a signed blank check.  That’s because you’ve agreed to allow them blanket access to your checking account.  That company can then debit any amount of money from your account they see fit without so much as a thank you.   Because Paypal uses EFT (electronic fund transfers) in the form of ACH (automatic clearing house), they can debit your account up to the maximum amount of funds in your account.  This means, they can overdraw your account and completely drain your funds.  ACH/EFT offers no liabilities to the consumer whether accidental or intentional.  Because you gave that company explicit approval to debit your account at will, there are no liabilities for any inappropriate transactions.  That’s left between you and Paypal to resolve.  The bank will usually not become involved.  When banks do become involved, the best they can do is tell you when it happened. You can try to ask your bank for additional help, but they will most likely point you to Paypal for resolution.  The reason is simple, you agreed to give Paypal access to your account up front.

Worse, if the company that overdrafted your account chooses to not give you the money back, then you may be out of luck.  At that point, you better seek a lawyer, assuming you have any money left to pay them.

Paypal and Checking Accounts

Paypal does not need a checking account to verify you.  They just tell you they do because that’s the way they have always worked it.  This verification process can easily be done with a credit card charge that you input later to validate that you receive the bill for the card.  Paypal simply wants to have unfettered access to your checking account.  Frankly, it’s a huge liability for you.  It’s also a huge liability for Paypal to store this information.  One hacker in their system and they could have a field day with your money.

Credit Cards and Fraud

Paypal is well aware of the fraud issues with credit cards.  They are also well aware of chargebacks, merchant liabilities and fees associated with these processes.  To avoid them, they prefer unlimited access to your checking account that hold no such penalties or liabilities.  Because the consumer has no recourse over inadvertant transactions, Paypal has the upper hand.  This is why Paypal will not verify you with only a credit card.  Can they validate based on only a credit card, yes.  They simply choose not to.

Credit cards have long established liability rules that prevent fraud occuring from both rip-off artists and from merchants alike.  Unfortunately, there are no such rules for ACH.

Consumer Protection from Businesses

Whenever a company asks you to give them routing information from your checking account, tell them, “No!”.   Not only should you tell them “no”, you should explain exactly why.  Tell them that you don’t trust them with that level of access to your account.

Should you continue to do business with Paypal?  That’s entirely up to you.  But, I still do not have a verified account with Paypal because I simply will not give them the routing information from my checking or savings account.  I simply do not trust ANY company enough with that information.  Remember, Paypal is not a bank.  Thus, it does not fall under any banking rules, liabilities or any federal insurance.  In fact, who knows what insurance Paypal even carries?  So, whatever Paypal does, you’re at their mercy to do it right.  If they don’t, you have to fight with them to get your money back.  The bank won’t help you.

But, I need to give out my routing number…

Here’s another option.  It’s not optimal, but it works.  Simply, open a second checking account. By setting up a checking account specifically and solely to be used with Paypal and merchants, you can limit your financial liability.  You can then link another account to this new account for transferring in money only, but be sure NOT to link the new checking account to any overdraft protection on any other accounts.  So, if Paypal overdraws your account inadvertantly, they won’t get any more money than what you have specifically placed in there.  So, if you want to buy a $250 appliance, only transfer in $250 for just that appliance.

The problem with this technique is that banks sometime require minimums to open an account and minimums to keep it open.  So, you may have to leave $1000 (or some other arbitrary amount of money) to prevent accrual of monthly fees or account closure.  You’ll need to contact your bank for details.

While this does work, it’s not optimal by any stretch.   It requires you to be extra cautious with how you use that account.  You have to be diligent to place the money in there when you need it.  And, you need to remember that transfers of money into the account are not always instanteous.  So, you may have to transfer your money in the day before you intend to purchase to ensure the money is there to cover the transaction.

What if I’m a Merchant?

For merchants who want to get paid for products they sell, I understand the issue here with ACH/EFT.  Again, in this instance, I would set up a separate checking or savings account solely for Paypal use.  Only give this account to Paypal so that when you receive payments, you can transfer them out of that account and to your ‘regular’ account immediately.  This way, if Paypal decides to debit you for any reason, the money won’t be there.

Overdrawn Accounts

If Paypal overdraws your account for any reason, don’t expect them to pay you back for insufficient fund fees.  You will have to deal with these fees on top of the inappropriate debiting from Paypal.  You will then have to argue with Paypal to get your money back and your bank fees reimbursed.  But, good luck with both of those processes.

Spending Limits

If you choose not to give your routing information to Paypal, Paypal arbitrarily limits how much money you can send to an individual when you buy merchandise.   For this silly reason alone, this is enough to tell Paypal to take a hike.  There are plenty of ways to buy merchandise from merchants on the Internet.  In fact, when a merchant is reputable enough, they will set up their own merchant account with a bank and let you pay the merchant directly.  You should also feel comforted knowing that when you send a payment to a merchant, not through Paypal, you have the full card protections behind your transaction.  When you purchase through Paypal, your Paypal account agreement may prevent you from using some of your card’s built-in protections… such as a chargeback.

Credit Cards

For all of these reasons above combined with card liability limits, fraud protection and other protections that come built-in with the Visa, Mastercard and Amex logos, credit cards protect a whole lot more than ACH/EFT.  Cards limit your exposure to ID theft and they also limit your liability if someone steals your card and then, for example, buys a new car with it.

For payments, Paypal could choose to issue checks instead of requiring ACH/EFT.   But, they have never wanted to go this route for payments.  Instead, Paypal forces you to verify your Paypal account by giving them a routing number from your checking account.  As I have said, this is not necessary and is a huge liability.

If you want to protect your money in your bank account from unauthorized transactions, you should not give Paypal (or any company) access to your checking account via routing numbers.  Instead you should insist on the protections that credit cards offer.  Credit cards are more than sufficient for anything that Paypal would need (at least for paying for merchandise).  For merchants, you will need to determine what works best for you.

[UPDATE: 6/27/2012]

Paypal now has a new wrinkle in its verification process.  When attempting to verify a checking account and your bank has a web portal (i.e., Wells Fargo), they will ask for the login and password to your bank’s web portal to do an ‘immediate’ verification. Don’t do it! Don’t give it to them. Paypal says they won’t store the credentials, but with all of the stolen information from various sites, do not trust ANY site with your bank’s web portal login and password. This should really be common sense, but maybe it isn’t. With that said, if you must verify a bank account with Paypal, do it the old fashioned method by letting Paypal make two small sized deposits.  First, it makes Paypal give you about 25 cents. Second, you’re not giving out your bank’s web portal password to some random third party.

As much as I rant above about giving out routing numbers and blank checks, it’s far worse to give out your bank’s web portal login and password information. Do not do either if you can help it. However, if you can manage to set up a separate one-sided transfer system into a free savings or checking account for Paypal payments and transfers, then by all means set that up.  Do not give Paypal access to your primary checking account with full access your bank account. Also, make sure that you have disabled overdraft protections on any accounts you give Paypal so that if they reach in and grab money out, when the account hits $0 it doesn’t go any further.  You don’t want to be mopping up a mess of bad debits and at the same time having to pay interest payments on those bad debits.  Paypal is not a bank and they’re not likely to reimburse you for any bad transactions leading to overdraft fees or interest accrued. So, avoid the issue and prevent Paypal from doing this damage in the first place.

73 AIG Execs get over $160 million in Bonus Payouts: Oversight?

Posted in bailout, bankruptcy, botch, corruption, economy, insurance, scam, scams by commorancy on March 18, 2009

Ok, so I know this story has been covered ad nauseaum in the press, but I also have some comments about this issue.  My question isn’t that they received these bonuses, it’s about the contracts they cling to that they MUST fulfill.

Contracts and Bonuses

As far as I know, unless AIG is just completely stupid at writing contracts, most bonuses written into contracts and, later, given to employees are issued based on performance.  That means, as long as you perform your duties properly, then the company will pay you at least part of the bonus.   And note that ‘properly’ could be intentionally left vague or it could be specifically defined through a set of criteria.    The criteria is the unknown factor in these employment contracts.  If it was intentionally left vague, though, even my argument still applies.  Further, to get paid the entire bonus, the employee and the company both have to perform in an outstanding way.  I don’t exactly consider bankruptcy outstanding.  Next in this debacle, why would you pay out 11 ex-employees?  Contracts usually terminate once employment ceases and this should include bonus clauses.  Again, stupidly written contract?  I don’t think so.  Clearly, there are flaws in AIG’s contract arguments.

Why would you pay out ANY performance bonuses to any executives in a company that came within millimeters of (and is still within) the brink of destruction?  Clearly, not one single executive performed properly.  Not one.  Based on the fact that the company is clearly bankrupt, that the government now owns an 80% stake in it and that it as been bailed out with Government (come Taxpayer) money, it is crystal clear that there is not one single executive in AIG who deserves a performance bonus.  Not one.

Check those contracts over

Since the government now owns an 80% stake in AIG, someone in the government needs to sequester their contracts and read them closely.  Seriously, why would checking the contracts over not have been the FIRST thing that was done when these bonuses were announced?  Someone needs to obtain a copy of each of these 73 employees’ contracts and read through the bonus section.  I cannot even fathom that AIG crafted the bonus contractual obligations as 100% payout no matter what happens.  If this is true, then AIG deserves to go out of business.  If they can’t even write employee contracts correctly, how can they POSSIBLY write insurance policies correctly?

AIG executives need to return the money

I am almost 98% sure that these bonuses were based on performance.   Someone would have to read their employment agreements to know for sure.. but, based on the assumption of a performance clause, these execs need to return this money.  AIG is clearly stepping beyond the bounds and this issue proves that the executives currently operating AIG need to be terminated.  Yes, every last one of them.  If nationalization is the key, then that’s what needs to happen.  Perhaps it needs temporary nationalization just long enough to clean house and then rehire the positions with executives who can actually run AIG properly.

If AIG did actually write employment contracts with mandatory bonus payouts, then this company is far beyond the help of a bailout.  This company has serious internal problems where the only resolution is termination of everyone involved.

Closing AIG and starting over…

 At this point, the only real hope is to force other solvent insurers to take exisiting insurance contracts away from AIG.   Move as many as possible.  For the ones that cannot be moved, force the closure of the contracts by a certain date.  For the credit default swaps, too bad.  These don’t need to be insured.  These are the things that cost AIG its livelyhood.  If another insurer is solvent enough and willing to take the risk to support the credit default swaps, those contracts can go there.

Once all of the insurance contracts have been moved, this company needs to be quietly wound down and closed so we can be done with AIG.  There have to be other insurance firms that can take the existing insurance contracts from AIG and honor them.  In fact, I’m quite sure there are plenty of other insurance groups that would be grateful to have the cash flow.  The American public needs to be done with AIG once and for all.

Ticketmaster: Master of nothing, king of fees

Posted in concerts, scam, scams, tickets by commorancy on February 16, 2009

If you’ve ever purchased tickets to a music concert, chances are you’ve had to deal with Ticketmaster.  You know, the ticket printing company that claims to help you obtain tickets to your favorite concert or event.  In reality, this company is nothing but one big scam.  Having sold tickets for Ticketmaster in the 80s, I’m well aware of their practices and how they choose to do business.

Scam or Scalper?

The only reason Ticketmaster exists is for convenience of the artists/promoters, not the concert goer.  If you’ve ever had to stand in line waiting for tickets at a venue, you can at least count the number of people ahead of you and know about what tickets you will receive.  Enter Ticketmaster with their near global presence.  Now, you stand in line at a Ticketmaster outlet and you have no idea how many other people are ahead of you or how many tickets they may purchase.  Combine this with Ticketmaster’s scam of holding back tickets for later release, random selection of tickets and you get the recipe for failure.  Even if you’re the first person in line at an outlet, you may walk away with upper promenade tickets simply because that’s ‘best available’.

Best Available

This notion is Ticketmaster’s way of searching their database and giving you whatever they deem is the ‘best available.  Note, however, that most outlets won’t let you specifically search or ask for tickets in other sections even if it doesn’t show to ‘Best Available’.  Yet, they may be available.  For example, I’ve specifically searched for seats in lower prom sections and found tickets there even when ‘Best Available’ shows to be upper prom.  So, whatever algorithm that Ticketmaster has written is completely flawed and doesn’t work (or is intentionally designed to NOT give you best available).

Released Tickets

Granted, some promotors do hold back sections of seats for their own use.  Some may be reserved for other purposes and some may be reserved for the venue to sell directly.  When these seats aren’t sold, given away or whatever, they are then released to Ticketmaster.  These seats (some front row seats) can appear even just hours before the event!  I have found front row seating for several events the day of the concert simply just poking around looking for tickets in Ticketmaster’s computer.    Granted, when you find them, you have to be willing to purchase them immediately because any of the other thousands of outlets could also be looking for them too.   For example, I had found front row seats for Neil Diamond (back during his heyday) and front row lower prom for Stevie Nicks (back in her heyday) within one or two days of the event.

Fees and more fees 

Ticketmaster now charges $12-$20 per ticket convenience charge.  Ticketmaster might as well be considered scalpers. In 1979, tickets to concerts COST $15.00.  The cost of Ticketmaster’s convenience charge is now close to or more than the event ticket cost in 1979!  For example, with Britney Spear’s 2009 tour tickets, why would you give Ticketmaster $18.75 for you to go to the web, search for ‘Best Available’ and then issue and print your  own tickets?  It doesn’t cost $18.75 to print two paper tickets and mail them.  The cost for that process is perhaps no more than $2.  $1 total for the ticket paper, ink and envelope and $1 for postage.  Ok, so there might be a small fee incurred in hand carrying the envlope to the post… So maybe $3.  Paying $18.75 for $3 worth of materials is outrageous.  If you choose to print your own tickets from your printer, they STILL charge you!  Yet, you paid for the paper and ink.

Online Ticketmaster

Now that Ticketmaster has moved to the web, their searching process has not changed.  But now, you have no control over what they find for you and you have no idea how many other people are out there doing the same thing.  They also do not give you the ability to actually search for tickets in specific seactions.  You take what they find for you even if they aren’t the best.  Worse, Ticketmaster still charges you the $18.75 convenience fee for you to do the work.  Other than their print and mail process, which is probably automated anyway, this fee is now completely outrageous and unnecessary.

No Ticketmaster concerts for me

Ticketmaster is part of the problem.  For the reasons above (price, fees, bad business practices), I do not trust Ticketmaster.  As a result of that lack of trust combined with outrageous ticket prices by the artists, I do not go to concerts.  When concerts cost no more than $20 to get in, I’m game.  When they get to $80, that’s when it’s no longer worth it.   After combining Ticketmaster’s outrageous and unnecessary fees with the cost of the event and the venue fees, I don’t understand why anyone continues to use Ticketmaster for purchase of tickets. You’re just paying to ensure Ticketmaster’s continued existence. Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s also a complete rip-off.  Insist on buying your tickets directly from the venue directly without the need for Ticketmaster.  If the venue sells you a ticket with a convenience fee, insist on not paying it as there is no such thing when you’re purchasing it directly from the venue.

Unless concert promoters wake-up realize that Ticketmaster is not the answer for selling tickets, they are likely excluding a lot of people, like myself, who would go to more events but simply will not use Ticketmaster, but still want a web based ticket purchase.  Promoters: Ticketmaster is not helping you fill the arena.

Competition is healthy

Visit your artist’s web sites and let them know that you don’t want to pay Ticketmaster’s gouging fees to obtain tickets to their event and encourage them to use other ticket distributors such as BandsInTown.  We desperately need competition in the ticket selling space to force Ticketmaster to rethink their outrageous fees.

Note that buying your tickets from a scalper is not the answer. nor is that competition.  Not only are you now paying Ticketmaster’s fees, you’re paying the scalper’s outrageous upcharge.  Again, scalpers are not competition to Ticketmaster, they are just there to mark up Ticketmaster’s already scalped prices.

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