Tag Archives: consumer alert

Consumers Beware of ‘Impartial’ AntiVirus Software Reviews

For multiple years in a row, Bitdefender has received editor choice awards from many of the top tech journals, blogs, and product authorities.

Yet, our research indicates it may be the worst antivirus program available. Not long ago, they had an ‘F’ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Their rating is now up to a ‘C’ so they obviously aren’t earning their #1 position that so many reviewers are giving them.

In 2015, we reviewed their product and found so many problems with their customer service, website, and the product itself, it was completely too time consuming to continue using the product.

So, how is Bitdefender getting so many good reviews? Well, it could be a result of the paid commissions that the reviewers get for every sale they send to the company.

PC Magazine unceasingly awards Bitdefender their coveted Editor’s Choice award and Tom’s Guide currently rates Bitdefender the top Antivirus program in the world.

Let’s take the Tom’s Guide article as an example. There are multiple conflicts and problems with the review. First of all, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s illegal to include advertising in an article and not declare it as advertising. That article is a glaring text book case of this violation. Secondly, it’s illegal to be a blogger or describe yourself as an independent reviewer if you’re being paid by the company you are giving favor to in the review. This needs to be disclosed.

It’s unlikely that a formal arrangement was made with these reviewers, but the reviewers should do whatever they can to be fully transparent and disclose any financial gain they have from promoting a specific product.

The Tom’s Guide article contains paid affiliate links to the Bitdefender software. When you hover over the huge ad, the link below it discloses that it’s a Google Leads affiliate link as seen in the screen shot below.

20161028fr2312-bitdefender-antivirus-ad-graphic-black-background-showing-google-leads-758x562

The screen shot above shows the revealed link below the ad when a mouse pointer is hovered over the ad.

Notice also that AntiVirus is spelled AntiVius (with the ‘r’ missing’) in both of the huge ads found in the Tom’s Guide article.

20161028fr2312-bitdefender-antivirus-ad-graphic-gray-background-758x562

Antivirus software isn’t the only area consumers need to be leery of. Just about every product, service, and business review is potentially susceptible to being influenced either to make a positive or negative review based on who is paying them.

As always, buyer beware.

Slow Neat Receipts Cloud Software Results in Customer Complaints

Background

In the mid to late 1990s, Visioneer PaperPort was one of the first portable scanning solutions that included OCR (optical character recognition) to magically make your scanned documents searchable. By 2002, there was an increasing demand for an Apple Mac compatible solution, and Visioneer was committed to only supporting Windows. So, many people chose Neat Receipts as a solution when it was first introduced. As the Neat solution improved over the years, and cloud synchronization was added with mobile app support, Neat became the perfect document imaging product. PaperPort later became a product of Nuance.

Neat Captures The Market

Currently, the 4.5 version for Mac (5.7 for Windows) of the Neat software represents the pinnacle of excellence in terms of speed, reliability, and convenience.

With the ability to have separate locally stored libraries, the software could allow the user to maintain a long-term solution for document imaging. The software was fully compatible with the Apple OS X experience allowing Time Machine backup functionality and Spotlight searching capabilities.

After 14 years, given that the company has captured the market with a best-in-class solution, and demonstrated an upward climb with continuous improvement practices, one might ask: “What could go wrong?”

Neat Starting Over

After 14 years of building a loyal customer base, and refining an excellent scanning and document imaging solution, the leadership at Neat decided this might be a good time to scrap everything and start over. This has resulted in problems at every level in their company. (source)

Neat is abandoning the customer base and software that took 14 years to develop. The company has announced:

“As of March 1st, 2016, we will no longer be developing software updates for the retired software versions. Agent-assisted support for the retired software will end after April 30th, 2016. The installation files for retired versions of Neat will no longer be publicly available on our website.” (source)

The old software was so exceptional, they had to remove it from their site because it would compete with the new software. Perhaps some embedded patents or leased technology became cost prohibitive or licenses ran out. It’s unclear.

Customers who have been with Neat for more than a decade will barely recognize the new software or the new company. The leadership has changed. The employees have changed. The focus has changed from hardware (with free software) to a subscription-based software product. The software has changed significantly. It’s not a new version of the old software. It’s completely rewritten on an entirely different platform. It’s basically a new company. Only the name and color scheme of their brand remains.

The software is now up to version 1.4.2p4.2 as available on their website. This could be considered a beta version. Response times are very slow, and at least with the Mac version, the CPU will be heavily taxed when the program runs.

So, essentially, the company took an award winning hardware and software solution, and in a very short time have run it into the ground. This has resulted in thousands of disgruntled customers, and hundreds of 1-star ratings on ConsumerAffairs.com — a site that Neat pays to belong to.

Had the owners and employees of Neat simply taken a year off and done nothing, they would have been immensely better off than they are now. Instead, they are presently going through an internal meltdown and implosion, hemorrhaging employees and customers.

Instead of spending time and money on their problematic software, or unreliable iOS App, they seem to be investing in upgrading the appearance of their website and spending money on fake news coverage through sites like PRWeb where companies can pay people to write positive reviews about their products. To address the problems with their software, they are increasing their customer service call center staffing.

All of this, instead of just fixing the problems with their software that would have garnered them 5-star reviews and plenty of free word-of-mouth advertising. With thousands of upset customers, they are risking a class-action lawsuit.

This episode in Neat’s history is an exceptional textbook example of what companies should desperately avoid doing. Their example will be a useful learning tool for others.

Author’s Note

The point of providing the above history and review, is not necessarily to criticize Neat, but to emphasize this example for other companies as something to avoid. We plan to continue with Neat through the coming difficult months, providing product feedback, and hopefully seeing their resurgence on the other side of what promises to be a challenging time of transition.

Further Reading

Chase Bank Fraudulent Notification Phishing Email

This week fraudulent phishing emails were being distributed with the intention of obtaining login credentials for Chase Bank.

In the example is below, the screenshot was taken at the moment when the mouse was hovering over the chase.com link which reveals the true destination for the link.

20160201mo1940-chase-bank-online-fraud-fake-spam

HP Instant Ink: Ink replacement subscription service savings may be overstated

Instant Ink Subscription Problems

There are some significant shortcomings to the Instant Ink program that result in much consumer frustration and consumer complaints. This is unfortunate since HP printers are generally quite good, and those who don’t use the Instant Ink program are generally very satisfied with HP products. Here’s a short list of what’s wrong with the Instant Ink program and below is a description of what HP can do to fix these problems.

  • Fluctuating Print Needs. Those with varying print needs from one month to the next, or those who occasionally get a large print job, will not be satisfied with the Instant Ink program. Here’s why… Let’s say you get a huge print job to do that ends up causing you to run out of ink prior to when your replacement cartridges ship. You’ll be with a non-functional printer. If you go to the store to get more ink, you’ll find that ink doesn’t work. Some stores won’t take back those opened ink cartridges so you may lose over $100. Those who go for a month or more without using their printer, will still pay for that month. So, in other words, those who underuse or overuse their printers will ultimately pay more per page.
    • Note: This system is how mobile phone service contracts were in the past — with customers paying a really high price for their minutes of talk time over their limit, or paying a monthly fee regardless of how much or little they use their phone. The program was so disliked by consumers that the mobile phone industry had to change.
  • Owner Transfer. Let’s say you want to sell the printer at a yard sale or donate it. That printer will be useless unless you go through the process of deactivating the subscription ink program on it.
  • Service Deactivation. You can turn off web services, but you’ll still get billed for the instant ink program. You’ll need to follow the instructions on how to cancel HP Instant Ink service. You’ll be required to return your cartridges to HP. If you don’t know your HPInstantInk.com login information that will present an additional barrier. Perhaps it’s something you setup a year ago on an email account you no longer have access to. Plan to spend some time on the phone with HP.

Some simple steps below describe what HP should do to fix these issues.

What Should HP Do?

The subscription plan in its current form is about as annoying as mobile phone service contracts or lease vehicles where you estimate your usage ahead of time. Inevitably there’s some waste or money lost. HP should really make some tweaks to this program and roll out a new version that offers the following:

  • Automatic. Like the current plan, automatic orders are placed based on when your ink is starting to run low, but HP could just send out regular ink cartridges, not special cartridges.
  • Economical. Let there be a 30% savings on each ink cartridge purchased, not some imaginary potential savings on charges per page printed.
  • Fair & Green. You pay for ink, not pages, so you can be rewarded for responsible printing choices such as less page coverage and using draft mode. This is fair and promotes more sustainable practices.
  • Non-Program Ink. Allow for standard HP cartridges to be used in the printer as well as subscription cartridges. This would provide a HUGE benefit to the customer and would cost HP nothing. It would actually result in a win-win because the customer would be happy and there could still be profit from retail sales of cartridges.

The emphasis would be on the convenience, while delivering sufficient savings to motivate consumers to choose the subscription service. The above suggestions would resolve all the remaining problems and customer complaints found on the rest of this page.

What Consumers Can Do To Save on Ink

If you really want to save on ink, you should get a printer like the HP OfficeJet 8710 and purchase extended life capacity cartridges from the store and always keep extras on hand, ordering more when your backup ink supply runs out. It’s that simple. The reason you’ll want a business-class OfficeJet printer is because the low-end home consumer HP printers typically use just two ink cartridges (one black and one tri-color cartridge). Run low on blue ink? You’ll need to replace the entire color cartridge system. The smaller cartridges seem to be more prone to drying out. However, the cost of printing when using a business-class printer is reduced because they use separate color ink cartridges (not combined in one) so individual ink can be replaced. Also, the XL cartridges offer many pages of printing per cartridge.

For those having trouble with the HP Instant Ink program, the remainder of this document, originally written in 2015, is provided below for reference.


A Monthly Subscription Plan for Ink

Hewlett Packard (HP) recently launched a new subscription service for printer ink that’s based on a cost per page rather than the cost per ink cartridge. Your printer communicates your number of pages printer with HP and you’re billed 3 to 6 cents per page for ink consumed. They claim that the service can save you hundreds of dollars per year as shown in the chart below:

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-service-subscription-cost-savings-per-year

The program seems like an amazing deal. However, if you take a closer look at the cost estimates, it’s clear that the savings are exaggerated.

Sustainability Efforts Haven’t Gone Far Enough

HP offers extended capacity (XL) ink cartridges for lower printing costs and to reduce waste. Presumably that’s the maximum amount of ink you can fit in a cartridge.

Yet, apparently they’ve been holding out on us.

Take another look at the chart above. Notice the statement: “Our cartridges have more ink than HP XL ink cartridges…”

So, all along, HP could have been putting a few more pennies worth of ink in those cartridges, reducing our carbon footprint, saving a trip to the store, and saving money. Yet, instead, it turns out that their XL cartridges don’t hold the maximum amount of ink. That’s apparently reserved for the customers who pay for the monthly plan.

HP Overstates Potential Savings

For example, the HP Officejet Pro 8630 uses the 950 series of ink cartridges. If, like most people, you print mostly using black ink, you can purchase a black ink cartridge for $38 that will yield 2,300 pages.

20150725sa-hp-950xl-high-yield-black-ink-2300-pages-output

That’s about 1.5 cents per page, or $54 per year for the 3,600 pages that HP says could cost you $792. That’s way below the annual amount claimed by HP in their promotional materials. Even the ink subscription ‘savings’ plan of $120 per year is over 100% more than what you’d pay just buying about one extra capacity cartridge per year.

Let’s say you use black ink and color inks equally. That’s very unlikely, but let’s say that’s what you do. Then you’ll spend about $120 for a set of four which might yield 1,500 to 2,300 pages. That’s still only 8 cents per page at the lowest estimated yield.

HP is claiming you’ll spend $792 a year on ink to print 3,600 pages. That’s 22 cents per page for ink. That’s virtually impossible regardless of what printer you’re using. Even if you’re printing hundreds of 8.5×11″ portrait photos (which most people aren’t).

If you use the black only setting, and the draft option whenever possible, your print yield will be much higher. Combine that with purchasing XL (extended capacity) cartridges, and you actually could save hundreds of dollars on ink.

Promise of 50% Savings Not Accurate

In the marketing materials, HP states that you can save 50% on the cost of ink. At first glance, any reasonable person would assume that you’d be purchasing ink at a savings of 50%. That should be achievable given that subscription services for products are typically more economical, and if HP is ‘cutting out the middle man’ it seems that a 50% savings off of retail prices might be possible. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the subscription plan in this case could cost 100% more rather than 50% less.

What’s strange is that some of the marketing materials promise 50% savings. Yet, elsewhere, like the chart above, the savings are more like 85% ($120 instead of $792). Why would the representation of savings be so different?

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-subscription-cost-savings-claim-50-percent

You Pay Even When You Don’t Use Ink

On the subscription plan, you pay every month, even if you’ve printed nothing. HP claims that unused pages on your plan ‘rollover’ just like a mobile phone company. However, there’s a limit and the credits don’t accumulate beyond one month. For example, if you’re on the 50 pages per month plan, you can roll over 50 pages to the next month. Then you loose those credits after a month. You’ll never accumulate more than 100 pages total.

You can cancel any time, but will people really remember to cancel when they go on vacation and then reinstate the program when they return?

What about mis-printing, when you mistakenly have a page with just one word print. With HP,  you’ll pay as if the page was covered with words or pictures.

What about printing on smaller pieces of paper, like 5×7 size pages for photos? Presumably you’ll pay the same as if you’re printing 80% coverage on legal size 8.5 x 14″ pages.

The monthly fees are shown below.

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-service-cost-savings

Who is the Program For?

Like a buffet for big eaters, the people who really save money on the subscription plan are those who regularly fill the page with colored ink. It’s well suited for people who use more than the average amount of colored ink consistently and have significant page coverage. These people might only get 1000 pages yield per XL cartridge. So, they might save money on the $10 per month plan (for example).

HP really needs to create a simple online calculator to help consumers determine if this program is right for them. The statement of saving is really arbitrary. The savings will be different depending on a user’s typical printing needs.

Intentional Misrepresentation to Persuade Consumers?

Unfortunately, it seems that HP is engaged in misleading representations about the annual ink costs in an effort to encourage people to pay for a service they may not really want if they knew the savings weren’t that great.

Why Not Switch to Another Brand?

Whenever we’re dissatisfied with a company, there’s always the option to switch to another, right? Well, that’s not so with printers.

Other printer manufacturers aren’t any better.

At least in HP high-end inkjet printers, the ink cartridges are tightly sealed which extends their life during non use. With other brands of printers, the ink and/or print heads can dry out after a month or two of non-use. Other manufacturers use separate components for printing heads and ink tanks. This means it’s possible to overrun print heads causing them to dry out or otherwise perform poorly. HP all-in-one devices such as the Officejet 8630 have very fast scan times — about 3 seconds per page for 300 dpi high quality color. Other scanners sometimes take 10 seconds just to ‘warm up’ and then another 10 seconds or more to scan a page. HP printers are built solid. For all of these reasons, it’s not possible (or at least not practical) to switch to another brand of printer.

 


Case Updates

Below are updates regarding this case.

  • Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 @ 5:12 AM CT. We continue to receive numerous consumer complaints to our page about this program. We’ve revised this page so at the top are a brief listing of the main problems with the HP Instant Ink program, and also a short simple list of how all these problems could go away by a few changes to the ink subscription program.
  • Saturday, 26 July 2015 @ 1:14 AM CT. We contacted HP using the Senior Vice President feedback page and provided a synopsis of the above information.
  • Monday, 27 July 2015 @ 9:50 AM CT. We received a call from HP Case Management in response to our communication yesterday. The case manager was very polite and appreciated the feedback about the ink subscription program marketing materials. They said this case would be escalated.
  • Sunday, 22 November 2015 @ 7:25 AM CT. We noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook that continues to promise in at 50% off (see below). So, apparently nothing has been done yet about their advertising campaign.
    201511sssu0725-hp-automatic-order-ink-50-percent-savings

SCAM ALERT: Caller from 619-555-0150, Windows Technical Department

At 3:34 PM Central Time on Wednesday, 22 July 2015, someone claiming to be with the Windows Technical Department was calling people in an attempt to gain access to computers presumably for the purpose of, installing malware, stealing passwords, and getting credit card information. The caller had a strong Indian accent, and claimed to be calling from California.

The caller claimed that they had been monitoring the user’s computer and that for two weeks some viruses were showing up.

If you receive a call from someone saying they are with Microsoft, or claiming to be with Windows, or with the Windows Technical Department, don’t interact with them. Hang up immediately.

Republic Wireless and the Motorola Moto X Motomaker

Update: 26 November 2014

This article had previously been titled “Republic Wireless Misleads Consumers About Motorola Moto X Motomaker.” However, on 26 November 2014, Republic Wireless made a public announcement stating that they would soon be supporting the second generation Moto X phone through their own site and through the Motorola MotoMaker page.

20141128fr-republic-wireless-motorola-motomaker-moto-x-2nd-generation

 

Background

Since the original posting of the article below on September 30, continuing through October and November, we contacted Republic Wireless and Motorola about the concerns expressed below. Representatives at Motorola seemed concerned and stated they would escalate this issue. Absent any official statement from either company, we can’t know what impact we had on bringing this clarification about, but we’re thankful that Republic Wireless is now acknowledging the existence of the Motorola Moto X 2nd generation phone and the MotoMaker program.

* * *

Moto X Moto Maker is NOT Discontinued

If you do a Google search for Republic Wireless Moto Maker, you’ll find over 300,000 results. The top results are for the Republic Wireless page that informs consumers about the Moto Maker program.

20141023th-republic-wireless-moto-maker-google-search

If you visit the  Moto X page on the Republic Wireless website, you’ll see in big print that the phone can be customized, and there’s a bright green button that states, “Design your Moto X Now.” (Click image below to enlarge).

20141023th-republic-wireless-design-your-moto-x-now

If you click on that button, you’ll be taken to a page with this statement on their website:

Customizable Moto Maker options for Moto X have ended as of 9/23/14. Normally this page would tell you you’re leaving Republic Wireless to go build your very own Moto X on Moto Maker. But! All the Moto X Moto Maker phones are sold out. No more. Done-zo. All gone. Finito. (source)

20141023th-republic-wireless-design-your-moto-x-now-discontinued

This statement would lead people to believe that the customizable Moto X design is no longer available. That’s just not true, as can be seen on the Motorola Moto Maker web page.

Honesty is the Best Policy

It would be more honest and transparently informative to simply state the following:

“The Motorola MotoMaker program is still alive and well. However, we just don’t currently have that as an option at Republic Wireless. So, if you’re really set on buying a customized Motorola phone, you can still do so, but you must use another wireless provider. We hope to offer these in the future, but can’t promise anything.”

For some people, their device of choice is really the deal breaker/maker and they will choose a carrier accordingly. Many people who chose the iPhone early on when it was first offered, had to switch carriers to AT&T in order to use that device. People switched by the millions. They cared more about the device than they did the service provider.

Republic Wireless needs to do the right thing, and let consumers know that the MotoMaker option is still available, just not with them as a carrier.

Poor Customer Service Experience

If you try to engage in a chat session with customer service at Republic Wireless,  you’ll likely be mistreated. At least that was my experience (see transcript below). In fact, had the customer service person been a little less defensive, this article might not even have been written.

Here’s the customer service chat exchange from today at 1:43 PM inquiring about this issue:

Republic Wireless (Brandon)

Hi, How may I help you?

Customer

On this page, you prominently advertise the Moto X and the ability to customize it: https://republicwire…blicwireless.com/ip/moto-maker

There’s a button that says, “Design Your Moto X Now”

Clicking on the button takes you here:
https://republicwire…cwireless.com/info/moto-maker/

Here’s the statement on that page:

Customizable Moto Maker options for Moto X have ended as of 9/23/14. Normally this page would tell you you’re leaving Republic Wireless to go build your very own Moto X on Moto Maker. But! All the Moto X Moto Maker phones are sold out. No more. Done-zo. All gone. Finito.

Republic Wireless (Brandon)

We recently stopped the Moto Maker option. If you go onto our main page you will see that the link is not there anymore. It ended on Sept 23

Customer

… but Moto Maker wasn’t an option on your site, it was and still is an option on the Motorola site. The statement is a bit misleading.

For those really wanting a customized Motorola phone, it is actually still available.

Telling the truth may result in your losing customers, but it’s the right thing to do.

Republic Wireless (Brandon)

I am telling you the truth. The Moto Maker option through Republic ended on Sept. 23

Customer

What I’m saying is that the statement on your site is a bit misleading, that’s all.

Some people really like the idea of making a custom phone. They will be lead to believe that option isn’t available any more. So, they will just go ahead and get a non-customized phone through Republic Wireless. Then later, they will find out that they could have had that amazing customized phone they really wanted, but they would have had to go with another carrier. This is the point left our on your website.

All I’m saying is that for those customers who forgo the customized phone, believing (from reading on your site that it’s no longer available), those people will feel mislead.

Your statement should read, “You can still customize your own Moto X phone, but if you do, you’ll need to find another carrier. Republic Wireless only offers two designs (black and white) of the Moto X.” It’s really just that simple. Just let people know that there’s another option.

Republic Wireless (Brandon)

Thanks for insight. However, if you click on the link, we are not misleading. We are making it clear that Moto Maker option is not available through Republic as well as giving you the date. Also, we are allowing you to sign up for updates in case the option becomes available with future devices.

Brandon has closed the chat.

Rude Customer Service Person

While I was typing a reply, the chat was abruptly ended by the customer service representative (Brandon). This is the equivalent of hanging up the phone on someone.

Republic Wireless Website

The image below is a snapshot from the Moto Maker page on the Republic Wireless website from 30 September 2014 at 2:00 PM CT. They are leaving their Moto Maker landing page live, presumably to bring in search traffic, then misleading people into believing the Moto Maker is discontinued. Click the image for a larger view.

20140930tu-republic-wireless-motorola-moto-x-motomaker-discontinued

Republic Wireless Statement

After Tweeting about this issue, using the @republicwireless tag, there was an immediate response from the company via a direct Twitter message stating the following:

“Not even sure where to start with that one. 1st Gen Moto X phones were sold out on the Moto Maker site. They have since been replaced with 2nd Gen Moto X options available for pre-order through certain carriers. Regardless – Moto X phones on Moto Maker with RW service are currently unavailable. While we may understandably be in one of the most hated industries known to man we’re a small startup of people trying to disrupt said industry b/c we feel the same pain points with it you do.”

That said, apologies you were left unsatisfied with you chat session. Brandon is one of our favs and we’re glad to talk.

Public Interest

There’s significant interest in this issue as represented by the hundreds of people visiting this page. Recent visits (as of 10 November 2014) are represented on the maps below. Click an image for a larger gallery view.

Misleading Advertising for Seagate External Hard Drive

If you search on Amazon for an external hard drive, among those listed will be the Seagate model shown below, a 2TB drive for $80. That would be a great price, except for one missing detail.

Notice in this presentation of the product, it’s shown with a portable computer and no power cord is being used for either device. That’s actually quite common for smaller external portable hard drives. In fact, a power cord is very undesirable since portable use is often in places where there’s not an available power outlet. The product photos provided on Amazon for this drive show every conceivable angle, except the view that would show you the USB and power cord jacks.

In reality, this Seagate hard drive requires a power cord to operate. So, in this regard, the presentation below is misleading or false advertising (by implication). This explains the lower price. The only indication that the drive requires power is a short comment in the features stating, “Power supply and USB 3.0 cable included.” It doesn’t even indicate that it’s a required power supply.

Truly portable external drives that operate on USB power only will be more expensive. For example, Western Digital has a 2TB drive for $114 on sale that is truly portable.

20140708tu-seagate-expansion-2tb-external-hard-drive

South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission Impacts U.S. Software Returns

For years, some retailers have falsely claimed that they can’t provide a refund for software products because a federal law prohibits returns of software.

Most consumers don’t know any better, so they take a loss on software that’s been falsely advertised, poorly written, or not compatible with their computer.

South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has ordered Apple to change their “no-refund” policy for software sold through the App store:

Apple and Google have been ordered by South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission to revise their “no-refund” app store policies in addition to a number of other provisions, reports The Korea Herald. In response to the ruling, Apple reportedly stated that it would consider applying a revised App Store policy worldwide, with Korean officials requiring that Apple send a notice users when its terms and conditions have changed.

(Read More…)

20140706su-apple-app-store-software-return-refund-policy

Iowa City Online Ticket Payment System is Misleading and Confusing

20140214fr-iowa-city-parking-ticket-online-payment-fail-500x500

Introduction

The Iowa City Parking Ticket Citation Online Payment System has a database lookup feature that can search all parking tickets based on citation number or license plate number.

For most people, when you search on your license plate, the current citation(s) will show up and you can pay them online.

However, someone who is leasing a vehicle will receive the following notification without any further explanation:

The following violation(s) were found for the information you entered as well as any other license plates on your record. Select the citations you would like to pay and click “Next >>”

The report may show many entries for every vehicle with a citation from that same leasing company. An example is found at the bottom of this page.

Poor Online User Experience

Here’s the typical consumer experience when encountering the above message:

  1. The person attempting to pay their parking ticket will at first be confused and surprised by the large number of outstanding parking tickets the system seems to be saying are due.
  2. Upon closer examination, the person will see that the many tickets are for numerous vehicles.
  3. Assuming the system has been hacked, or isn’t working properly, they will probably contact the city for more information (increasing support calls and emails to city workers).
  4. If they email the city, clearly explaining the above problem, they will receive an email reply stating: “I have deleted that email address from our system, so you should be able to create a new account and pay any outstanding tickets online. If you have any other questions or concerns, please call our office at 319-356-5151 option 2.”
  5. Assuming the problem is now fixed, the person will again, enter their plate number, but the same results will come up as before.
  6. The person will need to call the city again for clarification, by calling the number provided in step #4 and then pressing 2.
  7. They will then be told that they must manually search through all the citations (perhaps many pages of them) to find their own (listed by vehicle license plate number).
  8. Then they must manually UNCHECK all the citations that aren’t theirs – because there isn’t an uncheck all option.
  9. Then the can proceeded to pay only their citation.

The above example shows how inefficient and confusing the existing system is.

Misleading

Under the current system, some people, who aren’t paying close attention, may end up paying old citations for other people. For example, when  you query the database and request that it show you what tickets you owe, and it produces a list, you may just go ahead and pay those tickets if just a few are listed. You’ll probably assume you got a ticket sometime and forgot to pay or the ticket blew away before you returned to the vehicle. You will be unwittingly paying someone else’s tickets that are listed among your own. Having all citations checked by default increases the chances of this happening. A syndical person may conclude that the system was intentionally designed to mislead consumers into mistakenly paying old unpaid citations that are on the books for other drivers.

Privacy Issues

In addition to the inconveniences, inefficiencies, and confusion listed above, there is a privacy issue because people unwittingly are having their vehicle parking citation information exposed to anyone in the public who happens to type in that person’s license plate number or a plate from any vehicle from the same leasing company. With the current system, all you need is a person’s license plate number to discover every ticket they have been issued and not paid.

Outdated Citations

The system is retaining and displaying information as far back as 6 years old. At some point, an unpaid parking ticket, perhaps for a student who has long-since moved to another state, should be removed from the books and written off as a loss. In the case of rental car companies, municipalities will assess a fee to the entity that owns the vehicle, and it’s up to that company to track down and fine the responsible party. However, a municipality trying to track down the owner of a leased or rented vehicle from many years ago is just inefficient.

Best Practices

Here are some suggestions for a better online parking ticket / citation payment system:

  1. Display only the tickets for the license plate searched on and not others from the same leasing company.
  2. Provide an option for leasing company representatives where they can view all citations on their vehicles.
  3. If a system displays multiple citations, they should not all be checked by default, and there should be an option to select all or unselect all.
  4. If a listing is showing other vehicles that are part of a leasing company, then it should be clearly stated, “”Vehicles listed may not be your own. They may be part of a fleet or owned by a leasing company, with unpaid citations going back almost 7 years.”
  5. Some privacy and multi-factor authentication measures should be put in place so that only the vehicle owner can view their own parking tickets.

Database Search Results Sample

Below is an actual page from the search results. The citation numbers and plate numbers have been slightly modified from the originals to maintain anonymity of the owners. Search results like this one are easily obtained by entering any vehicle associated with a leasing company.

Citation Number Issue Date Plate Number Violation Balance Can Pay Online?
622221 07/25/2008 403PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
367153 06/28/2008 796SQL-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
361849 05/10/2008 560TAF-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
755677 03/20/2008 621RNL-IA EXPIRED METER $5.00 Yes
356332 03/10/2008 189PLE-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620726 06/26/2008 405PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620717 06/24/2008 401PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
300811 11/17/2007 198PLE-IA PROHIBITED ZONE $15.00 Yes
09B000729 10/23/2008 221PIZ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
09G000144 10/30/2008 563TSZ-IA LIB USE ONLY $10.00 Yes
09D006474 12/16/2008 842TTD-IA NO PARKING 8AM-5PM $15.00 Yes
326353 01/06/2009 862TTD-IA PRIVATE PROPERTY $15.00 Yes
11W016502 06/15/2011 645XQC-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $5.00 Yes
12F005376 04/13/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $10.00 Yes
12W017659 06/30/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $15.00 Yes
10P047264 08/26/2013 848ZKG-IA ALLEY PARKING. $20.00 Yes
14F002836 09/26/2013 188SFT-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14W005259 11/20/2013 748LYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $10.00 Yes
14M006381 11/21/2013 ASL369-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14M007246 12/12/2013 848ZIG-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003624 12/30/2013 RIBSA1-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003937 01/11/2014 133TMR-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14M008692 01/15/2014 837VHP-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14H004519 01/20/2014 V4588-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14W005197 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14W007234 01/22/2014 AZF555-IA EXPIRED METER. $15.00 Yes
14W007647 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14M009300 01/25/2014 BKK120-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009528 01/31/2014 AQE657-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009547 02/01/2014 AQE857-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes

XBOX ONE Review and Best Buy Consumer Advisory

20140111sa-xbox-one-product-review-640x300

Summary

This article was intended to simply be a product review, but for reasons you’ll soon read about, the product was returned. So, the following article goes beyond simply a review of the product and includes the entire purchase, setup, usage, and return experience for the XBOX ONE. 

Current Status

  • 11 January 2013. This article was drafted and posted to document the problematic sales and service experience at Best Buy Store #21 in Coralville, Iowa. The General Manager was notified by email of this report, and an additional request for a refund was made.
    • RESOLUTION: The General Manager responded promptly by email stating, “I appologize for the situation that happened to you while in the store. Yes, normally we can not give refunds for software, however; I believe in your case, it seems only fit to ensure the refund is given back to you for the software, especially because you were led to believe this would and be the case.” A full refund was issued and the complaint filed with American Express has been closed.

Previous Notes

  • 10 January 2013. The initial complaint was made with store manager as described below. American Express was contacted immediately and a formal complaint was filed. An investigation is now underway to examine this case. That investigation will be dropped if a refund is issued by the store.

Purchase Experience

Having been inspired by the recent trend in fitness options for gaming systems, my wife and I decided to get an XBOX ONE. We liked what we heard about how the Kinect sensor system would track body movement making controllers unnecessary. We chose to purchase the system at Best Buy in Coralville, Iowa. Our frequent purchases at Best Buy have allowed us to attain Elite Membership, which has some advantages. Here are some highlights from the purchase experience:

  • Misrepresentation #1 – The Bundle Savings. The two sales people we were working with told us that we could save $300 if we purchased the Epic Gaming Package. At a cost of about $300, this would put the retail value of the bundle at $600. Adding the bundle to our purchase would put our total purchase price at around $800. The bundle would include the XBOX ONE, a second controller, two games, two years of XBOX LIVE, a two-year warranty, and membership in the Best Buy Gamer’s Club.
    • FACT: As we added up the cost of a controller, two games, and the other items included in the bundle, we couldn’t quite see how those extra items could be valued at $600. Yet, the sales people promised that the savings added up to about $300. It was only later that we checked the Best Buy website and discovered the published savings is only $109.93. That was an unpleasant surprise. Nobody likes to be lied to. We should have been suspicious when they didn’t give us any paperwork that actually documented what’s in the bundle.
  • Misrepresentation #2 – The Return Policy. Because the XBOX ONE is new, we were a little reluctant to make such a big purchase without the assurance that we could return it if we didn’t like it. I’d read some mixed reviews, but wanted to experience it first hand. The two sales people we were working with both promised that we could return the system within 15 days of purchase. As one always does, we asked again, multiple times, “So, we can bring everything back and get a full refund, right?” They both repeatedly affirmed that we could get a full refund.
    • FACT: When we later attempted to return a bundle and get a full refund we were told we couldn’t get our money back on the games. So, after being disatisfied with the XBOX ONE, we had the additional disappointment of losing about $90. More about that later.
  • Misrepresentation #3 – The XBOX ONE Experience. The sales people we were working with claimed to be experienced avid gamers. They described the XBOX ONE as a very advanced gaming experience, and really hyped up the product as being something amazing. Having had some experience with computer-based games, I figured this would be much better. They described the user interface as being similar to Windows 8, but instead of using a touch screen, hand gestures are used to navigate. Having been an early adopter of Windows 8, and generally being a tech geek immersed in a variety of user interfaces over the past 30+ years, I figured it wouldn’t take long to catch on to the XBOX ONE user interface.
    • FACT: I’m one of the few people who likes Windows 8 and regularly use various operating systems without a problem. The XBOX ONE was very confusing and non-intuitive to setup and use. More about that later.
  • Misrepresentation #4 – The Game Quality. We asked the sales people for some advice about what games to purchase. One of the games recommended was the Forza Motorsport 5 auto racing game. They said it would really show off the full capabilities of the XBOX ONE.
    • FACT: While the sales people can’t be responsible for the quality of the games, they should describe them as honestly as possible. The Forza 5 game had very noticeable video rendering issues, and to play the game, each player needed to wait through what seemed to be a lengthy advertisement for the auto manufacturers with flowery language. Having played other racing games before, I was very disappointed with the quality.
  • Incorrect Checkout. We got to the point in the setup of the XBOX ONE where we were asked for the XBOX LIVE activation code. We dug through all our paperwork, but couldn’t find the code. We called the store, and were made to feel like fools by a person who told us that the number would be on our receipt. We called back again after not finding the number, but were told that nobody in the store could help us and we’d need to wait until the game manager was working. The next day, we finally talked to a manager who, after a lengthy phone call, determined that our order was rung up incorrectly and the 2-year XBOX LIVE membership was left off the order. It would take that manager an additional 30 minutes to correct the problem, so they offered to call back. Eventually we got the phone call and were provided with the code. So, our setup of the XBOX was delayed by a day.

It was only later that the above misrepresentations and the error with our checkout were obvious.

Setup Experience

Here are some highlights from the setup experience:

  • Poor Input System. The initial setup of the XBOX ONE was guided, but tedious since it was necessary to use the joystick on the game controller to enter all of the required information letter by letter.
  • Non-Intuitive User Accounts. Then we got to the screen asking for an Outlook.com account. We figured this would be the account tied to the system for software purchases and cloud services. So, we setup a shared Outlook.com account. We soon found out that each account is intended for only one person, and this is the basis for the human recognition system (the system recognizes you visually). So, we deleted the shared account, and setup two separate user accounts.
  • Missing XBOX LIVE Membership. The setup was complicated by the fact that the sales person didn’t provide us with the XBOX LIVE membership code, which they acknowledged during the sale is required by many games.

User Experience

Here are some highlights from the user experience:

  • Kinect. Once the Kinect system was configured, hand gestures were available. Yet, the accuracy of the sensor was not very good, and despite moving slowly, the hand/pointer would sometimes move erratically. It simply wasn’t precise enough.
  • Noise. The main XBOX ONE and the Kinect have fans in them for cooling. These are somewhat noisy, and surprisingly, even when the unit is turned off, they continue to make noise.
  • Power On Requirement. If you want to take advantage of the recognition system, and have the XBOX recognize you when you come in the room, then you’ll want to leave it on. As mentioned above, this results in having additional noise all the time, as well as ongoing power consumption. If you turn off the unit, as we discovered, it requires that you put in your wireless password again. At least for us, it didn’t automatically reconnect, even after waiting a while.
  • Privacy. The Kinect module has a camera and microphones that are always on and monitoring you. This is something that most people will feel uncomfortable about, especially since we know that even when cameras and microphones are turned off they can be turned on and accessed by hackers. How much easier to do this if these are left on all the time.
  • Two Player Mode.  The Forza Motorsport 5 auto racing game is supposed to be the best available game to demonstrate the XBOX ONE capabilities and use. In most video games, you start the game and one of the first questions is whether you’re playing one or two player. With this game it was necessary to watch a lengthy intro video, and then being the process of racing in single user mode. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to get to a main menu or switch into two player mode. Selecting Help from the menu resulted in a snapped split-screen with a help menu on the right, but no way to select from that help menu or switch over to it. So, the on-screen help was useless. It was almost impossible to figure out two player mode. Attempts to switch from the game to the help window didn’t work. Most google results produced stories of people not having any success with two-player mode. We somehow managed to discover two player mode by navigating to a difficult to find main menu and clicking on Free Game. The it was necessary to click specific buttons on each controller to start the game properly. If Forza 5 is really supposed to be the flagship optimal demonstration of the XBOX ONE experience, then it reveals how poor the interface and user experience were. There were also some odd graphic rendering anomalies which resulted in a poor visual experience.
  • Cost of Ownership. The ongoing cost of ownership might not become apparent until you get a chance to explore the menu of downloadable games and see the prices. Paying XBOX LIVE membership of about $50 per year, plus the Best Buy Gamers Club Unlocked membership at about $60 per year, plus about $50 or more per game, the cost of ownership can be high.
  • Emphasis on Violence-Centric Games. The games available are predominantly fighting games with violent themes.

Return Experience

You won’t be surprised to learn that after the above experiences, we decided to take the XBOX ONE back to the store for a refund. Here are some highlights from the return experience:

  1. The customer service employee kindly proceeded to process our entire return without any difficulty. We only had the unit four days, and had our receipt. So, we didn’t anticipate any difficulty. Yet, just before completing the return, the person told us that there would be a little problem with the return. We asked what the problem was, and we were told that he couldn’t give us a refund for the software. We explained that we were promised a full refund for the entire bundle if we were dissatisfied. He said he could only give us a partial refund for the games. We asked to see his manager.
  2. The sales manager came, and refused to give us any refund at all for the games. So, instead of getting a partial refund for the games (as was suggested by the first person), we were now told that we could get no refund for the games. We explained that we were repeatedly promised a full refund option at the time of sale. We asked to see her manager.
  3. Finally the store manager came and told us that Federal Law prohibits them from giving a refund on software and if he gave a refund he’d lose his job. Despite our obvious frustration, he was unwilling to “make things right” and refused to offer us any accommodation. He went on to say that people sometimes buy software, copy it, and then sell it on the black market after returning the originals to the store — essentially implying that we might have done that.

Such a policy clearly places consumers at a disadvantage in cases where software or games are not accurately portrayed by sales people or in marketing materials. As consumers, with every other product and service we buy, there’s an expectation that it’s possible to get a refund if we’re not satisfied. Otherwise, customers would be stuck with a poor quality product and have no remedy for getting their money back.

As fate would have it, in my role as a consumer advocacy consultant, I represented a client in a dispute with that same Best Buy store back in September of 2008. The dispute was with the manager of the store (I believe it was the same manager at that time) who claimed that a Federal Law prohibited them from providing a refund for software. In working with the Federal Trade Commission, I was able to prove that no such law existed, and we were able to get a full refund for the opened software. At that time, Best Buy representatives promised that they would no longer strong-arm customers with fear tactics and false statements as a way to avoid honoring legitimate returns. It seems like they are back to their old tactics.

So, as you might imagine, standing at the same customer service counter over five years later, being lied to again about a non-existent Federal Law governing software returns, I was very upset. I’m hopeful this will get resolved promptly and we’ll get the refund we were originally promised. The outcome of this situation will be posted at the top of this article.