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Unfair Business: Are You Being Gouged?

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Sacramento, CADoing good business, for most, has a lot to do with trust and reputation. The latter can take a lifetime to build up and mere seconds to destroy. Little wonder that so many business owners spend so much effort protecting a valued reputation. To be branded as someone who does unfair business they would find abhorrent.

But some people don't care. To them, the definition of good business is the pursuit of money and power, and they don't much care how many toes they have to step on, rules they have to break, or reputations they have to sully. Hey, it's just business. Who cares?

Consumers care, that's who. Every day, people slug it out in the trenches, trying to do their best for their families and looking for the best value for their money. And when juggernaut stores like Best Buy cheat them out of hard-earned dollars by engaging in knowingly deceptive advertising practices, consumers are crying foul, and some are even fighting back.

False and Misleading Advertising
Fred Greaves and Dave Gatley recently launched a lawsuit against the makers of MacBook, and MacBook Pro computers for false and misleading advertising. The class action suit alleges that Apple misrepresented products which, to get technical for a moment, use six bits for each of the red, green and blue sub pixels in display screens, allowing the MacBook and MacBook Pro a total of 262,144 colours. An impressive display, on the surface. However, to achieve the 'millions' of colours claimed in the product advertising, the notebooks would need eight bits per channel. That would translate to 16 million colours. Not a big deal for most of us. However, for an artist or photographer, colour separation can be a big issue, and for consumers paying top dollar for high-end MacBooks and MacBook Pro units expecting the 'millions of colours' promised in the advertising, it's a huge letdown.

Price-fixing and Anti-Trust
This is when businesses get into cahoots with one another to unfairly inflate, and fix a price that costs you money and removes fair competition from the marketplace. Sometimes businesses will co-operate in a friendly way - but not always. Sometimes a bully is at play.

Such was the case with Ryan E. Phillips and his company, Fill-Ups Food Stores III Inc. He reportedly owns 60 stores in Southwest Florida. Last May he was brought up on charges by then-Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, after Phillips was accused of bullying a nearby competitor into raising her gas prices three cents a gallon to match his. He continued to bully her into price fixing until her lease ran out, and he took over the location.

Just recently, a second lawsuit has been filed by the Florida Attorney General's Office.
And in 2005, the state Attorney General charged another gas station owner for price gouging in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis.

Credit cards a licence to print money for the credit companies
Dozens of unsavoury credit card practices are finally coming under scrutiny. In late May the Federal Reserve proposed a host of new regulations designed to strengthen disclosure rules.

That didn't come soon enough for a man in Sacramento. Dave Sullivan was quoted in the Washington Post as discovering his credit card was bought by another company, which then quietly raised his rate for no apparent reason from 10.99 per cent to 19.99 per cent.

Two practices the new regulations would target are universal default - where a credit card company can increase your rate automatically if you have defaulted on payment to another company, and interest rate hikes - indiscriminately, for any reason at any time.

There are many others.

What's equally frustrating is the need to gouge consumers with rates and policies, even though credit card companies are having an absolute heyday, clocking 10,000 transactions a second - a SECOND - worldwide. And yet the gouging continues, with policies ranging from payments going to debt with the lowest interest rate first, keeping debt at the highest rates in the pipeline for longer; over-limit charges, coupled to an automatic hike in the interest rate; due dates frequently falling on a Sunday, allowing many payments to be late - even if made the day before - as they are credited on the next BUSINESS day, which is Monday. You may have paid Saturday, but the bank doesn't see it until Monday, and as such your payment is shown as late, your credit history is affected, and your interest rate goes up.

As reported in the Washington Post, the president of the Chase credit card division was forced to apologize before a Senate subcommittee back in March for charging a customer $7,500 on a $3,200 debt.

According to the Post, interest rate gouging and other deceptive practices are, or have been practiced by all the major credit card companies.

We could quite easily bring them to their knees by cutting up our credit cards, and stop giving them the business.

Beyond that, if you feel that you, as a consumer, have been abused or defrauded by a credit card company or a business, you have two choices: walk away...

Or seek legal action. Too many of us are walking.

And they're getting away with it.

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