Search

Search

Pages

Categories

Popuar Topics

Search

Categories

Main menu:

Tags

Weblogs of Interest

Blue Bunny Doesn’t Want To Talk About Ingredients

[See the update below for the latest on this story]

It’s taken me far too long but I’m finally “awake.” I was just like most average folks out there who believed that the food that lined supermarket shelves was safe to eat. A lot has happened in the food industry over the last decade or three and now that I’m beginning to understand exactly what it is that has been going on, I’m much more careful about the choices I make at the supermarket.

I’ve sworn off harmful food ingredients such as corn syrup, especially “high fructose corn syrup” and have cut down on my sugar intake. I’m also avoiding genetically-modified food, commonly referred to as GMO. I’m tired of being a human lab rat for the food industry and am doing all I can to avoid the potentially harmful ingredients that are being used to produce our food these days.

That brings me to “Blue Bunny” ice cream. Since I avoid dairy products that were produced using rGBH or “bovine recombinant growth hormone,” and various antibiotics used by diary farmers (especially the big factory farms) it’s challenging – if not impossible – to find ice cream in the supermarket that is advertised as being free from those things like many brands of milk now are.

About three weekends ago we were shopping at a local supermarket for some ice cream. As I checked the labels on the various brands that were in stock I was finding the ingredients I expected to find such as corn syrup (including high-fructose corn syrup) and other unnatural ingredients such as Polysorbate 80 and artificial colors.

I started to read the labels on the various flavors of “Blue Bunny” brand ice cream and was surprised to learn that their “Premium All Natural Vanilla” was made with ingredients that appeared to be more traditional and lacked all the stuff I was avoiding. The ingredients were listed as follows:

Milk, Cream, Sugar, Skim Milk, Grade A Nonfat Dry Milk, Egg Yolks, Natural Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Beans.

Not bad, I thought to myself, and we bought a couple of containers of it. I used to be able to say “half-gallon” instead of “container” but since the industry has moved away from selling us a true half-gallon, I can’t use that term. The container is one cup short of a half-gallon but consumers pay as much or more than we used to for a true half-gallon.

The container did proudly bear the words “2 More Scoops,” but I guess that’s kind of like saying “we’re not ripping you off quite as much as we were before.” Gee, thanks. I feel so much better about getting gouged.

Anyway, after we got the ice cream home I started to wonder. Sure, the list of ingredients look pretty good especially since they made the extra effort to squeeze the word “natural” in there. But, I wondered, does “Blue Bunny” use milk and cream that is free of rGBH and antibiotics? Since this particular flavor is called “Premium All Natural Vanilla” (emphasis mine), it seemed like it should be free of those things. After all a “natural” cow isn’t out in the field shooting itself up with grown hormones and antibiotics!

I decided to go directly to the source. As most companies do these days, they listed their company website on the container and as you’ll find on most company websites, there was a “Contact Us” section so that consumers could share their thoughts and ask questions about their products.

I typed in my question about whether or not their products were made with dairy products that were free of rGBH and antibiotics and successfully submitted my query. I had hoped to receive a response via e-mail within a few days.

Well, it’s been more than three weeks and I have not heard a word from “Blue Bunny.” I’m not terribly surprised because I have submitted similar queries to other companies using their website and most of the time I never receive a reply.

Without an official response from the company, I can only assume that “Blue Bunny” does use dairy products that come from cows that are treated with rGBH and antibiotics. To be clear, I don’t know that for sure, but my choice is to play it safe and assume that stuff is in there, especially since the dairy producers that don’t use those things are quite anxious to boast about the lack of those things right on the label of the milk and cream that we use.

So thanks “Blue Bunny.” Your reluctance to answer a simple question about your products speaks volumes to me and we will not be purchasing your products unless we find out that your products are free of rGBH and antibiotics.

Here’s a little tip for those of you who might be making an effort to seek out foods that are not contaminated with various potentially harmful ingredients. The words “All Natural” or “Organic” on a package mean nothing. In most cases, it’s just word games that the food industry uses to trick consumers into believing that their products are wholesome, natural and made with ingredients that exclude all those nasty additives more and more people want to avoid. I’ll likely have more to say on that subject in the future.

If you want to find out what’s really going on in the food industry these days, I highly recommend checking out documentaries such as Farmageddon and Food, Inc.

Update: Thanks to a helpful reader, I now believe I have the answer to whether or not Blue Bunny uses dairy products that contain artificially-high levels of rGBH to produce their ice cream. The reader managed to get in touch with someone from “Blue Bunny Consumer Response.” The reader received an e-mail which outlined the company’s stance on the use of rGBH, or more accurately in this case, rBST, which is basically a different name for the same crap.

Without quoting the e-mail it its entirety, let me provide the gist of what the reader was told.

Firstly, the reader was told that Wells Enterprises (which is said to be the maker of the “Blue Bunny” brand of ice cream) is in compliance with all regulations where the manufacture of their products are concerned. I’m sure they are hoping that information will be comforting, but in my opinion it means virtually nothing considering all the crap that goes into the food supply with the blessing of all the regulatory agencies.

High-fructose corn syrup, anyone?

Secondly, Wells makes the case that rBST is something that cows “naturally produce,” which may be true, but not in the same concentration as when they are injected with more of it by the big factory dairy operations that raise the cows.

The Wells representative then spews forth pretty much what one would expect from a big corporation trying to protect its brand. They claim that “extensive study” by the FDA has shown that milk produced by cows that have been “treated” with rBST “retains the same nutritional value and composition as milk from untreated cows.” Wow, that says a lot, huh? It has the same nutritional value and is basically the same product (milk), but I guess most of us are more interested in what’s been added as opposed to any nutrients that have been removed or diminished.

Thirdly, it appears Wells simply doesn’t care or does not want to bother ensuring that their products are manufactured with milk that is free from artificial hormones because there exists no way to differentiate between milk from cows that are treated and those that are not. Would it not be a simple matter to get their raw ingredients from dairies that just don’t use artificial growth hormones?

They wrap up their case with a real doozy, by stating: “Considering there are no safety concerns with the consumption of milk and milk-related products from rBST–supplemented cows, Wells does not require our suppliers to supply us rBST-free ingredients for use in our products.”

Wow! How great it must be to know it all! Hear that, folks? There is “no safety concern!”

Case closed, send the kids back to the fridge for a frosty glass of milk infused with artificial growth hormones. What harm could it possibly do?

Wells Enterprises and the FDA have spoken! Nothing to see here! Move along now!

Ideal Tax Solution Strikes Again!

When we first discussed the fine folks at “Ideal Tax Solution,” it was right after my wife had received a notice in the mail that was obviously designed to create some alarm on her part and make her believe the IRS or some other government entity had levied a tax lien against her.

My suspicion after my wife had received the last notice from these weasels was that it was some kind of scam. Since she received another similar notice from these people today, I decided to dig into this a bit more and I’m doubtful that this is a scam but is perhaps a notch or two above that on the ethical measuring stick.

This time, the notice my wife received was on plain white paper and even included a name. “Scott Price” was allegedly the person behind this notice. Scott, god bless his heart, even included a personal hand-written message that read “Good news. I can help you. Call me ASAP!” What a guy!

Naturally, the “hand-written” message was not really hand-written at all and is most likely included on all these “Tax Revision Offers” that these people are sending out in mass quantities.

Well, I decided to see if I could get Scott on the phone and see if he could give me the details of this tax problem that my wife allegedly has. Being that they have sent her two notices regarding this problem, it must be pretty serious, right? Maybe not.

I dialed up the number, 877-464-6577, and the phone was answered by a pleasant-sounding woman just as it was last time. I asked for Scott Price and she asked me if I was a client of his. I informed her that I wasn’t not yet a client but I was holding in my hand a letter from him regarding a tax matter.

I’m paraphrasing here, but her response led me to believe that she receives a lot of these calls. She asked me if I was aware of any tax problems that I might have and I told her “no.” Maybe I should have said “yes.”

At that point she told me that these notices are sent out to lots of people as “a service” in case they have tax problems, and since I was not aware of any tax problems of my own, I did not need their services.

I decided to tell her what I thought of her and her company, said goodbye and hung up the phone.

So, I guess the mystery is solved. They do indeed seem to be some kind of company that allegedly assists people with tax problems but I find their client acquisition methodology a bit lacking. One might even say slimy.

Nothing changes my opinion that sending out bogus tax-related notices to people that are designed to look as “official” as possible is a pretty scummy tactic. As I pointed out before, there is the likelihood that some people receiving these notices (particularly the elderly) could be quite alarmed as a result.

What’s unfortunate is that this company is likely successful with this low-life tactic since they are still doing it and must be sending out massive numbers of these deceptive notices. To sum up, my personal opinion that they are scumbags remains unchanged.

Below is their latest letter. Decidedly less “alarming” than their previous notice, but I wish they’d just take the high road and send something out that simply offers people help without all the hype and misleading and suggestive language that leads people to believe that they have tax problems.

Ideal Tax Solutions Second Notice

AT&T Throttles Data For Heaviest Phone Users

“That’s so twenty-seven seconds ago,” says the annoying football fan in that annoying AT&T commercial touting the “blazing fast speed” of their 4G LTE phones. The problem with all that bragging is that some users may be best served by limiting their surfing to bland, text-only web pages like this one.

AT&T customers whom the telecommunications giant considers “heavy” data users are having their web browsing speeds reduced by as much as 99 percent. Some customers are having their speeds reduced after using what they consider a reasonable amount of bandwidth, especially considering that these customers have the so-called “unlimited” plan.

I’m sure there’s enough legalese sprinkled somewhere in the contract for AT&T’s “unlimited” users that allows the company to cut their speeds under certain circumstances. Big companies like AT&T are always careful to leave plenty of loopholes for themselves.

The problem seems to be that AT&T has oversold their service in some areas and have saturated their network with too many customers checking the latest sports scores or watching Lady Gaga videos on YouTube.

I just love it when some company rolls out a new service that their so anxious to brag about only to have it fall flat on its face for some of its users. Their TV commercials promoting their 4G LTE service are running constantly here in my area. I just hope they’re not running them in areas where their network is straining to keep pace with the users.

There’s no doubt that competition among cell phone carriers is pretty fierce, but for AT&T to be running these stupid commercials with the presumed intent of convincing the public that theirs is the fastest wireless network while they are throttling some users of their “unlimited” plan is just ridiculous.

Other companies like Verizon are reportedly using a smarter version of throttling by cutting data speeds only temporarily while users are in a congested area and cutting speeds back as little as possible.

While AT&T seems to keep customers in the dark about how much data usage is too much, other companies like T-Mobile make their policy pretty clear by stating that users can be throttled once they surpass the 5 gigabyte-per-month mark. I guess it puts AT&T in a rather tough spot if they announce a cap on their “unlimited” plans. Not that I would be surprised if they did!

Perhaps AT&T should simply stop offering “unlimited” plans in areas that are not built out sufficiently to handle the demand. This certainly is not the first time a company has spent millions of dollars advertising a product or service that wasn’t quite ready for prime time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I guess neither of these guys from the commercial have had their phones throttled and I’m willing to bet some of their customers who have would love a chance to go on TV and talk about how wonderful their AT&T phones are working for them.

For the record, I’m not an AT&T customer and I don’t even have a smart phone. I’ve got a plain-old cell phone that I use only when I leave the house. I guess I just have a tendency to get a bit annoyed when I see bold claims being made by companies who don’t seem able to hold up their end of the deal while they continue to bombard the public with annoying commercials that show up on my TV way too often.

Ideal Tax Solutions Sends Latest ‘Pink Nightmare’

It’s been a while since I’ve received anything in the mail that screams out for attention more than this latest “pink nightmare.” I encountered my first instance of this type of attention-getting tripe when I received a “OFFICAL NOTICE” from a sleazy outfit known as National Magazine Exchange some years ago.

This time, however, the message printed on the pretty pink paper was far more alarming. If one is inclined to take something like this seriously that is. This thing looked like junk mail right off the bat, so despite the ominous nature of the message, I was instantly skeptical.

I should point out that this particular notice was addressed to my wife. I was sitting quietly in my home office a couple of days ago when she came in and showed it to me and asked me what I thought about it.

The tactics employed by the sender of this notice are quite familiar. The envelope is made to look as official as possible without crossing the line that would put the sender in trouble with the law. This probably goes along way towards achieving step 1, which is simply getting the recipient to open the envelope and see what’s inside.

The single piece of paper inside is colored pink – no doubt a way to convey the urgency of the message and to create concern on the part of the recipient and try to make them believe that this is serious business!

As you should be able to see by clicking the images below, this notice is a “Tax Lien Revision Notice” which states that some kind of tax lien has been levied against my wife. This in itself is unusual, since all our taxes are filed jointly and all the property we have owned was also owned jointly. Anything to do with taxes or property always includes both our names. This was an immediate red flag.

It was obvious immediately that this was not any type of official notice from a government entity despite the sender’s best attempt to give that impression. The disclaimer in tiny print at the bottom of the notice concedes  – reluctantly I presume – that fact.

I’ve seen advertisements from tax attorneys and other businesses that claim they can help you negotiate much lower pay-offs for tax debt, credit card debt and so on. What I had always presumed was that any organization that would send notices like the one addressed to my wife would be backed up by reality. These kinds of companies normally troll through public records looking for people who have significant tax or other kind of debt. That’s what made this particular case so baffling.

My first action was to see what I could dig up on “Ideal Tax Solution.” What I found right off the bat was not terribly surprising. The individuals behind this company had a shady background according to that little tidbit.

This raised my suspicions further that this notice wasn’t legit. I wondered if it was some kind of scam, although it would be a pretty bold one if it were!

Still, I figured there would be no harm in checking this out to make sure someone at the IRS or other government agency hadn’t made a mistake which resulted in a lien being levied against my wife.

My first call was to the IRS. When it comes to liens and things of that nature, they’re the 800-pound gorilla of the group so it seemed prudent to make sure they were not upset with the Missus. I spoke with a fellow at the IRS who took all the appropriate information from me and informed me that they have no lien or any other pending action targeting my wife. Despite my skepticism about this whole thing, I’ll admit it was a relief to hear that!

I then decided to try to get some information by going right to the source, you know – right from the horses mouth, or perhaps horses ass in this particular instance. I dialed up “Ideal Tax Solution” at 866-923-5610 and got a pleasant sounding-receptionist on the phone whose name I do not recall. She asked me what I was calling in reference to and I told her about the notice my wife received in the mail. She then directed my call to another woman whose name I do not recall. I’ve got to start writing this stuff down when I’m on the telephone!

I told the woman about the notice and I that I wanted to find out what it was all about. What I found a bit odd was that this woman seemed to have no interest in soliciting my business whatsoever. There was no sales pitch or offer to “help” me in any way. I asked her if she could tell me what entity was responsible for this lien and she informed me that they get the information from public records and there was no way she could tell me which one it was and that I should contact my county clerk to find out.

Before I could even say another word, she said goodbye and hung up. The whole conversation was quite hurried as if she was quite busy with other matters and didn’t have time to talk to me. Perhaps they were all preoccupied with shredding documents or something innocent like that.

I couldn’t help but wonder about their expertise in the area of negotiation with government entities if they could not even tell me which entity was responsible for the lien! How would they even know who to negotiate with?

The next day I called our county clerk and was given the instructions that would allow me to check for the presence of a lien online. Since I had already done that and found nothing, it appeared that there were no liens on file with them either.

The only other thing I could think of was that the lien may be a result of something that happened when my wife had been living in another state for a few years before we met. Luckily, the county she lived in also had records online and I was able to search them for any liens with her name attached. Again nothing.

This leaves me wondering if the people at “Ideal Tax Solution” are just making stuff up or whether there is someone else with the same name as my wife who owes some government agency a nice chunk of change. That seems quite unlikely, however, since my wife has a very uncommon name – one that is probably shared with fewer than a half-dozen other individuals in the country (we’ve checked).

Given the background information I dug up on the people behind this outfit, I cannot help but think that this may indeed be some kind of scam. Since I was unable to come up with any record of a tax lien anywhere, it seems like this notice is either the result of fabricated information or some kind of mistake on their part.

I suppose it’s obvious at this point, but my wife has never received any notification of any kind concerning a lien prior to this notice from “Ideal Tax Solution.” Therefore, I strongly caution anyone else receiving these notices to view them with a skeptical eye to say the least. Something smells rotten and it’s not in Denmark in this case!

Click the images below for a better view.

Tax Lien Revision Notice From Ideal Tax Solution

Ideal Tax Solution Envelope

Automated Millionaires Marketing System Phone Spam

There are thousands of scam artists with thousands – if not millions – of websites out there promoting various “systems” that they claim will make you rich. I normally don’t seek these websites out to write about them here, but when someone calls and leaves a message on my voicemail promoting a get-rich-quick scheme, I’m willing to go out of my way and take some time to share my opinion.

To give you an idea how much of this crap is now invading the voicemail boxes of consumers, I had a total of seven voicemail messages waiting for me. I admit I only check it once every couple of months since it’s the voicemail for my cell phone and I really don’t use it that much. It’s very unlikely anyone I actually want to talk to is calling me on my cell phone. In fact, most of the time my cell phone is shut off. I use it only when I go out somewhere. But it does get annoying when I turn it on and it starts beeping and says I have new voicemail messages that turn out to be from various people trying to sell me stuff. One guy calling himself “John Richards” even apologized twice for leaving the message on my voicemail. That and his charming southern twang just drained all the irritation right out of me!

Anyway, I didn’t get just one call from a woman calling herself “Li Ann,” I got two calls from her. What a treat! The call was obviously automated and featured “Li Ann” with her sales pitch that promised big bucks if I would just call the telephone number she left for me so I could get all the details of the “Automated Millionaires Marketing System.”

Even though she warned me that the recorded spiel I would have to listen to in order to get all the details was 15 minutes long, I decided to take the plunge and find out exactly what she was promoting. The number, for those who are curious, was 618-355-1902. What was a bit odd was that the first time she called she left me a different number, 618-355-1510 which did not seem to be in service any longer.

So, what’s “Li Ann” promoting? In a word an MLM system with varying amounts of internet marketing “training” thrown in depending on which level you decided on when you join up. At it’s most basic level, it sounded pretty much like typical MLM garbage. Your task would be to make annoying calls to people and try to sell them on the “Automated Millionaires Marketing System” just like “Li Ann” is doing.

The 15-minute pitch was full of all the usual crap you would expect to hear from someone pitching yet another get-rich-quick scheme. There was the usual “limited time offer” and “bonus” crap to create that sense of urgency on the part of the victim, er, I mean, potential member.

What really sickened me was the amount of money they want from people in order to get in on all the big money that’s being made by their other members. Uh huh.

There were six levels of membership available, each one promising more than the next lowest one of the lot. Even at the highest level, it sounded like a lot of internet marketing courses I’ve seen for sale for a lot less all over the internet and I’m willing to bet this stuff is no better than any of the others.

Here are the various membership levels and their price of entry:

  • “Bronze” membership for $695
  • “Silver” membership for $2,196
  • “Gold” membership for $3,697
  • “Platinum” membership for $6,748
  • “Diamond” membership for $12,298
  • “Elite” membership for $20,485

Selling some internet marketing course on line for $497 is one thing, but whoever is behind this “Automated Millionaires Marketing System” has some seriously big ones!

Quite frankly, it disgusts me to see people who are willing to try prying this kind of money out of people’s pockets. Especially in this economy! Naturally, the more you spend, the more they claim you will make.

My opinion is that this is just another get-rich-quick scam and unfortunately, some people are probably finding that out the hard way. And since “Li Ann” is obviously making a lot of phone calls in an effort to spread the word about this wonderful program, I figured I’d help her out.

People like “Li Ann” need to realize when they decide to start annoying people with telephone calls, some people aren’t going to like it and won’t be shy about sharing their opinions right here on the old interwebs for anyone to see.

By the way, all the stuff “Li Ann” was promising for the various levels of membership is quite likely information you can find online for free. There are numerous blogs written by successful internet marketers that have tons of useful information that can be put to good use by people who are motivated enough to follow through.

Between the blogs, YouTube videos and free courses available out there, you can learn all you need to know to get started making money online without forking over hundreds or thousands of dollars for yet another “system” that most people will probably never even implement after they shell out all that dough.

Hit the search engines and look for blogs or videos about making money online. After a while you’ll be able to tell the hucksters from the genuine folks who want to help people learn how to make money online. The information is out there and it won’t cost you anything beyond what you pay for your internet connection, all you have to do is go find it.

Hey Text’nDrive, Quit The Spamming Will Ya?

I’m quite accustomed to seeing the little advertisements at the end of e-mail messages I get from various folks who use either a free e-mail service or one that they pay for that is obnoxious enough to include these advertisements in each e-mail message that their customers send.

For example, our real estate agent carries some kind of small tablet device just about everywhere she goes, which is great when I want to get in touch with her, but what a find a little obnoxious about the service provider that connects her device to the rest of the world is that they have to stick an advertisement in the e-mail messages she sends.

In this particular case, what I see at the end of her e-mail messages is “Sent from my Verizon Wireless Device.”

It’s pretty obvious it’s just a blatant advertisement that they are tacking onto the e-mail messages of someone who is paying to use their service. The darn thing isn’t free to use and therefore, I don’t think Verizon has any right to be injecting advertisements into users’ outgoing e-mail messages.

Giving Verizon, the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is a way for users to shut those little advertisement off, but since I don’t have one of those devices, or any other Verizon mobile device, I don’t know for sure.

Taking the obnoxious meter up a notch is an outfit called Text’nDrive that offers an application for mobile phones (and perhaps other mobile devices) that allows users to hear their incoming e-mail messages read aloud by the application rather than having to read the messages on the device’s screen. On at least some devices, the application can read text messages aloud and also allow users to send e-mail messages and text messages just by speaking.

The capabilities of the application depend on whether or not someone simply downloads the free version or purchases the “Pro” version.

As the company’s website points out, this is a pretty good idea that should help users operate more safely when using the application while driving.

Sounds pretty cool so far, right?

Well, what I don’t find so cool is that this application spams people who send and e-mail to someone who uses this application. I have no information on whether it’s just the free version that sends out e-mail spam or if the “Pro” version does so as well.

This is how it all started: I’ve got a website where I sell some low-priced products. It’s not a big money-maker by any means, but it provides a little extra income here and there.

When someone orders something from the site, the customer receives an e-mail which confirms their order and provides other information regarding the delivery of the product they ordered and things like that. That’s pretty typical of any website your order something from.

The other day someone placed an order and a few hours later I got an e-mail message from the customer. I could tell it was from a customer since the subject line read: “RE: Your Order Details.” I immediately assumed that the customer had a question about the product or ran into some kind of problem while placing their order.

I was a little bit surprised when I opened the message and found this:

From:    [Customer Name Removed]
Sent:    Wednesday, November 02, 2011 12:02 AM
To:   [Address Removed]
Subject:    RE: Your Order Details

I’m driving right now and a voice just read me your message out loud.
I’m using an app called Text’nDrive to avoid touching my phone while driving and thought you should install it to…
It’s Free, with this link: www.textndrive.com/free

 

As far I’m concerned this is spam. This Text’nDrive application grabbed the e-mail address that was used to send order details to our customer and then generated a new e-mail message advertising their product. To some of us, that’s a pretty obnoxious way of promoting a product.

As I pointed out earlier, this may actually be a pretty good product and it’s great that they have a free version. Despite the fact that this may be a great product, spamming me with an advertisement for their product is a big turn off.

I don’t care how cool or useful any given product or service is, spamming is not the way to promote it. If our customer had sent us an e-mail and this application tacked a little advertisement on the message like the Verizon device our real estate agent uses, it would not have been an issue, but this application appears to have spammed me without any action on the customer’s part, making me believe that it was an actual message from a customer.

I would suggest that Text’nDrive explore other ways to promote their product other than spamming people. I’m no lawyer, but I wonder if their tactics are in violation of the CAN-SPAM act. I did not contact the company and I can’t imagine that any judge would consider my message to my customer as an action that would constitute the creation of any kind of “relationship” between myself and Text’nDrive.

Bank of America Backs Down

Although it has not been officially reported by the company, a Wall Street Journal report says that Bank of America had decided to drop its plans to impose a $5-per-month fee on customers for using their debit cards.

A $5-per-month fee may not sound like a large amount and many customers may just shrug it off, but when you consider that Bank of America is one of the nation’s largest banks and reportedly has almost 60 million customers, collecting $5 from every month from every customer with a debit card probably represents a huge cash windfall for the bank each and every month.

As I’ve pointed out here before, debit cards and ATM machines save banks a lot of money. In the old days a worker would get paid, head down to their bank, cash their check and then use cash to pay for the majority of their purchases. When I was a kid I can remember my parents paying cash for just about everything. From gasoline to groceries to clothing, it was all paid for in cash.

Today, we just whip out our credit or debit cards to pay for just about everything. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I use my debit card in just about every place that can accept it as a form of payment.

All of the income we earn in my household is all delivered directly to our bank accounts electronically. If you think about it, automation has to have reduced the number of branches that banks need to be operate as well as the numbers of employees the bank needs to keep on the payroll. Just think how busy your bank would be if it was like the “old days” with people lining up to cash their paychecks every week.

That’s what was so outrageous about a ridiculous decision by some executive or executives at Bank of America to impose a $5-per-month fee for customers who use a debit card. Banks are generally bad enough to begin with due to all the extra fees they impose on customers.

Apparently the backlash from customers as well as moves by other banks who have decided to nix plans to impose new fees for services such as using debit cards has caused Bank of America to back down and drop their plan to gouge customers with the ridiculous debit card fee.

There are, however, other banks that are imposing new fees and restrictions on their customers. My wife and son, who both have accounts at TD Bank recently received letters informing them that their checking accounts must maintain a daily balance of at least $100 or they will face a $15-per-month penalty fee.

Since my wife uses her TD Bank account as a kind of secondary account where she deposits small amounts of money she makes online in her spare time, keeping a daily balance of $100 could become be a problem for her. I’ve encouraged her to close the TD Bank account and open an account at a local credit union. She doesn’t always listen to me, but I remain hopeful.

I stopped using banks many years ago since I finally got sick of being charged a fee for every check I wrote and other “service fees” that they seemed to impose just because I happened to have an account.

Since I started doing all of my banking with a credit union, I pay no fees whatsoever. The only time I would face a fee would be if a did something like overdraw my account or bounce a check.

The arrogance of big banks like Bank of America is quite disturbing. I’m guessing that their arrogance may have been dialed down a notch or two in light of this news that they have decided against the new debit card fee. Angry customers must have made a real impact on the decision-makers at Bank of America; not something we see every day, but quite refreshing when it does happen.

This move by Bank of America will probably allow them to hold on to a lot of customers who were planning to close their accounts due to the new fee. I would suggest that customers in that position take a close look at their account statements and see what other fees they are already imposing on them. There still may be many good reasons to close your Bank of America account.

Beyond the issue of fees, Bank of America customers may want to consider other factors such the bank’s plan to dump a bunch of lousy mortgages on American taxpayers. Surely, the politicians and bureaucrats that are collaborating with the big banks on deals like this are equally to blame but I suppose that’s a topic for another post.

Congratulations to all the Bank of America customers who complained loudly enough to make the banking giant back down. My hope is that many of those same customers will decide to close their accounts despite the bank’s decision. Giant banks that are “too big to fail” don’t benefit consumers. Competition is a good thing, so take a few minutes to check out your local credit unions or maybe even your local small bank that will likely free you from ridiculous fees as well as provide better service.

Attack of the Robo-Operators

I guess I’m not the only one that is fed up with the proliferation of these automated phone-answering systems that just about every big company is now employing. “Press 1 for billing,” “Press 2 for customer service,” “Press 3 for technical support.” You know what I’m talking about.

One of the biggest problems I have with these phone-answering systems is that much of the time, the choices that I am offered by the system do not match up very well with he reason for my call. That leaves me having to guess which option will get me closest to the people I need to talk to in order to answer my question or solve my problem.

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with these robo-operators when we contact major corporations by telephone, but now smaller businesses are starting to use these systems as well.

My mother related her recent experience contacting her doctor’s office by phone and being greeting by one of these robo-operator systems. My mom is 77 years old and is not terribly comfortable with things that require her to press buttons – computers and TV remote controls are good examples.

To say she was infuriated by her experience after dealing with the robo-answering system at her doctor’s office is an understatement. After the system lead her through a series of pressing buttons, the system began to ask her questions like her name and date-of-birth. It was at that point where my mom lost her patience and somehow figured out how to get a real live human on the phone.

Just today a read about another frustrated consumer who had a bad experience with a major pay-TV company. The fellow needed some technical help with his equipment and after calling and jumping through all the hoops the company’s robo-operator system demanded of him he was disconnected by the system at least three times just as he was (supposedly) about to be connected to the technical support department. Each time he had to wait on hold for 10 or 15 minutes just to get to the tech support department only to be disconnected just as he thought he was about to get a technical support specialist on the line.

A little trick some people recommend is to press the “0” (zero) button repeatedly when you are on the line with one of these robo-operator systems which may result in your call being routed to a real person. I’ve used this trick myself and have had some success with it in the past.

Some of these robo-operator systems have voice-recognition technology and allow you to say things like “billing” or “technical help” in order to get your call routed to the department you want to talk to. One company I deal with also allows you to say “representative” if you want to be connected to a person and I’ve had success saying that word repeatedly during my call.

I can see the value of these robo-operator systems for big companies that handle a lot if incoming calls. I’m sure they save the company a lot of time and money in the long run since many of these systems allow customers to retrieve basic information without having to take up the time of one of the company’s employees, and let’s face it, some people are not terribly bright and are calling to ask very simple questions that can be answered by a robo-operator.

I’ve actually had positive experiences with robo-operator systems when I’ve wanted to do something such as checking my account balance. I’d much rather make a call and press a few buttons to get basic information like that than talk to some customer service representative that is going to ask me my name, address, phone number, birth date and God-knows-what-else.

On the other hand, these robo-operators need to make it very easy for customers to get to a real person quickly. I’m sure there are companies that are doing it right already by making the system announce the method a customer can use to get to a real person at any time during the call. You know, “Press zero at any time during this call to talk to a customer service representative.” That kind of thing.

Putting a message like that in place would greatly reduce frustration for people like my mom who does not like talking to machines. Companies need to realize that not everyone is an iPhone-carrying, Facebook-loving, web-surfing 21-year-old. My mom comes from a generation where a real person always answered the telephone no matter how big or what kind of company was being contacted.

Although I’m no spring chicken, I was immersed in the world of technology when I was hired by a major computer company right out of high school some 30-plus years ago. As a result, I evolved along with technology as it progressed through the decades and I am very comfortable with it. Companies need to realize that is not the case for everyone and people like my 77-year-old mother aren’t interested in listening to a machine tell her to press a half-dozen buttons and provide all kinds of information before she is allowed to speak with a  real person.

Occupy The Credit Unions!

Before you jump to conclusions and assume that headline has anything to do with the current “Occupy” protests, hang on a second and see what I’m talking about.

I’m actually suggesting that you “occupy” your local credit union with your money! In other words, if you are doing your banking through a traditional bank, I think it’s a better idea to move all your banking business to a credit union.

I suppose there are still some small, local banks around that may actually be pretty good, but in this case I’m thinking more about the huge banks with names that are recognized just about everywhere in the nation. You know the ones I’m talking about. CitiBank. Bank of America. Wells Fargo. Chase.

Some of these giant banks have recently announced ridiculous new fees for things like using a debit card. In my experience, banks are well-known for imposing fees on customers. Granted, it’s been a long time since I did business with a traditional bank, but when I did I can recall paying fees for writing checks and other seemingly pointless fees paid on a monthly basis just for keeping the account open.

With the introduction of ATM machines back during the 1980’s (if memory serves me correctly), you would think that the banks would have cut expenses significantly by reducing staff and closing branches. With ATM machines in such widespread use these days, it is not hard to reach the conclusion that the banks require fewer tellers and branches to service customers. We all know that machines never take vacations, get sick or need benefits like human employees do. One would think that translates into big savings for banks.

Debit cards also reduce the number of people coming into banks these days, which you would think would further benefit them, but still their greed seems to know no boundaries and now some of them want to impose fees on customers for using their debit cards, which are already saving money for the banks to begin with!

I recognize the rights of big banks or any other business to run their operations the way they want and charge whatever they see fit. That’s the way free enterprise works and I’m not advocating any draconian regulations to control how people run their business, and that brings me to my next point.

Free enterprise also means that consumers can vote with their feet. There are numerous credit unions that would be happy to bring new customers on board. As someone who has been a credit union customer for more than twenty years, I can tell you I am quite satisfied with my experience and would recommend it with no hesitation.

I pay virtually no fees as a result of doing my banking with a credit union. The only fees I can think of are the ones imposed for writing a check the bounces or overdrawing an account. I’m sure there are others, but my point is that I pay no fees as long as I keep my account in order. I also don’t have to worry about minimum balances or any of that nonsense. I can take my checking account down to a penny and as long as I don’t overdraw, I don’t have to deal with any fees whatsoever.

If you’ve been doing your banking at one of the big banks, or even a smaller bank that imposes excessive fees, you might want to seriously consider switching to a local credit union. I suspect it will save you money as well as sparing you the frustration of dealing with a bank that treats people like numbers despite what their slick television commercials claim.

Voicemail Spammers Gone Wild

I’m not sure what to call this brand of annoying idiots other than “voicemail spammers.” I’m not a big cell phone user, so most of the time my phone is shut off and sitting on the shelf which causes the vast majority of calls that come in to go to voicemail. Friend and family have my home phone number, so usually when someone calls my cell phone, it’s not someone I want to talk to.

When leave the house I will most often bring my cell phone along and when I was going out a couple of days ago my phone beeped after I turned it on, indicating that I had voicemail or text messages waiting. I was a little surprised to see I had a total of five voicemail messages waiting. I had been out only a few days earlier and did not  have any voicemail messages, so it seemed like someone was anxious to get in touch with me. I had a good idea who it might be.

Today I finally got around to listening to them and of the five voicemail messages, four of them were from two voicemail spamming morons. The fifth one was just dead air, which was probably another voicemail spammer whose robo-dialer didn’t work right or something.

What was interesting was that the first voicemail spammer started out by saying something like “I’m sorry to bother you on your voicemail…”

I thought that was interesting since it suggests that the robo-dialers these idiots are using must be a bit more sophisticated now and can determine when it has reached someone’s voicemail instead of a live person.

The first ignoramus identified himself as “John Richards,” and was pitching the usual get-rich-quick crap. The website he was advertising was “ReachMomentum.com.” A site I would highly recommend you do not waste your time visiting. In my opinion, this character is just another get-rich-quick scam artist.

Apparently, John did not think one phone call was enough and decided to leave me another voicemail message pitching his crap again. This time the message was a little different and he (in his best contrite-sounding voice) emphasized just how sorry he was to have bothered me by leaving a message on my voicemail. Sure, John, I’m really buying that. Have you considered a career in politics?

Next up we have a woman who calls herself LeAnne, I cannot be sure of the spelling since she did not take the time to spell it out for me. She was pushing yet another worthless get-rich-quick scam called “Magnetic Millionaires.”

LeAnne did her best to convince me that this was something that would change my life for the better, but she sounded just like all the other get-rich-quick scam artists. The first time she called, she tried to convince me to call 618-355-1902 and the second time she called she changed the number to 618-355-7372.

Both of these callers had distinct southern accents, although the 618 area code serves parts of Illinois. Probably doesn’t mean much as the annoying idiots have probably signed on with some kind of get-rich-quick scheme themselves which involves calling others and trying to convince them to buy into the same scam that they bought into. That seems to be how many of these scams work.

I find this telephone spam quite annoying, and can imagine how much more annoying it is for people who keep their cell phones turned on all of the time.

I was pretty sure I had registered my cell phone number with the “Do Not Call Registry,” but was unable to find any confirmation of that so I went ahead and registered it. Hopefully that will put a stop to these idiots.