gimme-five | The blog of a busy guy.

CAT | Money

Every now and then, I receive unsolicited text messages to my cell phone.  This is particularly annoying, because I do not pay for a texting plan, so every text I receive costs me twenty cents, but I digress.  Recently, I received two text messages from 836-60 within seconds of one another.  The first stated:

Lovegenietips Flirting Tips; 3msg/week for $9.99/m T&Cs: lovegenietips.com Msg&data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel. PIN 0627

The second read:

Lovegenietips: You joined $9.99/m for 3msg/wk bill to cell. Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel. Msg&Data rates may apply. T&Cs: lovegenietips.com

Naturally, this looked like spam to me, and I did not respond.  Significantly, these messages were completely unsolicited.  I never gave my name or telephone number to this “service,” nor had I ever heard of it.  Like all spam in my e-mail inbox, I ignored it.

One month later, I received another message from 836-60, notifying me:

LoveGenieTips: Subsc renewed 1mo. 3msg/week for $9.99/mo billed to cell. Msg&Data rates may apply. Reply Help for help. Reply Stop to cancel. 888.725.5643.

Shortly after receiving the message, I decided to check my Verizon cell phone bill.  And to my surprise, there was a $9.99 charge for “Premium Messaging.”  At first I thought maybe that Verizon had accidentally put a texting plan onto my phone bill, but that was not the case, because I was still being charged twenty cents per text message.  So I called Verizon to ask what the deal was.

Right away, the representative told me that the $9.99 charge was because “I” signed up for “Love Genie.”  I told her that I had not done such a thing, and I had no idea what “Love Genie” was.  She said that if I wanted to stop the service, I would have to text “Love Genie” back and cancel the service that “I” had signed up for.  At that point I got upset that the Verizon rep continued to say that I had chosen to sign up for this service, and told her that I had done no such thing, that I was a married man who did not want “flirting tips” or whatever else the “Love Genie” might have for me, and that someone else (if not Love Genie itself) signed up for the “service” against my will and without my knowledge and that I demanded a refund from Verizon.

The Verizon rep told me no refund would be forthcoming, because I had chosen to sign up for the service by not texting “stop” in response to the spam message.  She also said that Verizon wasn’t really the one charging me, rather, “as a convenience to me,” Verizon allows me to sign up for services by charging those services to my account, Verizon pays the charge, and then recoups the charge from me as “premium messaging.”  Significantly, at no point could the rep explain what service “Love Genie” provided me (they had provided no service, just sent me messages telling me they were charging me money).  Additionally, the rep admitted that anyone could type anyone else’s phone number into a form and sign them up for services like “Love Genie,” and that Verizon would charge the phone number account holder for these services.  I asked why Verizon accepted this practice, and she offered no explanation.  I asked for a supervisor, and she told me that the supervisor would tell me “the same thing.”  I told her I didn’t care, and I wanted a supervisor.

As soon as I got the supervisor on the line, I told her the same things I had told the rep, and that I thought that Verizon was aiding and abetting a scam by allowing customers to be charged in this manner and then acting as though they can’t give a refund by claiming that they were not the ones who were really charging me.  After arguing for a few minutes, she agreed to refund me the money and place a block on my account so that I could not be charged for “premium messaging” again (supposedly there are lots of services out there that use the “premium messaging” line on your cell phone bill to tack on charges similar to “Love Genie”).  I also placed the block on my wife’s line.  Why a block on premium messaging is not a default setting on Verizon accounts I do not know.

Based on some quick googling, it appears that Verizon is not the only cell provider that tolerates this practice, and that  many people have extra charges for “premium messaging” on their bill, particularly as a result of “Love Genie.”  For example, see this website, containing lots of complaints about Love Genie adding charges to people’s cell phone bills.  It seems like many people have had the same thing happen to me.

Hopefully, cell phone companies will cease allowing this shady practice to happen.  However, until then, the moral of the story is to CHECK YOUR CELL PHONE BILL FOR STRANGE CHARGES, as it’s likely that at some point, you could be charged for “premium messaging” without knowing it.

This sickens me.

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Jul/09

3

What’s Wrong with Credit Cards?

Apparently the trendy thing for consumers to do now is to use cash or debit cards or checks instead of credit cards.  A recent NPR report says that for the first time in a long time, Visa Debit cards surpassed Visa Credit cards.  Supposedly, the rationale for using a debit versus a credit card is that if you don’t have a credit card, you won’t spend money you don’t have, because a debit card won’t let you.

I’ve got to admit I find that very silly.  The only benefit of using a debit card over a credit card is forced spending control.  This can easily be replaced with the slightest bit of willpower or a nagging significant other.

The costs, on the other hand, are somewhat significant.  First, if you use a credit card, you can probably earn 1-3% cashback on all of your purchases.  Thus, you only pay 97-99% of what the suckers using cash/debit/check are paying.  Over time, that really adds up.  Think about buying groceries for a family of four over the course of a year: probably $200 a week at least.  If you get 2% cashback on those purchases, you get $4 per week, or $108 per year.  That’s not bad for just grocery purchases.  Second, if you use a credit card, you can help build your credit, which is always a good thing.  Third, fraud protection on credit cards is better than on debit cards.  Fourth, if you have an emergency, a credit card allows you to buy things that you need.  If you cut up your credit card because you don’t have the self-control to use it, then you put yourself in danger of having no spending power when you need it.  If you try to spend more than you have with debit, you’ll get nasty overdraft fees.  Finally, credit cards allow you to take advantage of the time value of money – you don’t have to empty your bank account with every purchase; rather, you can keep money in your bank account, earning interest, until your credit card bill is due.  I know the time value of money is not super-significant, but it’s better than nothing.

Of course, all of this assumes that you have the willpower to only spend as much as you can pay for every month.  If you pay less than your full balance, then you’ll probably spend more than the benefits of a credit card.  But if you’re already doing that with a debit card, why not just spend as much with a credit card as you would with a debit card?  Is it really that hard not to go crazy with a credit card?

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My car is currently on its deathbed.  My 1990 Toyota Camry has been so good to me for so long.  However, I took it in to a repair shop a few weeks ago because I thought the rear cylinders were leaking.  I wasn’t too worried because rear cylinder repairs are only a couple hundred bucks.

Turns out I was right… sort of.   Not only were the rear cylinders leaking (slightly), but both front CV joints on my car are cracked, I have a bunch of “valve issues” and I’ve got oil leaking on my timing belt.  Total projected repair cost: $1800.  My car’s blue book value: sub $500.  So I’ve come to the conclusion, that sometime in the near future, I need to find another car.

I’ve been looking around at new and used cars, and I’m probably going to go with the smallest, cheapest, most reliable thing out there, as I am a law student rapidly accumulating debt.  However, the one aspect of this decision that bothers me the most is that because the average car on the road is getting bigger, and more and more people are driving SUVs, roads have become more dangerous for drivers of smaller cars.  Essentially, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma of safety.  All else equal, you can be safer if you drive a bigger car, at the cost of making everyone else less safe.  The irony is that if everyone drives bigger cars, then we’re all just as safe as if we all drove smaller cars (or maybe even less safe if you factor in the increased likelihood of flipping over), because with each additional larger car on the road, there is an increased risk of being hit by a larger car, which will cause more damage than an equivalent accident with a smaller car.

Honestly, this will not affect my decision.  Because I believe that pollution, resource depletion, and congestion are such serious problems, I would be a hypocrite to go out and buy a big car.  Plus, the probability of getting into an accident where the “safety rating” of your car is an issue is insignificant – despite what commercials tell us.

Yet I can see how many people, especially those with families, choose to buy a bigger car primarily for safety concerns.  Ironically, the danger they are trying to protect against is generated by other people, just like them, who are trying to be safe.

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Feb/08

27

Two Quick Notes on Car Insurance

I see so many commercials from car insurance companies that say: “People who switched to this insurance saved $x on average.”  That is, for the most part, a pretty worthless statement.  Why would anyone switch to a different car insurance provider if it cost more money?  They all essentially provide the same product.  Thus, the statement that people who switched to this insurance saved $x on average says this: people with particular characteristics switch to insurance companies whose insurance algorithm favors those characteristics.  In other words, car insurance customers act rationally.

Additionally, if you are a good driver, you should be dissuaded by an insurance company who offers “accident forgiveness.”  An insurance company is going to have to cover their costs one way or another.  If they don’t increase premiums for someone’s first accident, that just means they are using everyone else’s premiums as a whole to subsidize that person.  So if you are a good driver who doesn’t get in any accidents, this is not a good thing.  It’s not like a company who offers accident forgiveness is less profit hungry.

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Sep/07

6

40.75 Miles Per Gallon

I drove home from Blacksburg, VA to Arlington, VA this past Monday and averaged 40.75 miles per gallon.  I was pleasantly surprised, as I drive a 1990 Toyota Camry that is rated around 32 mpg highway.

I think the reason for this was drafting off a truck the entire way.  Although drafting off of passenger vehicles is generally not recommended, because if they slam on the brakes, you’re in trouble; drafting behind a truck is significantly safer because trucks take a long time to slow to a stop, so if you see brake lights you’re not necessarily doomed.  In addition, trucks are huge and block a lot of wind.

Anywho, there was a truck driving 75 mph for 200 miles of my journey, so I just sat behind him.  When I filled up upon arriving home, I calculated that I had averaged 40.75 mpg.  My recommendation is if you happen to have a truck driving near you on a highway, it might not be a bad idea to draft off of the truck to save some fuel.

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