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Sunday, August 25, 2013

I495 Admin Fee Scam Part II

IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE BEING HOUNDED BY TRANSURBAN FOR HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, OR IF THEY'VE ALREADY GOTTEN A JUDGMENT AGAINST YOU -- or if you are just mad because they are asking you to pay a $12.50 administration fee for an obvious mistaken entry --  please read through the comments below, and email Lisa Marie Comras (lmsdigiulio@gmail.com), who is organizing a class action against Transurban.  Her attorneys will contact you and then you'll be able to decide for yourself whether you want to be part of the move to hold Transurban accountable.
According to Emily Miller of Fox 5 DC, Transurban filed 26,000 lawsuits against drivers in 2014 alone.  Maybe you're one of those drivers.  If you're facing an immediate court date, you might find some good ideas here or here, courtesy of attorney David Bernhard, via Fox 5 DC's Emily Miller.  But when that's over, you should still strongly consider joining the class action.

Original Post:

This was meant to be a reply to a comment by Delilah Johnson on my I495 Admin Fee Scam post but for some reason the reply isn't working.  So for now I'll just post it here:

Wow. Mark and Delilah, sorry to hear about this.  Mark's right -- for them to sit back for three months without telling you that you're doing something wrong, and then to charge you an administrative fee for every single instance, is outrageous.  Administratively, it shouldn't cost them any more to send a letter for one offense than for 20.  And $12.50 is still too big for one lousy computer-generated letter.

The real problem is that if you end up fighting them on your own, chances are your credit rating will take a hit, because they'll turn it over to collections.  But if you're mad and are willing to take them on -- and willing to monitor your credit rating and let the reporting bureaus know that any mark against you is "in dispute," then here's something you might try:

Write a letter, via registered mail, to them at their US Headquarters (they are an Australian outfit) and enclose a check for about $45.55, made out to Transurban Group.  On the "memo" line of the check write "Payment in Full", and refer to any number that they gave you in their letter to you (I threw mine out so I don't remember what the letter looks like), or say:  "toll plus admin fee dispute" or something like that.

Your letter can say the following:

Via Registered Mail
Transurban Group
6440 General Green Way
Alexandria, Virginia 22312

[this is the address for their headquarters -- if the bill they sent you has another address, just use it]

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have received a letter from you informing me that I owe you $33.05 in missed tolls, and $725.00 in "administration fees," for a total of $758.05, for a number of short trips taken on I-495.  I dispute this charge for several reasons.  First, assuming your information is correct, I was completely unaware of the fact that I was driving on a toll lane; your lanes are poorly marked and you have done little to educate the public about your system.  Second, you provided me no notice whatsoever that you would be charging me more than $12 per trip.  Third, it is unconscionable that you charge $725 in "administration fees" for the administrative task of notifying me of $33.05 in missed tolls.  Fourth, it's particularly unconscionable for you to let the administration fees accumulate, at $12.50 a pop, without notifying me that they were accumulating.

I am enclosing herewith a check for $45.55, which reflects the $33.05 in tolls you say I owe you, plus $12.50 to cover your administrative costs in this matter.  Please consider this check to be payment in full for resolution of this dispute.

Sincerely,

_________

---

If they cash the check, then the dispute is over -- they have accepted your settlement offer, and they can't sue you (or if they do, you'll win).  If they don't cash the check and turn the matter over to collections (or if they cash the check and turn it over to collections anyway), when the collections people call tell them the matter is in dispute, and that you're waiting to hear back on your settlement offer.  If they at some point reject your offer, just invite them to sue you.  They won't, because it's just not worth an attorney's time to do that, and it's also far from clear that they are legally justified in charging such a hefty "administration fee" without having given you (or the rest of us) any notice.  It's possible that the collections agency will report you to the credit reporting agencies even though you inform them the issue is in dispute.  If that happens, and you want to protect your credit rating, you need to contact the credit reporting agencies separately (you can google how to do that).

I note that you say they charged you $725 in administrative fees for 20 trips.  It's hard for me to figure out where that number comes from -- my best guess is that they are charging you for 29 trips, and they doubled the administrative fees because you haven't paid yet (since 29 * 12.50 * 2 = 725).  So maybe they've sent you two letters; that's why I left it vague with "administrative costs in this matter" at the end of the letter (instead of saying you're paying $12.50 for one letter).

You could also try sending them less money -- e.g. just the $33.05, or even less than that.  If they cash the "payment in full" check, you are again home free.  But I think it's more likely that they'll cash it if you make a reasonable offer that is tied to the facts of your situation.  $45.55 is reasonable because it includes not only the tolls, but a big fat $12.50 administrative fee.

Good luck with this -- whatever path you choose -- and let us know what happens!

Please don't consider this legal advice.  If you want that, consult a lawyer.  But it is practical advice; it's what I'd do myself in this situation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Lobster Prices Don't Fall During Lobster Gluts

Interesting article in New Yorker this week: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/08/26/130826ta_talk_surowiecki

We're in a lobster glut right now -- lobstermen have too many to sell; apparently it's down to $2.20 a pound in some parts of Maine (we just saw it at $3.99 a pound in Portland).  So why don't restaurants lower their prices?

- Keeping them expensive makes other menu items look like better deals

- Customers often associate higher prices with better quality; if lobsters were cheaper they'd be suspicious.

- Restaurants can capitalize on falling prices by adding lobster-themed dishes without lowering prices of lobsters.

- Danger that people will get used to lower prices (and one time, lobster meat was food for lower classes, not upper).  It was only when it became scarce for a while that rich people realized it was a delicacy.

He ends the article by noting that commodity producers -- like lobstermen -- are at the mercy of the market, whereas businesses like restaurants try to insulate themselves from the market.

For me, it's one more reason not to eat lobster.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Walmart sanctions 400% overcharge for gutter downspout extension

Need a downspout extension?

How about this one:

Thumbnail Image 0

This is the Amerimax Home Products Brown Flex-a-Spout Downspout Extension, Model No. 85019, and by all accounts, it works great.

You can go to www.homedepot.com and order one for $8.97 plus $5.99 shipping (or free shipping if you order over $45, and of course you can also pick it up at the store for free too). Home Depot Link (select brown as your color, and the price stays the same).

or, if you prefer, you can go to www.walmart.com and get one for $40.64 (a nice Walmart-sounding price) plus $6.97 shipping (another Walmart-sounding price).  Walmart Link

The choice is yours.  Caveat emptor, as they say.

Of course, that's Walmart's Marketplace, and the outfit that will sell you the gutter is Toolking.  Still, I wouldn't have found it if Walmart had not lent its good (*cough*) name to this shabby enterprise.

Hopefully, this won't last.  But just to create a permanent record, here are the competing screen shots:




So Toolking, with Walmart's help, will sell you this $9 piece of plastic for over $47 (including shipping).  
Walmart's current slogan is “Low prices. Every day. On everything.”  Well, not quite everything, I guess.  

It just goes to show -- the minute you turn your back on Corporate America, they find a new way to try to take your money.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Patent and Trade Policy Responsible for Soaring Health Care Costs?

An article in this morning's New York Times caught my eye.  A guy had been been quoted something in excess of $65,000 for a hip replacement in the US -- excluding surgeon's fees -- and ended up going to Belgium and getting the job done for $13,000.  His insurance didn't cover the replacement because it was a pre-existing condition; came from a sports injury.  This, again, is my biggest problem with ObamaCare.  There are many instances where US consumers pay large multiples of what is paid in other countries for identical care.  The guy specifically said he was a bit leery about going to some place like India, where he could get it done even more cheaply.  But Belgium -- the Belgians are probably at least as competent as the US.  And of course, in the US, there's a good chance one would end up with an Indian doctor in any event.  There really isn't anything special about US doctors or hospitals, except their ability to make money off of the health care system.

I haven't studied ObamaCare closely, so maybe this will sound stupid.  But perhaps there is some way of literally using "medical tourism" to reduce our health care costs.  I.e. I have a sinking feeling that under ObamaCare, that hip would have been replaced in the US no matter what (right?  discrimination against people with preexisting conditions is one of the reasons for ObamaCare isn't it?), at a cost of $65,000, plus surgeon's fees.  Unless of course a panel decides it's not needed.  But shouldn't that same panel figure out how much it would cost to have the work done in Belgium, or even India?  I.e. If it's really one-fifth the cost, why not put the patients on planes?

Note that I have essentially given up on the idea of controlling costs within the US.  Those industries are just too strong and have too much of a lock on the legislative process, and, far from being reined in by ObamaCare, are going to be beneficiaries of it.  That was Obama's big chance, and he blew it.

The article focuses on the cost of an artificial hip itself.  The guy in question was offered a hip for $13,000, and was told the hospital fees (excluding surgeon fees) would bring the cost up to 65K.  Another guy was charged $37K for a hip.

It turns out that it only costs $350 to make an artificial hip in the US (in other countries, its down to $150, but there might be quality control issues).  There is a cartel consisting of 5 hip and knee manufacturers that, through patents and trade policy, manage to keep the price of hips and knees high.  They are able to charge hospitals $4500-$7500 for a hip, and of course, the hospital tacks on its own markup to that price.

The article asserts that the basic artificial hip has been around for decades, but that these manufacturers keep on patenting minor tweaks, with the result that they are able to keep prices high.  And of course, these patents, plus the huge expense of FDA approval, makes it hard/impossible for foreign products to break into our market.

At first, I didn't realize that the article went on and on, and I did an independent search for the members of the knee/hip cartel.  They are:

Stryker Orthopedics
Biomet
DePuy Orthopaedics unit of Johnson & Johnson
Zimmer Holdings
Smith & Nephew (a British company with an orthopedics subsidiary in Memphis).

And what did I find on the internet search?  Just an article about unseemly conduct by at least four of these -- providing kickbacks to surgeons who push their products on consumers (see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/28/business/28devices.html?ex=1348718400&en=ab27ba64e456cd60&ei=5088)

And here's the original article, on which this post is based: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/health/for-medical-tourists-simple-math.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130804

As mentioned, the article goes on and on, and also discusses (and links to) the kickback scheme I found above.  The cartel spends $30 million per year lobbying Congress.  Etc. etc.  Almost too depressing to read.