I generally like the internet. But there are certain things about it that I would really like to see changed.
- Hidden Provisions In Sales Contracts
Have you ever tried to buy a product online at an introductory price? This is very common with sales of supplements. The regular price is $59.99 and they offer to sell it to you for $4.99. Sometimes shipping is included, sometimes not. But they are selling you an introductory supply for – say – 30 days, and somewhere hidden in the fine text is a statement that, unless you cancel the order, you are agreeing to buy a new order for $59,99 plus shipping.
This is just a sucker punch. First of all, they mean cancel the second order, not the introductory order. And they don’t really tell you how much time you have to cancel the new order. So the safest thing to do is cancel the new order as soon as you receive the introductory order. Otherwise very soon after you’ll receive a new billing to your credit (or debit) card.
What should be done? The state or federal government should enact a provision that says that, if a contract is made online, every order for good must be ordered separately. That is, your first order for goods does not require you to pay for a subsequent order of goods unless you separately order it. That would put at end to the sneaky order placement contract provision.
2. Lack Of Email Contact
One of the things that banks and other businesses do on the internet is make it virtually impossible for you to contact them by email. Banks only want you to contact them by fax, regular mail, or phone. The reason why they do this is because the permitted contact methods are slow and take a long time. The phone method always puts you in a wait of 15 to 30 minutes. Naturally, they always tell you that they are experiencing “longer than ordinary waiting times,” and they always apologize. You wait and wait, and then you finally speak with someone, and inevitably they shift you to another department, where you wait another 15 to 30 minutes. Also, talking on the phone gives you no written record of your problem and their response.
Sometimes they will have an online email, but this means that you put in your question or complaint and have no record of your having done so – unless you are clever enough to take a photo or print a pdf of what you wrote.
What should be done? The government should require any on line business to write them an email (and their email address should be prominently displayed). If they want you to use an email available only on their website, they should be required to get your email address and send you a copy of what you wrote and, if they answered, what they answered. That way at least you have a record or what happened in the event there is a dispute.
3. Disputes Over Credit and Debit Card Use
If you use your credit or debit card and get into a dispute with the merchant, your credit card company always wants you to try first to resolve the dispute with the merchant. (Of course, because it costs them money to become involved). And if you do that and then file a claim with the credit card company, they generally make it difficult to explain your problem. They give you a number of boxes to check but no place really to explain what happened. Then, without sending you copies of anything sent or received from the merchant, they communicate with the merchant. Sometimes, the credit card company makes a decision without further communication with you, and sometimes (depending on the complaint) they ask you for further information. It’s always complicated because they don’t share what the merchant said.
And what if you don’t like the outcome? Then you have to go to court.
What should be done? First of all, as soon as you file a complaint, a copy of the complaint should be sent to the merchant, so that the merchant can contact you if it wishes. The format for the complaint should always permit you to explain the problem in your own words and, if you wish, to include copies of documents, photos, and so on. These the credit card company should forward to the merchant with instructions to contact you (if it wishes to) or to respond through the credit card company website. If the merchant cannot work something out with you or respond in writing within 30 days, then your complaint will be allowed. If the merchant can get you to sign a withdrawal of your complaint (and email a copy of it to you and the card company), that ends the problem. If not, then the card company can ask you and the merchant for more information and eventually come to a decision.
If one of the parties doesn’t like the decision, then (if the amount in question is small enough – say $1000 or less) the whole matter is automatically referred to an independent small claims arbiter, who holds a video hearing, with testimony if needed. Neither party can be represented by an attorney. The hearing has to be convenient to both parties. The arbiter then makes a final decision, which is binding on all parties.
This procedure is required by law. Moreover, the credit card company has to pay for the arbitration (it pays out of the fees that it collects).
The idea behind the foregoing is to make communication easier, prevent cheating, and make dispute resolution simpler and more acceptable in small cases. I’m sure that there may be other solutions, too.