By Ralph Nader
February 18, 2022
Want to unite conservatives and liberals in the Red and Blue states? Just mention those unreadable computer-generated bills we all get online or in the mail. Overflowing with abbreviations and codes, they are inscrutable, especially health care bills.
If you call the vendors for an explanation, be prepared to wait and wait and wait for any human being to answer or call back, even after you’ve pushed all the required buttons to leave a voice mail message. The vendors are counting on you to surrender, mumbling that you’ve got better things to do with your time.
If you’re lucky enough to get a human and you disagree about the bill, you know that if you persist against their assurances of accuracy, your credit score can go down. Algorithms can be made to work so impersonally.
A few months ago, the syndicated consumer columnist for the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary, tried to correct errors in her credit bureau’s file. She called trying to get through a “hellish nightmare,” a “journey to automation hell.” Service by algorithm doesn’t differentiate between ordinary and prominent customers. Everyone gets the same shaft.
One of the worst companies in not getting back to customer inquiries or complaints is the Bank of America. Sources tell us the Bank has algorithms that measure how long they can keep customers waiting so as to have fewer workers needed to answer the calls.
The very design of computerized bills is a premeditated endeavor by the cheaters. The nation’s expert, applied mathematician Malcolm Sparrow – a Harvard professor – wrote an entire book on this subject titled “License to Steal” in which he conservatively estimated that the billing fraud in the health care industry is 10% of all expenses or about $360 billion this year alone!
The anonymous cheaters, hiding behind the corporate web of complexity, keep getting bolder. They bill you for things you never bought or wanted. The Wells Fargo Bank did this to millions of their customers over the years. The bank opened unwanted credit card accounts and billed for auto insurance, for example, imposing sales quotas on their employees. The media caught the bank, finally. Wells Fargo had to pay out money in fines and restitution. The company easily absorbed the payments as part of the cost of doing business. No executive was criminally prosecuted; a few resigned. The Board of Directors was not replaced. And Wells Fargo is flying high today, pretty much unscathed.
Many consumers don’t even look at their bills anymore. They just give up and let the sellers, such as the utilities, get direct electronic payments from their bank accounts.
On July 30, 2014, Senator Jay Rockefeller’s consumer subcommittee held hearings on “cramming.” Here customers are billed for things on their telephone bill they never ordered by firms that somehow got the phone companies to add their charges. The testimony described what has to be seen as criminal billing. Members of Congress turned their backs on the proposed legislation to end this scam while keeping their pockets open to campaign contributions from the wrongdoers.
Credit scores, credit ratings, and grossly one-sided fine print contracts are resulting in the financial and contractual incarceration of the American consumer. In many instances, the corporate lawyers who create these contractual handcuffs make sure that you’ve “consented” to your “jailing,” to your rip-offs, to your giving up your rights to go to court to challenge marketplace abuses. They point to some deeply buried sentence in these contracts that you have never even seen.
Maybe someday such deceit by these lawyers, who are deemed “officers of the court,” will be considered legal malpractice.
Well, someone cares! In a groundbreaking report accompanied by a comprehensive proposed model act for state legislatures to enact, California consumer advocates Harvey Rosenfield and Laura Antonini document the thousand and one “non-stop thefts of our money, safety, time and privacy.”
If you read through the waves of documented corporate rip-offs, billing frauds, and deceptive promotions, you’ll be nodding so much, from your own experience, that you may have to stop and rest your neck.
The authors don’t just expose the fraudsters, however. They have drafted legislation to stop the corporate crooks and to protect and empower you in the perilous marketplace of corporate crime, fraud, and abuse.
Read the report (four years in the making) for yourself by visiting the Represent Consumers website. You will see how the eroded civil justice system can be toughened across the board to represent you.
Those of you who wish to listen to Harvey and Laura talk about their battle for American consumers, turn to the Ralph Nader Radio Hour where their interview will be available as a podcast on Saturday, February 26, 2022.
You’ll want to take your righteous fury straight to your state legislator with the model statute in hand.