Ziggy Zapata Title

BUSINESS SCAMS

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RIPPING OFF CONSUMERS

One would expect that businesses, especially large companies that are in the public eye, would operate ethically and responsibly. This is a fantasy. Many companies treat their customers like complete idiots and abuse their market power, especially after those companies have taken money for goods and services that they do not deliver.

AIRLINE OVERBOOKING SCAM

Airlines are notorious for running this fraud. They operate on the principle that statistically, a number of passengers will not show up for flights so they overbook flights by a certain percentage. However, this scam often comes undone when most, if not all the passengers show up for the flights. Then the airlines engage in the practice of "bumping" passengers off those flights - in other words, not allowing them to board and take those flights that they have booked.

Of course there is absolutely no excuse for airlines doing this to any passenger. When a person books a seat on an aircraft with an airline, he expects to take the flight. In fact by booking the ticket, the passenger and the airline have entered into a legal and binding contract. The airline has promised to make the seat available to that passenger and transport him to the destination as booked.

Obviously there are various conditions with airlines that preclude them from fulfilling that contract, such as circumstances totally beyond their control. If bad weather grounds the flight, that is a valid safety reason. Maybe a runway becomes unserviceable because of debris that could be ingested into the engines of aircraft, so a flight may be delayed until the problem is cleared. No passenger could object to their flights being cancelled or delayed because of problems like this.

However, the one thing that is completely within an airline's control is the booking of seats on each flight. If an airline indulges in selling more seats than are actually available on an aircraft, even on the basis that some passengers will not show up, this is blatant fraud. If other companies tried to sell goods or services that they could not guarantee to deliver, they would be dragged before consumer tribunals and courts and prosecuted for fraud, but airlines seem to get away with this scam on a daily basis.

The most unfair aspect of this scam is that especially with budget airlines that set draconian booking conditions for their flights, such as no-cancellation clauses, passengers who show up late, even by a couple of minutes, are turned back from boarding the aircraft and lose their fare. So the airline can "bump" passengers off flights because of their overbooking scam, even if those passengers have arrived early and checked in, but if passengers are a couple of minutes late, they can be turned away from the flight and lose their fare.

The obvious remedy for any passenger who is told that he is being "bumped" off a flight is to tell the airline that this is not his problem that the airline has indulged in its overbooking scam and that the airline should have only sold the number of seats available on the aircraft. The passenger should also inform the airline that if he is not allowed to board the aircraft and travel according to the contract the airline and he entered into when he bought the ticket, he will sue the airline for costs and hefty damages, as well as go to the police and have the airline charged with fraud - to wit, selling something that the airline did not have.

TRAVEL WEBSITES CHARGE UNJUSTIFIED FEES

Ever since credit card fees were deregulated, airlines have jumped onto the gravy train and are charging completely unjustified and exorbitant fees for making flight bookings using credit cards. Most Australian airlines charge around $7 per booking credit card fee, whereas the actual cost to the airlines is less than $1. But the prevalence of travel booking websites shows that they also try and perpetrate cash grabs that are unjustified. Here is one example.

In May 2013, I needed to book a return flight from Sydney to Melbourne. I went to the Webjet website because I had seen the barrage of advertising from Webjet. I entered the details of the return flight in the on-line form and was presented with this quote:

I was astounded by the various fees charged, especially the Webject Booking Price Guarantee. What the hell is this? Once the fare is booked and paid for, the price has been set. No price guarantee is needed, so Webjet tacking on $12.95 for this is completely unjustified. The same goes for the Webjet Processing Fee of $19.95 on top of the Tiger Payment and Service fee of $17.00 that Tiger demands anyway.

So I just went to the Tiger Airways website and looked for the same return flight and this is what I found:

The difference in cost of making the exact booking via Webjet at $149.80 and Tiger Airways at $116.90 was a whopping $32.90 - a saving of nearly 40% of the Tiger airfare. Obviously I just booked the flight with Tiger and gave Webjet the flick.

So it pays to check all those extra costs that many travel websites tack onto fares that are completely unjustified. These websites all get commissions from airlines, hotels and other entities when they book travel and holidays with them, so they should not be adding these ridiculous costs on top of the actual fares and accommodation in the way Webjet did with me.

With just about every airline, hotel and tourist destination having its own website where direct bookings can be made, it is really worthwhile avoiding portals like Webjet like the plague, because they will rip you off with these ridiculous fees for no good reason.

MEDICAL PROFESSION OVERBOOKING SCAM

Like airlines, many doctors also overbook their appointments by a margin, expecting a certain number of patients to either not show up or change their appointments at short notice. However, most doctors knowingly book appointments for shorter times than experience tells them that they need to see each patient at the appointed time. Thus waiting rooms, appropriately named because people sit and wait incessantly, are crammed with patients, another good descriptive term, because those people have to be very patient when their appointments are broken.

It would be the height of rudeness for businessmen to be late for meetings or appointments and keeping people waiting would not be tolerated. But somehow or other, doctors seem to think that they are exempt from the normal courtesies of keeping appointments and the reason for this is merely commercial. Filling waiting rooms with patients who have booked appointments and sit there waiting for considerable lengths of time after the time of the appointment, is merely a method of maximising the income of doctors, nothing more.

An appointment is a contract entered into by a doctor and his patient. The doctor agrees to see the patient for a consultation at a certain time and unless there is some sort of personal disaster, the doctor does not have any excuse for keeping the patient waiting and thus breaking the appointment and that contract. What doctors do not seem to realise is that people have other things to do and other appointments to attend afterwards and keeping those people sitting in waiting rooms throws their schedules out too. This is most unfair.

The medical profession is a business and doctors should be held to the same standards as other businesses. Patients who are kept waiting well past their appointment times should complain long and loud and even threaten legal action for doctors wasting their valuable time by demanding that they sit in waiting rooms and missing or being late for meetings after those doctor's broken appointments.

TELEPHONE UNLIMITED PLAN SCAM

In Australia, there are many mobile phone plans that offer "Unlimited" talk and text and a number of landline phone plans that offer "Unlimited" data as well. However, many of these plans have conditions in the fine print and even blatantly assert that these "Unlimited" plans are subject to a "Fair Use" or "Acceptable Use" policy.

For instance, here is the wording of a particular "Unlimited" phone plan "Fair Use" policy.

Here is another example.

Of course using a service fraudulently is illegal, but " your use of our services is reasonably considered by XXX to be excessive"? Or "Using a XXX telephony services for mass distribution to a large number of recipients"?

The dictionary definition of "Unlimited" is - not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent. Synonyms are - inexhaustible, limitless, illimitable, boundless, unbounded, immense, vast, great, extensive, immeasurable, incalculable, untold, unfailing, everlasting, infinite, endless, never-ending, bottomless, measureless, inestimable.

So under current Australian federal consumer laws, an "Unlimited" service of any kind does not have the legal right to impose any limits, such as in these "Fair Use" or Acceptable Use" policies. If a person subscribing to one of these plans does use the service for telemarketing or for any other legal purpose, that activity cannot legally be restricted or prevented in any way. And if the provider cancels the service because the subscriber was using its "Unlimited" plan in a way that was legal, then the subscriber has very good grounds to seek recourse by way of a damages lawsuit in court.

If a company advertises an "Unlimited" service of any kind, then it cannot impose any limitations whatsoever and if it does, it will be breaching the federal Consumer Act and the Fair Trading Act of every state of Australia. If the phone plan offers unlimited talk and text, then the user can talk all day and night and even leave the phone connected to another phone 24/7. The user can also send a zillion texts without restriction. The user with an "Unlimited Data" plan can spend every day and night on the Internet downloading any material that is not illegal.

It has been found that many users on these "Unlimited" plans have had their services curtailed and in the case of Internet services, the speeds have been severely retarded or even disconnected after a particular download threshold has been reached. Under an "Unlimited" plan, any sort of curtailment or restriction is highly illegal and any company that does this under a "Fair Use" or any other condition is in breach of the law.

So if you are on any plan that has been advertised as "Unlimited" and you find that your service has been restricted in any way from the normal level of service because of some "Fair Use" policy, you should storm into the company providing the service and demand that they never restrict your "Unlimited" service again, otherwise they will find themselves before the Consumer Tribunal on the wrong end of a complaint, as well as the very real possibility that you will sue them for damages for false advertising, breach of contract and deceptive conduct.