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Read "Gotcha Capitalism"!!!

Original post made by A.L., Green Acres, on Jan 16, 2008

I recommend the new book "Gotcha Capitalism - How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day - And What You Can Do About It"

Reading this book has been an emotional experience - not necessarily because I feel suddenly empowered to fight these practices, I'm already a consumer battle-axe - but because someone is finally bringing up the overarching problem of these practices. I'm really tired of being shaken down at every turn. It's wearing on people, and frankly, it hurts legitimate business and fair competition. When that happens, we all lose.

Quote from the cover page:
"Competing by cheating has become a way of life for ... many of these corporations, many of the most reputable of them. Because it's done by AT&T, MCI, or Sprint, people are reluctant to use taht word, but when all is said and done ... these are scams. - Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal"

Happy Reading! (Then call your legislators and complain, as he describes on p. 297.)

Comments (26)

Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 16, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Don't you think that most of the strange fees and practices of the communication companies (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint) are related to the government's regulations and taxes? Why ask for more regulations? Get rid of the ones we have.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Wray, they're committed by corporate greed. I know you grok Ayn Rand, but let's not take her disingenuousness to absurd levels.

Banks and media companies (cable, telco) are the worst offenders. These practices ARE criminal (many are over the top fraudulent). I would like to see executives at the top do hard time for permitting these kinds of fraud.

Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm

I don't accept the premise that corporations are criminal. If some are, take them to court under criminal law. Don't muck up everything with a lot of asinine regulations.
There's nothing wrong with the profit motive.

Posted by Shannon
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2008 at 5:58 pm

There are all sorts of corparte schems to rip us off. However, the major corporations provide some crucial services for their greed. For example, I use credit cards cards and ATMs and mortgages and credit lines. I try to make sure that I pay everything on time, but if I slip, if only for technical reasons, I know I will pay the penalty. Sometimes, I just decide to accept the penalty, because my cash flow is low. In general, the service provided is well worth the price, at least to me.

Government, by contrast, is a monopolistic racket that has the power to put us in jail, if we do not agree to pay for the ripoffs. The IRS is a living nightmare for many American citizens. It's like Joe LeFors ("who are those guys?").

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm

Case in point.BofA - - If you use a credit card for overdraft protection, your overdraft results in a $15 charge + interest on the overdraft loan. Fair enough.

But then it gets interesting. BofA knows that most consumers are accustomed to interest being billed on a monthly basis, so what does BofA do? They charge your overdraft loan interest on a daily basis. Twicky.

This means that when they mail the bill, the interest in computed every day. Thus, even if you pay off the bill in its entirety, you are still paying interest between the time you received the bill, and the time you pay it in full (assuming you pay in full).

This means that even though you pay the bill in full, you will receive another bill the following month for the interest that aggregates from the time the bill was mailed (even if you paid in full the day you get the bill)

This results in a nice little sweep of funds out of your pocket by BofA. MANY consumers who only occasionally use overdraft protection, don't open their credit card bill after paying off last month's debt, because they know they haven't overdrafted again, and that there should be no balance.


A small interest balance has accumulated. It may only be $1.00, but if you don't pay it up, you are fined a late fee. IN fact, even if you DO pay it up, there will be a daily interest charged on the $1.00 the following month.

Theoretically, one never gets to pay off this debt. BofA knows that comsumers are habituated to monthly payoffs, so they came up with this scam. they make 10's of millions every month on this rip off - one that they consciously put in play.

If you forget to pay off the minute amount that floats into your balance for 2 months, they will close your overdraft account without notice, and report you to a credit agency. This happened to me, for a $.50 debt!

It took about 4 hours of phone calling, and the real threat of a lawsuit (I went up as far as the CFO) to get this reversed, and restore my perfect credit rating.

How many people have that kind of time available? How many $8.00 per hour workers do not have the ability to contest these rip offs, and just pay? It's criminal.

Bof A's executives should be fined, or jailed, for permitting practices like this. Many other banks do the same thing.

I am no longer a BofA customer.

Posted by Consumer advocate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 11:22 am

"I don't accept the premise that corporations are criminal." - neo-Conservative battle cry. (IMO, an ANTI-true-Conservative anthem!)

Which is why corporations are now intruding in our lives and shaking us down in ways our government is not. Neo-conservatives would have us believe that we can fight every assault on our wallets in court? (Pardon me while I clean up the milk that just came out my nose.)

Concentrations of wealth and power of any sort can take on the attributes people who hate the "government" complain about. They put up a fortress against "government" and invite in the corporate Trojan horse with open arms.

Me, I'll defend my family, not the Trojan horses!

Posted by Karen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Mike, you see don't you, that unlike with government services, you have the choice to change service providers in the private sector. Also, because of competition, private industry is motivated to provide better services at lower costs. You can choose what suits you best.
However when it comes to government services, I have seen firsthand how much time, energy and money is wasted by their agencies, and what poor providers they are.
Take my mother's case for instance. She was denied care that she was supposed to recieve due to stupid bureaucratic mistakes made by medicare. She almost died as a result and her medical bills more than tripled.
Our family was nearly bankrupted getting her the appropriate care while we tried to resolve the paperwork problems with medicare. It literally took years and thousands of hours of work to file all the necessary forms and attend all the hearings & meetings with various agencies.
All the delays and all the nonsense could have cost her life ten times over if we had not fought the system and provided her with private medical help! How can a person who is ill and alone do this for himself?
If a private corporation had comitted this kind bungle THEY could have legally been sued. NOT so with government agencies - they cannot be sued for their carelessness and incompetence. She has been permanently harmed and we have not recovered financially. THAT is a crime and I have heard from many other people that it happens all the time.
Where are the consumer advocates when it comes to negligence and malfeasance by government agencies?

Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Yes, consumer advocates worry about such things as a few dollars in bank fees. But, look at the tremendous ripoff by the Federal Reserve and US Treasury. Largely because of their inflation practices the dollar is fast losing its value-it takes almost 900 dollars to buy an oz of gold and almost 100 dollars to buy a barrel of oil. This legalized ripoff in devaluing our paper "money" completely overwhelms a few bucks in bank fees. The bank fees can be easily avoided by reading the contract-but who can avoid the government's inflation?

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Karen, Who do you think it is that's responsible for the reprehensible lack of efficient, cheap, accessible health care in America? It sure isn't our government.

Wray, a few dollars? Add up the numbers I put up before, and multiply by *millions* of consumers, daily. I know a lot about bank reconciliation, and I know for sure that their pricing models are *designed* to fool people in ways that takes advantage of small changes in merchant behavior. You need to wake up and smell the reality about corporate abuse, when it occurs.

As far as the Federal Reserve goes, I am somewhat in agreement. For instance, Central Banks all over the world have a lot to do with currency valuations, and thus the value of labor. Wouldn't it be nice if Chinese, INdian, Vietnamese, Mexican workers in their home countries could rise per demand, instead of the relative value of their manipulated currencies.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Most certainly the government has contributed greatly to the demise of our healthcare industry. I will give you two examples.
1) Companies that used to offer wonderful medical benefits no longer do so as government medical programs have expanded. This has lead to fewer options for workers and their families.
2) As hospitals and clinics are forced to give free medical care to the millions of illegals constantly entering our country, the costs are passed on to the paying legal citizens. So our bills keep skyrocketing. Some hospitals on the borders have even had to close since they could not afford to operate under these conditions.
Citizen's options keep shrinking as government run plans keep growing. And goverment run plans are almost never held accoutable when they cause harm.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2008 at 10:37 pm

"1) Companies that used to offer wonderful medical benefits no longer do so as government medical programs have expanded. This has lead to fewer options for workers and their families."

Why do you think that government medical programs have expanded? Could it be that this has been brought about by the egregious costs of medical care stimulated by the private medical sector.

We should eliminate the private sector in medicine - take it completely out of the picture, or mostly out of the picture. I like the French system. Everything is paid for - yuo go to the doctor of your choice. Nice.

Posted by Jay
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Mike, there are numerous reasons for rising medical costs. Outrageous lawsuits for one and the thousands of government regulations that are choking all free enterprise including medicine, for another. I have seen enough of the tragedy of government run healthcare systems in other countries to know that they don't work.
I will never vote for any such system here. I don't want my choices limited to the cheapest "approved" treatments and medications. I don't want doctors who are not free to give their best advice if it disagrees with policies largely set by government bureaucrats concerned with the cost to the system. I don't want to wait forever for surgery and other services due to scarcity of doctors and facilities. I don't want goverment mandated treatments of any kind, especially euthanasia.
Government run healthcare will be like any other goverment run bureaucracy; wasteful, inefficient, incompetent, restrictive, and unaccountable to the people. It will also be detrimental to medical progress which requires incentives and competition to thrive.
People from other countries that have government run healthcare systems many times come to the USA, if they can, to get care from our private medical providers that they can't get from their systems.
I have relatives from France and Canada who have done this. In fact a friend of mine in Canada waited so long (years) for a simple and ordinary kind of surgery, that he died from his condition while waiting.
Please, Mike, move to France if you like their medical system, but don't ruin ours.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2008 at 12:38 am

"People from other countries that have government run healthcare systems many times come to the USA"

Actually, Reader's Digest did a story not too long ago about how foreigners traveling to the US for medical care USED TO be a multi-billion dollar industry, but that business has largely been lost to countries like Switzerland and Singapore, and other places where people can get advanced care for a fraction of the cost. People still do come here for certain procedures, but most of that business has been lost. Now "medical tourism" mostly means US citizens traveling abroad for cheaper medical care.

Some more interesting information:

New York Times editorial August 2007 "World's Best Medical Care?"
Web Link

The Moral Hazard Myth Web Link

Our medical system is in ruins, Jay. We deserve and can do better than this. Please get out of the way and stop with the disinformation.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2008 at 12:41 am

This is a lot like the smoking battle. Some people will never be convinced. Those of us who are hurt by their pollution need to just do the right thing. The time has come.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2008 at 2:06 am

The reason companies have ceased to offer excellent medical benefits has nothing to do with what the government offers and not even that much to do with lawsuits.

It does have everything to do with changes in the population. Basically, once upon a time, companies offered benefits for life. As more and more employees retired, companies, such as GM, started paying out more and more medical benefits.

At the same time, however, the companies were seeing fluctuations in business and were often downsizing. What you now have are companies that are smaller than they once were stuck with tremendous overhead from paying healthcare and benefit costs. Older companies are an automatic disadvantage next to younger companies--or oversees companies that are in countries with national healthcare.

Some of the biggest proponents of nationalized healthcare are corporations. The way things are now, particularly given the 20 percent of Americans who are uninsured and Medicare's tradition of underpayment, those who are insured and their employers are paying extra for their healthcare to balance the under and non payment by large groups of people.

It comes down to a question of risk pools--if *all* Americans are part of the risk pool (nationalized healthcare), healthcare should be more affordable since more people are paying into the system.

R. Wray, the job of corporations is to make money. If it's legal and profitable, then companies will do it. That certainly applies to excess fees--I noticed the fee thing got out of control when interest rates went down and banks started looking for other ways to make up the shortfall.

And you don't always have a choice about a service provider. Our mortgage was bundled and resold. The finance companies that send us letters and look for ways to hit us with fees aren't companies we chose--they're companies that basically bought our mortgage.

And too much regulation is so much NOT the problem right now. The problem is that the market created so many new financial instruments that no one quite knows what is what and who's affected by it. The market's more than jittery and Greenspan's (speaking of Ayn Rand acolytes) legacy's in tatters.

Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 20, 2008 at 10:48 am

OhlonePar, I'm pretty sure that if you read your mortgage contract, you would have seen that it could be resold. And reading it would have been much simpler than trying to determine all the government regulations that apply. Your argument that private contracts are more complicated than government regulations doesn't make sense.
I watch Fox news and it's easy to see that the markets are jittery because of the unknown actions of the Fed (and other gov't agencies);I don't know where you get your news.
(BTW, your argument about risk pools also doesn't make sense. For instance a pool of young, healthy people would certainly lower the rates for those just starting and trying to build a future.)

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 20, 2008 at 7:22 pm

"People from other countries that have government run healthcare systems many times come to the USA, if they can, to get care from our private medical providers that they can't get from their systems."

"Anonymous" is exactly right. Also, Wray is an Ayn Rand acolyte. He's someone who believes in abstract notions of things, rather than things as they are.

It's always amusing to watch people drop their abstract notions and beliefs into a debate that's discussing real harm done to real people by those with the power do do so, just because the latter wants to make a profit.

Profit is a religion with some people - you can't argue with them.

What we need to do is take the profit motive out of health care. That's a start. It's going to take a while, but it's going to happen. Just wait until the VOTING Baby Boomers reach critical mass as retirees. Then. the cow dung is really going to hit the fan.

Posted by TrueSocialJustice
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Mike, why don't we take the PROFIT motive out of the corrupt practice of certain politicians? The ones who promise money out of the pockets of working people to give to those who vote for them, thus buying their power with taxpayers money. Let kind hearted liberals donate their own money to charity instead of stealing the hard earned resources of others to fund their pet projects.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 20, 2008 at 9:57 pm

"why don't we take the PROFIT motive out of the corrupt practice of certain politicians?"

Good idea; there's plenty of corruption on all sides

Posted by Ken
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Yes Mike, all sides of the Democrat party and some RINO Republicans like McCain are basically thieves.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Ken, they're not thieves; they're products of a system that has been infiltrated by large private interests. It will take a while to get to the bottom of this, and begin to turn the large ship of democracy around. It won't be easy, and there are no guarantees. The alternative is a country that's comfortable, but no more special than any other in democratic circles.

Posted by TrueSocialJustice
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2008 at 5:51 pm

That's right Mike, no one is responsible for their own choices or behavior. Only big evil corprations commit crimes. That's your simple minded belief system isn't it.
On the other hand, the brilliant founders of our American democracy understood well that evil resides in the human heart. They recognized that each individual must choose either to act out of his own selfish desires or out of a commitment to deep moral virtue that sets personal considerations aside. They predicted that democracy would not survive if individuals did not practice the discipline of virtue and self restraint. They were right.
In your world of moral relativity, democracy is reduced to "two wolves and one sheep voting on what's for dinner". Democracy is dying as more and more people selfishly vote to take the hard earned dollars from other people for their own agendas. Unscupulous politicians pander to such selfishness, "redistributing the wealth" of others to garner votes, power and wealth for themselves. This is the road that leads to tyranny.

Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm

True, you sound like a Libertarian - are you?

Posted by David
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Sound thought processes and ideas are what we should focus on, not labels. Let's reason together.

Posted by make the world safe for true Conservatives again!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:29 pm

This is an argument that can't turn into a reasoned discussion, because one side is talking about the trouble with criminal behavior, and the other is talking as if you can't differentiate between selfish motivations and criminal behavior, confusing the two.

The bank, the bank patrons, and the bank robber are all acting in their own selfish interests. One side of this argument is talking about the robbers and their schemes and saying it's time to call in the cops. The other side of this argument keeps talking like there is no way to distinguish the patrons from the robbers and it isn't necessary, the Great Spirit of the Marketplace Makes All Well if Only We Do Nothing.

For banking commerce to function and prosper, there have to be some rules. Bank patrons can't be allowed to rob the bank. The bank can't be allowed to rob the patrons.

Anyone who thinks that getting rid of all laws and enforcement against crime will work to the benefit of anyone except criminals is delusional. I'm sick of their grossly negative influence on our society and the large-scale crime it has engendered since the 80s. I'm sick of the grossly negative influences on our healthy markets! (I'm sick of their giving true Conservatism a bad name!!)

I believe the book Gotcha Capitalism deals with the problem of the banks and similar interests essentially finding ways to rob the patrons.

I don't want government throwing money around for economic stimulus!! Make it safe to be an honest business again, and protect consumers from being shaken down - there's your immediate stimulus package, giving consumers control of their own money again. I think this book provides support that the amount of money consumers lost in surprise Gotcha's every year is in the thousands of dollars each.

Posted by EHM
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2008 at 9:31 am

Re: postings on health care. Read front-page feature article Thurs. or Fri.,4/3 or 4/4 in wsj or NYTimes on how non-profit hospitals/groups are now profitable enough that CEOs bring in compensation $3-5 million a year.

The underlying issue is TRANSPARENCY whether it's health care, politics, finance, rules committees, etc. All your fine energy would do so much if consolidated and we could start right here in Palo Alto. Start with making closed-door meetings a rarity.

Q. Why doesn't PAMF have a geriatrics department? Is it that there aren't enough older patients/clients in Palo Alto?!

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