Business Regulation and Antitrust Enforcement

Bring lawsuits against manufacturers, telephone, cable companies and other marketers to recover damages for and seek injunctive relief against the illegal practice of maximizing profits at the expense of consumers, by requiring consumers to spend excessive time, incur excessive expense and experience excessive difficulty to obtain the promised benefits from the purchased product or service.

There is an epidemic occurring in the United States, and it's not caused by anthrax or Asian Flu. It's caused by major corporations stealing the money of consumers (the voting public) by selling product and services with an appealing array of features and other benefits, and then denying consumers any reasonable opportunity to obtain the benefit of his/her bargain. This unlawful practice is done by manufacturers, telephone companies, cable companies, software manufacturers, computer hardware and peripheral manufacturers, retail organizations marketing such products and services, and others.

You are familiar with the techniques. You can't understand how to install a product or somehow it fails to work properly, and you then find that the time you spent in purchasing the product is nothing compared to the time and money and frustration you are going to spend trying to get the product or service to work for you as promised.

I have spent 3 hours today, 3 hours yesterday, and many additional hours during the past seven months to try to get telephone service in my apartment in New York City - unsuccessfully. I'm not going to name names, although you can probably guess who the culprits are. But they are no different from the other companies in other parts of the United States or in many cases they may be the same. What is the same, however, is the reason that consumers are treated the way they are, and the techniques being used.

The Reason for Denial of Reasonable Service to Consumers

"Ever-increasing profits" is what drives most companies to offer products and services and then deny consumers the services needed to give consumers the benefit of their bargain. The selling company receives its money in advance, turns over a portion of what it promises to the consumer, and then fails to deliver the rest of the promised product or service, because to do so would cost too much money. The company has to compete with other companies by offering the lowest price, or apparently lowest price, and in doing so doesn't really get enough money to deliver the rest of what it promised the consumer, and at the same time satisfy Wall Street demands for higher and higher profits.

If we had concerned governmental officials, such as the Attorney General, FTC or Justice Department at the federal level or the Attorney General or Consumer Affairs Department of state or local governments at the State/Local level of government, the practices would be ended, and businesses would know that there would be severe consequences if they failed to live up to their promises. But this period of the American Dream is over. Government does not help the voters or other people, it works against them by sheltering the major corporations from efforts by the voters and other consumers to obtain their money's worth. Instead of expecting help from the federal government, we see more and more statutes being passed to prevent voters and other consumers from getting their money's worth. Examples are the statutes that require class actions to be brought in federal court where they are expected to be dismissed at a substantially higher rate than when brought in the state courts; by statutes that prevent states from regulating the charges of credit card companies and other financial institutions, thereby enabling them to charge interest at the rate of 1,000% or 10,000% as they see fit. Appointment of federal judges that are expected to support almost anything sought by major corporations.

The purpose is to maximize the profits of major corporations, by denying consumers the benefit of their bargain. The technique is simple. Let the major corporations promise anything, take the consumers' money, and then be allowed with impunity not to deliver on all of the corporations' promises, to enable the corporation to sell goods and services at low prices because they aren't required to deliver all that they have promised.

The Techniques Used to Deny the Promised Products and Services

There are several main methods used to deny the promised products and services to consumers. I'm going to put them in a list, not necessarily in their most important order:

Hiring low-priced people to answer the customer service and complaint lines of a manufacturer so that nobody with the required skills is immediately available to answer a customer's call. There are two principal ways that corporations are doing this low-priced hiring: (i) hiring unsuitable employees in India at a very low rate of pay, and having an inability to understand the questions posed by American consumers; being unable to speak English in a way that can be understood by many American consumers; and not being well-versed in the product or service as to which they are hired to provide assistance - a recipe for disaster, and spreading like an epidemic, with many major corporations retaining several fast-growing Indian telephone call centers to provide "service" to customers at a very low cost, but in fact providing very little service at all to many customers and depriving them of the benefit of their bargain in the process; and (ii) hiring American prisoners to answer the telephone call at slave wages because of their imprisonment; the prisoners do speak more understandable English but they are forced employees hired out for the benefit of major contractors such as Wackhenhut, I presume, one of the leading proponents of private prisons, where part of the profit comes from exploitation of prisoners for slave wages with adverse consequences when coming to the quality of answer they provide to consumers. Setting up elaborate telephone menus to take up an enormous amount of time, increased by predictable mistakes by the consumer, for the purpose ultimately of discouraging most consumers from obtaining the information they need to get the benefit of their bargain, enabling the corporation to add to its profits by denial of the promised service. You know how this works, you have a problem with setting up a mailbox, but it takes too long to get to your problem, perhaps 15 menu choices, until you realize that you must not have recognized the one that probably covered your problem, and you have to go back to the beginning, including sometimes a 1-hour wait. If a human being answered the telephone, he or she could get you to the right person right away, without having you waste your time going through 15 or 30 or 45 menu options, and perhaps 1-2 hours of wait time each time you have a question about the product. If you spend 4 hours on getting help, and your time is worth say $40/hour, the product costs you $160 more than the $100 you paid for the product; the manufacturer could have provided the needed service at perhaps $20 more, but found a way to save the $20 by throwing a $160 additional cost on each customer, without telling the customer that purchasing the product for $100 will entail an average additional cost of $160 in the customer's time if he really wants to obtain the promised benefits. Having an insufficient number of telephone representatives to handle the known volume of inquiries the manufacturer receives, so that the manufacturer plans that the average customer is going to spend the $160 in valuable time to obtain the promised benefits, because of the waiting time programmed by the manufacturer. This waiting time is designed to take, say, 1,000 calls over one week and divide them up among 5 telephone representatives (I'm guessing), with each representative to handle an average of 200 calls per week or 40 calls per day or 6 calls per hour (7 hours per day). The problem is that the calls come in bunches, probably early in the morning, at noon and perhaps near the end of the day - times when employees are free from other duties and can spend time trying to get the benefit out of the purchased product or service. So, instead of hiring enough telephone reps to handle the volume of calls as received, they spread the calls out by making customers wait a preditable length of time, such as 1 hour or 1.5 hours, without telling the customer about this practice before the customer parted with his or her money. Having unskilled telephone reps at various "layers" when in fact the layers are staffed with about the same level of incompetence and inability to help the calling consumer, but it does enable unskilled reps (paid perhaps 5 cents an hour as prisoners or 25 cents per hour as trainees in a large telephone center in India) to hold the caller's attention and waste the caller's time until one of the few skilled reps at the very top is finally free to handle the call, someone who should have been involved much earlier in the calling process, but would cost the company substantially more if hired (in appropriate numbers) for an earlier stage of involvement. When everything is said and done, most of the consumers calling for help are not getting the help needed or requested, and the company does not pay anyone as a result. This enables the company to keep most of the purchase price and maximize its profits, while throwing the cost of service onto the consumer, by denying the consumer the promised benefits unless the consumer parts with a substantial additional cost in the form of his/her valuable time and even expenses in trying to figure out how to make the product work. I have often resorted to purchasing books or advice to try to bypass the unworkable telephone service lines of present-day manufacturers. The result for most of us is premature (or really, planned) obsolescense of the product or service and a premature purchase of some other product or service as a replacement, only to wind up with the same difficult, and less space to boot. Pay for service options by manufacturers. Manufacturers have found a new market to exploit, and are doing so with a vengeance. By denying needed service to their customers in the ways explained above, they have created a willing, frustrated market of consumers willing to pay anything to get their problem resolved, so they can go on to other things. Thus, the manufacturer often has a paid help service where you can pay perhaps $30 no matter how long it takes to resolve the problem, or $5 per minute, with a 3-minute minimum. The better deal in most instances is the higher priced offer, of $30, because too often you have to go back for more instruction or advice. It's too bad that the $30 advice was not given as part of the manufacturer's offer of specific benefits to the consumer, because without such advice the benefits cannot be obtained. Bait and Switch; Consumer Fraud; Other Legal Bases for Action

As New York Attorney General, I would gather information from consumers through websites seeking complaints - see my rebate website at and my late-fee website at - and then commence appropriate action (i) to require full disclosure of the service problem to consumers before they purchase; (ii) to enjoin the company from any more sales until their service problem is brought back to a reasonable level of time to give consumers the benefit of their bargain; (iii) to obtain recovery of overcharges to consumers based on the added cost in time and money to consumers of getting the benefit of their bargain; (iv) punitive damages, if appropriate; and (v) attorneys' fees and costs of the action to obtain consumer relief.

From a legal standpoint we have illegal bait and switch practices; fraud and misrepresentation by not stating to consumers this material fact about the purchase they are about to make; consumer fraud which requires less showing of intent to deceive; perhaps RICO or New York's equivalent of a RICO action in some extreme (or very extreme) cases; and other principles of law such as unfair competition.

The quality of life can be substantially improved for most New Yorkers if they are not burdened with an ever-increasing number of products and services that do not work as promised, and for which the consumer is unable to obtain the information needed to obtain the benefits promised when he/she made the purchases. Too much of life is spent on the mindless menus of America's monopolizing companies.