We’ve moved to CHEAPENCOUNTERS.COM!!!

Finally earned my (kind of) free iPod on ipodsweepstakes.com

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Ok, because I have nothing better to do I decided to play around with a site I found a discussion on at Slickdeals called ipodsweepstakes.com. It is a GPT (get paid to) site that awards you “points” for completing different offers ranging from 4 points for entering your zip code or email address to 136 points for signing up for a Netflix trial. They also give you 200 points for signing up. The points are redeemable for iPods where 1000 points gets you a 1GB iPod Shuffle, 2000 points gets you a 2GB iPod Nano, and 3000 points gets you a 30GB iPod Video.

My brother-in-law did this one and has already received his iPod, and I just earned my 1000 points which I have redeemed for a Shuffle as well. It took minimal work and money ($6 for six $1 trial offers) to earn my iPod. If you are interested in signing up, you can do so at:

http://friends.ipodsweepstakes.com/r/4346ce7c309e102aa9ae

(Disclaimer: if you use this link I get extra points, so show some love!)

If you do this, be sure to use a disposable email address like Yahoo or Hotmail, and get a disposable phone number like Privatephone (see my previous post here.

March 31, 2007 Posted by | GPT | Leave a comment

Kenneth Cole Shoes SUCK!!!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

At the risk of this blog just becoming my own personal complaining forum, I wanted to share the hassle I am having with a pair of Kenneth Cole shoes my wife purchased for me a couple of months ago. My wife bought these for me from Dillard’s in January because they were on clearance (she paid about $40 for the shoes that were originally $175) and we always have trouble finding shoes for me at a good price (I wear a size 13). This particular style had a buckle on each shoe.

I wore these shoes for about a month when the buckle on one of the shoes just broke off on the first day of a weeklong business trip to Denver. While I don’t expect the shoes to be indestructible, I don’t expect pieces to start breaking off in the first month of wear either. I call the Kenneth Cole headquarters to find out how I can get a replacement pair since these were obvious defects. After calling the first time and being put on hold for 15 minutes before they just hung up on me, the rep I talked to the second time said that I would need to ship the shoes back to them registered mail, return receipt requested at my expense. Seeing as the shoes weigh 3lb 4oz without any outside packaging, my cost to ship would be at least $13.08. If they inspect the shoes and find them to be defective (and who is to say that they will make an honest assessment), they would repair the shoes and return them in 4-6 weeks. If not, then they would then contact me to arrange payment for the repairs. Finding it unacceptable to have to pay more money to have them repair their defective product, I asked if there were any other options. The rep indicated that I could also return the shoes to a Kenneth Cole retail store and they could return the shoes on my behalf for a fee of about $7.

I wasn’t happy with either option, so I decided to try and return the shoes to Dillard’s. Unfortunately by the time I got back from my trip, the 30 day return period at Dillard’s had expired, so I couldn’t get anything back from them. So I then went to the Kenneth Cole store in the Houston Galleria to have them return the shoes for me. Unfortunately I got a different story at the store, as I was told that corporate was no longer allowing the stores to return items to them. The only option they could offer was to have a local shoe repair shop they used look at the shoes and provide an estimate of what the repair would cost. I would be responsible for the cost of the repair, even though it was their product that was defective.

So at this point I still have a pair of broken shoes and no way of returning or repairing them without being out even more money. I don’t know what to do about these shoes, but I will certainly never buy another Kenneth Cole product again!

March 29, 2007 Posted by | Customer Service | 3 Comments

More on the Chadwicks/Reservation Rewards Scam – BBB Reports

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

On Friday I posted about the scam being run by Reservation Rewards through Chadwick’s and other online retailers where customers are unknowingly enrolled in a savings club and are billed monthly fees. We are victims of this fraud, apparently when my wife bought several items from Chadwick’s in November. (Original post here)

I thought it would be interesting to pull the BBB reports on each of these companies and see what was there. It seems I am not the only victim. In the BBB report for Webloyalty (parent of Reservation Rewards and other sites with unethical business practices), the BBB reports the following:

Based on Better Business Bureau files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of complaints concerning deceptive marketing/selling practices and unauthorized charges to consumers’ credit cards. Although the company has resolved all complaints brought to its attention by the BBB by canceling consumers’ program memberships and by providing refunds, the firm has failed to correct the underlying reasons for the complaints.

As of the time of this posting, a total of 850 complaints have been filed against Webloyalty with the BBB.

The BBB report on Chadwick’s isn’t that great either. Here is part of what the BBB reported for Chadwick’s:

Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of complaints.

Based on BBB files this company has a pattern of complaints concerning the companies billing practices. Consumers are experiencing difficulty receiving a refund for products that were returned because they were unhappy with the product, the product didn’t fit or the wrong product was shipped. Consumers also state that they elected to use a deferred billing program, allowing the company to access their account on a specific date, a promotion put on by the company. Consumers state that the company bills them before the deferred date, in some instances causing an overdraft in checking accounts. Consumers also state that after ordering products from the company additional charges are added for magazine subscriptions.

I’m not sure if the “magazine subscriptions” issue is the same as the Webloyalty issue or if that is yet another scam Chadwick’s is participating in, but the M.O. is the same regardless – signing customers up for services they didn’t authorize. The BBB’s math seems a bit buggy on this report, but at the lowest figure Chadwick’s has logged 76 complaints in the last 36 months, although not all of these complaints are related to this issue.

I will certainly be posting more on this, but I wanted to add that detail for my readers (I love you all – all five of you!)

March 26, 2007 Posted by | Scams | 5 Comments

Deal Site Showdown: Fatwallet vs. SlickDeals

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

As an all-around cheap bastard, there are two sites that I spend a lot of time on: Fatwallet and SlickDeals. The purpose of each is very similar. Each hosts user forums where cheap bastards from around the country talk about deals and alert each other to new deals. Both are supported by affiliate advertising (i.e., when someone posts a deal for an online retailer, they insert a referral link in the post so that when someone clicks on the link and makes a purchase, they make a commission). There are many differences between the two, though, so I will give a rundown of the pros and cons of each site as I see them.

Fatwallet.com

Pros

  1. FatCash: You can register with their site and when you click the special “FatCash” links from the stores section of their site and make a purchase, they kick a portion of the commission they receive back to you.
  2. Robust Finance and Rebate Forums: FW has an extremely active and informative Finance Forum dedicated to personal finance discussion and deals related to loans, credit cards, bank accounts, etc. Between my wife and I, we have probably saved or earned at least $4,000 based on the information and deals we have found there. They also have a great Rebate Tracking forum where users share info on rebate offers they are having issues with and specific information to help collect on those.

Cons

  1. Heavy moderation: At least compared to SlickDeals, the forums at FW are heavily moderated. Deals involving techniques that may be somewhat questionable (i.e., using a one-time use coupon multiple times or pricing errors) are frequently shutdown and deleted by the moderators. The theory among many users of both sites is that because of the growth of the site and the numerous affiliate relationships and sponsorships FW has with many companies FW has sold out to try and protect the cash that is rolling in.

SlickDeals

Pros:

  1. Quicker deal posts: Many great deals are relatively short-lived as a retailer may have limited stock or may incorrectly price an item, so getting in on a deal early is important. My observation is that most of the really good deals seem to be showing up on SlickDeals before they do on FatWallet. I would guess it is because of the moderation of FW driving the hardcore deal seekers who find most of the deals over to SlickDeals. If you look at the Hot Deals forum at FW, you will often see in the posting “Ripped from SD (Slick Deals)”.
  2. Minimal moderation: SD has moderators, but they tend to let almost anything go. They also allow discussion of questionable techniques like using single use coupons more than once. There are also a few topics allowed on SD that are specifically banned on FW, such as GPT (Get Paid To) sites.

Cons

  1. No CashBack: SD doesn’t have any type of cash back program like FW’s FatCash. I typically will find out about the deal on SD and head over to FW to make the purchase so I can get some cash back on it.
  2. No dedicated Finance forum: There is no forum on SD specifically dedicated to Finance discussion and deals. Sometimes finance deals will be posted in the main Hot Deals forum, but they often get lost in the shuffle with all of the other product deals relatively quickly.

The final verdict: SlickDeals is the better deal site in my eyes. However, I still use FatWallet for the FatCash and finance forums. I would say keep an eye on both sites.

March 25, 2007 Posted by | Deals | 10 Comments

Scammed by Chadwick’s and Reservation Rewards

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I was reviewing our credit card statement today when I noticed an odd charge from “WLI*RESERVATIONREWARDS.COM” for $10. I didn’t remember ever doing business with a company by this name, so I checked my prior statements to see if there were any other similar charges. Sure enough, there was a $10 on the 18th of each month since December 2006. I called and checked with the wife and she hadn’t bought anything from such a site either.

That’s when the hunt begins. The obvious first step is looking up ReservationRewards.com to see exactly what it is we supposedly signed up for. The site is one of these so-called discount clubs offering savings on a variety of crap – not the type of thing that either of us would knowingly sign up for. I then decided to do a Google search for Reservation Rewards and found pages upon pages of sites talking about being scammed by this company, including a very informative blog posting by Adam Rosi-Kessel.

After reading several of the postings, I called Reservation Rewards with all guns blazing. As soon as the rep came on I said I had several fraudulent charges on my card from their company and I wanted the charges stopped and reversed. The customer service rep quickly looked up my “account” and noted that the account was actually in my wife’s name and that she had (supposedly) signed up through Chadwicks.com. The rep very quickly canceled the account and tried to get me off the phone before I could bring up the prior charges again. I quickly reiterated my request for a refund of prior charges, to which he put up no argument and promised that the refund would appear in 3-5 days.

Looking at the other people’s accounts of this scam, we aren’t the only ones who have been scammed by Chadwick’s and Reservation Rewards, and Chadwick’s isn’t alone in selling out their customers to these online scammers. A list of some of the other sites that have reportedly allowed Reservation Rewards to prey on their customers can be found here.

What’s my next step? First, we will check to see if the refund actually comes through as promised. While we are waiting for the refund we will also be calling Chadwick’s customer service to make our displeasure known. We will then be filing formal BBB complaints against Chadwick’s and Reservation Rewards, which will be quickly followed by complaints to the Office of Attorney General for the states of Texas (my home state), Connecticut (Reservation Rewards HQ), and Massachusetts (Chadwick’s HQ). I will also file a complaint with the FTC.

I’ll keep everyone updated on my follow-up communications and complaints and any responses I receive.

March 23, 2007 Posted by | Scams | 40 Comments

Free Disposable Phone Numbers – Protect Your Real Number

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Have you ever signed up for a mailing list, entered a contest, or done a trial offer where you were asked for your phone number? We all have, and by giving out our real number we leave ourselves open to getting annoying telemarketing calls at all hours that not even enrollment in the “Do Not Call” list can help you with (Companies with which you have a prior business relationship, which could include things like this, can still call you even if you’re on the DNC list). Thankfully there are services online that allow you to create a disposable phone number for just such occasions.

The best one I’ve found is PrivatePhone by Netzero. It is completely free and allows you to create a local number (most other services require you to use a number wherever the provider is based).

March 23, 2007 Posted by | GPT, Telemarketers | 5 Comments

Avoid the Post Office When Sending Tax Returns!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I never realized this until I was putting my paper return together today. If you are sending in paper returns to the IRS, you don’t have to use the post service certified mail to send the return with an acceptable proof of mailing. The IRS has authorized DHL, FedEx, and UPS as “Private Delivery Services”. The approved methods for sending a return are as follows:

1. DHL Express (DHL): DHL Same Day Service; DHL Next Day 10:30 am; DHL Next Day 12:00 pm; DHL Next Day 3:00 pm; and DHL 2nd Day Service;

2. Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx 2 Day, FedEx International Priority, and FedEx International First; and

3. United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air, UPS Next Day Air Saver, UPS 2nd Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air A.M., UPS Worldwide Express Plus, and UPS Worldwide Express.

Taxpayers should still retain proof of mailing to avoid a late filing penalty.

This is great news for me because I owe the IRS a significant sum this year, so there is no way in hell I am sending in my return early, but I hate having to fight the masses and deal with the incompetent postal workers at my local post office (not to say that all postal workers are incompetent, but I’m honestly shocked the ones at my post office don’t drool on themselves). It may cost a little more, but it is well worth it to be able to print the shipping form from my computer and have the UPS guy pick it up with the rest of the items.

http://www.irs.gov/irb/2004-52_IRB/ar10.html

March 22, 2007 Posted by | Taxes | 1 Comment

Tips to Make Sure You Get Your Rebates

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

We have all seen the deals promising ridiculously cheap products – after mail-in rebate. Are these deals for real? Yes. Most of the hottest deals you will find involve some type of a rebate. I personally have ordered hundreds of dollars worth of stuff in the last few months that ended up being free after a manufacturer rebate.

The world of rebate deals isn’t always easy, though. The reason companies offer these deals is they are counting on a large percentage of consumers to either not bother with the rebate or not follow the directions exactly and disqualify themselves. Some estimates put the percentage at about 50% for rebates worth $100 or more, even higher for lower value rebates. Some manufacturers will also reject rebates for a phony reason or just not send a check, hoping you either forgot about the rebate or didn’t make copies of your submission to prove them wrong.

I posted this on SlickDeals a while back, but I thought it would be a fitting post for my new blog since I do a lot of rebates and will probably make quite a few posts about rebate deals and issues. Besides the obvious “follow the directions” advice, here are my tips on how to manage your rebates. In 6+ years I have yet to lose a single one.

1. When I order something that has a rebate from an online retailer, I print the print and complete the rebate form immediately, as well as the online receipt. These are filed in a folder in my desk until I receive the product. For in-store purchases, I fill out the rebate forms as soon as I get home.
2. Make a copy of all of the rebate forms, UPCs, receipts, etc., and save as a PDF file named with the date, product, and amount. I have a folder on my USB drive where I keep all of these, and a subfolder marked “received” where I move the files once the rebate has been received.
3. I keep an Excel file where I track both my online orders and outstanding rebates. On the rebate log, I list the date of purchase, date mailed, product, retailer, amount, expected date (computed as formula adding 10 weeks to the date of mailing), and date received. On each line I also insert a link to the PDF file I created with copies of the forms for quick reference.
4. As most of my rebates are for smaller amounts (less than $50), I usually just send them first class mail. I do try to be careful to pick out submissions that are over the 1oz. limit for a single first class stamp and weight and stamp those separately. I use the automated post office kiosk for these which prints the date the stamp was generated, although you could use stamps.com or similar as well.
5. As rebates are received, I enter them in the spreadsheet as received and move the PDF files into the received folder.
6. About once a month I will review the listing for overdue rebates and followup as appropriate. Often one phone call to the fulfillment house is all that is needed to validate the rebate. I log the number called, the name of the rep and badge number, date of call, and summary of the discussion (i.e., rebate validated, resubmit, etc.) in the comments section of the spreadsheet. If a resubmission is needed, I copy all materials resubmitted and note the date of the resubmission.
7. If the rebate still has not been received 45 days after followup, or if the call to the fulfillment center yielded no result, I follow up with an email or letter to both the manufacturer and retailer briefly explaining the situation and demanding payment of the rebate within 15 days. The letter notes the date originally submitted, the date by which the rebate should have been received based on the rebate guidelines, and that failure to send the rebate within 15 days of the letter will result in formal complaints to the BBB and attorney generals offices in both my state and their home state.
8. If still no response, follow through with BBB and AG complaints.

I have never had to go beyond step 8, and rarely beyond step 7. You can get some pretty interesting results by sending followup to both the manufacturer and retailer. I had a couple of DLink rebates a couple of years ago that DLink refused to pay because the promotional requirements they had were different than those from Office Depot’s register generated form. I followed up with both, and Office Depot decided to compensate me with a $50 gift card (the original rebate was only for $40) since DLink wasn’t willing to pay the rebate and then at the last minute DLink decided it would be better to go ahead and pay me off and validated my rebate. Another option is just to take your documentation back to the store you bought it from if it is a B&M and plead your case to the manager. It is a lot harder to say no to someone right in front of you and often the manager will just pay you the rebate out of the drawer.

Probably the toughest rebate I ever had was ironically only for $5. My wife bought some cooking pan from a department store that was on clearance and happened to have a manufacturers rebate on the box. Apparently this box was quite old because the rebate was not paid and when I followed up the original manufacturer had been acquired by someone else about two years prior. Initially they wouldn’t budge so I went ahead and filed complaints against both the original company and the acquiring company, and eventually I got a $5 check from their corporate AP department. Was it more trouble than it was worth, yes, but at least I kept my record in tact.

March 21, 2007 Posted by | Customer Service, Rebates | 2 Comments

Welcome to my new blog, fellow cheap bastards!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Welcome to my new blog! I have started this blog to chronicle my adventures as a cheap SOB. This can include anything from deals I have found to checking account and credit card bonuses to rebates, and pretty much anything else I can come up with that is related to my being cheap. Enjoy!

March 21, 2007 Posted by | About | 1 Comment