A few weeks ago in this column, I wrote about businesses who regularly take advantage of Canadians and who seem to get away with it because of their size. One of those companies I named was Bell Canada. Recently, the multi-media conglomerate was fined $10,000,000 (the maximum allowed by law) for deceptive advertising practises. Bell advertised a bundle of services for $69.90 but in 100 lines of fine print disclaimers and mandatory fees, they raised the minimum price to $80.27. This practice began in 2007 and has continued to the present. In spite of the Competition Bureau’s decision, Bell continues to assert that this practice is ethical.
Since Bell Media owns roughly half of the newspapers, local television and radio stations in this country, plus a number of specialty channels, some of which are news oriented, I was certain that most of the media would not be covering this story. But it is important news for those of us who have been “baited with a low price” and then “switched to a higher price”. Though $10,000,000 is a significant fine, in the “big picture”, it is not a deterrent. Over the course of 7 years, $10,000,000 is nothing more than a “cost of doing business” for a company that has made millions from this deceptive practice. If it takes 7 years to prosecute a company, what is the deterrent? Furthermore, it is only one issue among a myriad of complaints Canadians have had with Bell’s business practices that have yet to be scrutinized. Although the decision is welcome news, it does little for the millions of customers who were taken advantage of by Bell.
In the US, fleecing the consumer has reached new heights with a practice called “cramming”. Wireless phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T have been fined for unauthorized billing “discrepancies”. The practice of billing for services often never received is blatant “fraud”, yet little is being done to stop the practice. Verizon has issued statements denouncing the billing practice and the FCC has fined them $50,000,000 but cramming is still alive and well in the US and also in Canada.
In Canada, the scam is configured differently but the result is the same. Companies offer you a “special” deal but then bill you the regular price for the service. A simple mistake they say, but its frequency defies a reasonable person’s ability to believe in mistakes. Other forms of cramming are billing for items that were included in your contracted service and for services never ordered. One wireless provider has already been slammed for their high number of “billing mistakes”.
If you think the problems you are having with your provider are unique to you, then you may be encouraged and angered to learn that you are not alone. Your situation may be just another example of being “crammed”.
We live in a world of information overload where “perception becomes reality” and where those perceptions can be manipulated to create an illusion of being ethical. Some corporations believe they can have the rewards of being ethical and unethical at the same time, but invariably, people perceive the illusion is false.
Corporations seem faceless but they are run by people who ultimately are responsible for the actions of the company. We fail to do justice when we prosecute the company instead of the individual. These people commit crimes but never suffer any consequences – they, in fact, benefit from their crime through bonuses and promotions and their reputation is never soiled. No wonder the problem is spreading.
Crimes are not committed by “legal entities” but by people who have narcissistic perceptions of life. Distorted values lead them into the deception that “more is better”, that “survival is of the fittest”, and that “winning is the only thing”. People with these values destroy community, cooperation, and common purpose. They destroy what makes a company and country great. They believe that what they have, is more important than what they are, and that happiness comes from unbridled consumption. They are sociopaths in suits for whom materialism has become their master and they have lost a sense of community or goodwill toward others. Our country and our world are in a “values crisis”. Without intervention, we can only expect things to get worse. This problem and the news story may seem small and even insignificant, but they point to a need for government at all levels to address the growing need for the defence of consumers and prosecution of the individuals who defraud them.