Over her years of using her Toronto Star column to help consumers fight back against unfair company practices, Ellen Roseman has built up wide-ranging consumer skills. Her book Fight Back teaches us what she has learned and goes further with many parts written by experts in different areas. Across 81 short, easy-to-read sections, Roseman covers how to deal with almost every conceivable consumer problem.
The broad categories covered in this book are banks, finances, telecom suppliers, travel, retailers, cars and houses, and the courts. I’ve had troubles in most of these areas, and I find this book very valuable. However, Dave Chilton, who wrote the foreword, shows he is better at singing Roseman’s praises than I am when he starts with “I LOVE ELLEN ROSEMAN’S WRITING.” I agree.
In the rest of this post I’ll discuss specific parts of the book that I found interesting.
Mutual Fund Companies
In the past “many [mutual fund] companies treated investment advisors as their customers, while ignoring the needs of investors. That is no longer true.” I find this surprising. I’d like to hear more from Roseman to understand what she thinks has improved.
Right of Set-Off
“If you keep your operating account with the same bank where your loans are, your funds could be seized by the bank if you get behind on your loan.” This “right of set-off” makes it useful to have “some funds that are beyond the reach of your lending bank.”
Roseman isn’t afraid to describe some tricky tactics to counter those used by internet, cable, and phone companies. These companies have specific deep discount percentages they sometimes offer to keep a customer. “If you know what the discount percentage is, you can pretend you were offered it and you are now calling back to confirm taking it.”
“If you make a mistake in any one of your answers [on a health history questionnaire], you will not be able to collect on your insurance ... even if the reason for your claim has nothing to do with the erroneous answer.”
Rental Car Insurance
What car rental companies offer “is not insurance but a collision damage waiver (CDW). This means that the rental company waives its right to collect a high deductible from you if the car is damaged.” I’m not sure I understand this. Does this mean that rental cars are already insured but the deductible is high? If so, I can afford a fairly high deductible as long as the bulk of any very large judgements is covered.
Credit Card Disputes
In my limited experience, credit card companies seem very accommodating when I dispute charges. However, you lose your zero-liability guarantee if you “have reported two or more unauthorized events in the past 12 months.”
Little Black Book of Scams
Roseman recommends reading the little black book of scams. That’s an intriguing title.
Roseman says that her neighbour is on to something when he theorizes about the motives of a particular car company when it leases cars. “The company loses money on artificially inflated residual values” and it uses inflated lease-end charges “to recover the loss.” Given how so many people focus exclusively on the size of monthly payments, it’s easy to see how car companies can be tempted to drive payments lower and make up the difference at the end of the lease.