IS CONSUMER APATHY FOREVER?
Each of us would like to think that we are on top of our affairs, and in control of our everyday lives. That, of course, was almost brought to an abrupt halt by the Bush/Cheney assault on individual privacy. But if you thought that it was all resolved with President Obama’s inauguration, you have another think coming. Not that he may not make an attempt to solve the identity theft crisis—assuming he makes headway on other priorities like the economy, Iraq/Afghanistan wars, healthcare, education—but will he be able to prioritize this problem before it literally takes down American consumerism?
Liz Pulliam Weston, one of the best and most vocal consumer writers out there thinks there is hope, but the American public has to stand its ground. She even gives you the White House contact form, and a list of priorities to help you organize your concerns. Her concern is that she has “inadvertently” helped turn the system against you. That, of course, isn’t true, but she brings us up to date on how business has turned against the consumer, while she cranks out advice on how to be a good consumer. Some examples of bad practices are: mysterious cell phone taxes, unexplained bank statement “courtesy overdrafts,” services by cable and travel companies ending up substantially more than quoted.
Bleak, yes; but inevitable loss of our individual rights, no, according to Pulliam. She says it doesn’t have to stay the way it is in her MSN Money article, “How consumerism hurts consumers.” Here’s her take on the frightening population out there I call Apathetics: “Unfortunately, we've gotten so used to not getting what we pay for, or paying far more than we expected for what we actually got, that it's come to seem normal. Not right, but normal.” She levels on “whole industries” that have gone amok like credit cards and mortgages.
Pulliam says credit card issuers “…can change virtually anything about your agreement for any reason…jack up your rate, slash your credit limit, shorten your grace period and impose new fees with little warning and no provocation.” Further, “The way we handle mortgages in this country is far too complicated and fraught with hidden conflicts of interest for a borrower to ever be sure he or she has gotten the best possible deal.” Credit cards are one of three major sources of crooks gaining access to your sensitive data, according to Javelin’s 2009 survey on ID theft. In the past, I have identified mortgage companies as one of the largest warehouses of private information in the country.
Then the author uses harsher words, followed by a six point plan for consumers: “And you, the consumer, need to stop accepting the idea that you're a sheep for the shearing. You know the difference between fair play and foul play; so do regulators and so do businesses. Make them show it.” She then addresses Obama saying: “Mr. President, put consumers first.” Her 6-point plan includes, A Cabinet-level position for a consumer advocate, creating a consumer bill of rights, and giving the FTC some teeth.
Don’t forget now, go to the above site and let President Obama know of your concerns.