Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Avoid Excessive Over-Charges or Unethical Business Practices

Overview: Being on your guard for excessive over-charges, even fraud, is more important than ever in our fledgling economy. No one has extra cash to spend needlessly, nor want to waste time with the wrong, unscrupulous specialist. Even recognized professionals can devise ways of increasing payment returns and cash flow, especially when you are in a bind. Some go as far as fraud, as deception can be easily concealed in some industries that have layers of hidden technical know-how, and when problems are difficult to prove as malpractice or negligence.

Nothing is more upsetting than receiving a statement showing hidden excess billing charges or cheated by an unscrupulous dealer. No one likes to be taken advantage of.

They may be justified or unjustified surprises, some tantamount to being classified as unethical “rip-offs”. Unfortunately, some may be accidental accounting duplications; others may be embedded surcharges that you were not aware that you would be charged for like hotel usage. Others may be fraudulent or deceptive professional services.

The worst types are “scams” where unscrupulous charges are created intentionally, or planted. Some of the most notorious industries that can create excess charges are: hotels, hospitals, auto repair, veterinarians, dentists, plumbers, website designers, and computer repair technicians.

Initially, be aware how you present yourself, inadvertently announcing your income status. Walking in with a Gucci bag, driving a BMW, prices can escalate.

Coming from a frugal, small Dutch Iowa town, we were taught monetary principles ingrained generations back. Immigrating to the United States in the 1800s, the Hollanders wore velvet breeches and conducted business with gold coins. They soon found they were cheated wherever they went, and finally, resorted to an “unassuming-frugal-chameleon survival code”.

In other words, they learned not do display their affluence, or they would be charged more with business transactions. Currently, remaining unpretentious, few drive new high end cars and do not flaunt wearing expensive apparel with flashy accessories.

There is something to be said for this dictum, because if you look foolhardy, or appear pretentious with careless spending habits, you become subject to excess service rates. There is bias with older people, teens, and women, who become targets.

Or, if the proprietor finds that you are in an "emergency situation", you can be targeted, and unethical business practices may come into play.

Auto repair establishments, whether in a city or out “in the middle of no-where” like rural Utah, Kansas, or Wyoming, will double charge if they think they can “get away with it”, especially when you lack alternative options and need your vehicle.

We recently had our automobile towed from a near city’s hospital to a local repair garage. Then, the same week, our second car had severe mechanical problems, but luckily, happening near the garage we routinely use, so we drove the car in, limping all the way. The proprietor, knowing we were in a health-state emergency situation, gave us excessive double-cost estimates to repair the two autos.

Refusing to be victimized, the next day I called several other places to compare repair rates, and had both cars towed, a second time, from one garage to the next. I saved nearly one thousand dollars by being alert and on the offense.

One of the most surreptitious situations is when you unwittingly trust an unethical dentist. With many small and midsize towns becoming filled with dental competition, some find unscrupulous ways to create cash flow. They know they can get away with fraudulent work, because their colleagues will not acknowledge investigative inquiries regarding their missteps to the State Dental Board.

For some time, I was fortunate to have a reputable dentist, who did fine, professional work. When he retired, I went to an acquaintance who I thought was highly regarded. Then, a minor traffic accident unfortunately loosened four front teeth. Subsequently, to stabilize the fragile teeth, my new dentist inserted four posts without root canals, which would create abscesses. Much successive dental work would be then required, perfect cash flow. Conversely, the expected consequential plan would back-fire. The damaged teeth all abscessed simultaneously, rather than piece-meal.

Was this dentist merely a bad dentist performing shoddy work? At first, it was hard to determine.

Local consulted specialists were obviously appalled, but had little to say. They advised that they had never seen anything like that before, as root canals for posts were basic Dental 101. I would have to go to another state to get a true evaluation for corrective surgery.

I was further dismayed when I consulted a Dental School regarding the issue, and overheard students joking about how easy it was to practice unethical dentistry without fear of reprisal. And, make good money doing it.

To avoid your own dental horror story, if you question any work at any point of a procedure, find a reputable dentist, or dental school, in another state for a complete evaluation. A local second-opinion dentist will not want to reveal or try to correct any faulty work. Remaining professionally bonded with their local colleagues, they will refer you back to the dentist who created the mess.

The best way to avoid hidden fees and unethical business services is to:
1)      Research the person’s or the business’ background and reputation. Go online. Talk to people (not their references who may be shams) who have used their services. Inquire within other businesses, like real estate firms, if they have conducted work with them.
2)      Be certain you are working with the authorized decision maker or owner when making a purchase or arranging for services.
3)      Up front, obtain second, even third opinions regarding the work to be done.
4)      Ask questions. Obtain firm, descriptive cost estimates in writing, and establish specific guidelines up front.
5)      Be aware of your surroundings; read body language.
6)      Do not sign any document without carefully reading the fine print.
7)      Carefully review all billing statements and inquire if you note discrepancies.