SanDisk VISA rebate card rips you off

SanDisk sent me $20 and $60 rebate VISA cards for buying SanDisk compact flash cards. I hate rebates in general, but I hate VISA prepaid card rebates even more. I'm told that banks are required to cash these cards in, but Bank of America had no idea what to do with them. So I tried using a $20 card at a restaurant (i.e. "put $20 on the card, and we'll pay the rest in cash"), and the transaction failed. It is very hard to use rebate VISA cards.

A friend suggested that I use the cards to purchase gift cards, which is a great idea. I bought a $20 card from Amazon with no problem, but a $60 order failed. I logged in, and it turns out that the account only has $59 on it, even though it plainly says "60 DOLLARS" right on the front of the card.

How is this not ripping me off? It isn't worth $1 to call a customer service number. Instead, I bought a $59 gift card from Amazon and am posting about the issue here on my website for SanDisk customers to find. I'm sure it will cost one of the companies involved (SanDisk, VISA) more than $1.

### UPDATE:

OK, I tried to purchase a $59 gift certificate on Amazon, and it failed. I checked the balance again, and now it says that it is $58. I tried buying again, and now it says $57. My balance is shrinking with each attempt, and I am not even successfully using the card!

### UPDATE:

I believe the reason my balance kept going down is that Amazon does a pre-authorization for $1 before charging the entire amount of the gift certificate. But because the VISA rebate card treats pre-authorizations as charges (before refunding the amount "up to 15 days" later), there is no longer enough on the card for the full charge to go through. The solution is to purchase a gift card for $1 less than the value of the rebate card, or to buy a gift card from somewhere that doesn't pre-authorize.

Note that my $20 gift card didn't have this problem, so it seems that Amazon only pre-authorizes for gift cards of a certain value or higher.

### UPDATE

I just got a Verizon $50 VISA rebate card. Verizon has a menu item called "Access $" on their rebate card management website, and from there, you are able to withdraw funds directly to your bank account. Way to go, Verizon!

Medical system fail

I went in to see a doctor two weeks ago for a weird growth under the skin near my elbow. The general practitioner said, "It seems like you might have hit your elbow on something and chipped off a small bone fragment. Your body is building something around it. I could probably remove it, but I'd feel better if you had a dermatologist take care of it." He walked me down the hall to a dermatologist's office, all the while asking me about behind-the-scenes stuff in Whale Wars (he was a fan, and saw a Sea Shepherd patch on the vest I was wearing). After an hour of waiting around, a dermatologist finally saw me, examined my elbow, and said, "Yeah... that's near a joint. I'm going to refer you to an orthopedic surgeon." 3 minutes of face time. Done. I just got a bill for $225 from the dermatologist's office. Haven't received a bill yet from the GP, but I expect to get one any day. Why didn't the GP refer me directly to an orthopedic surgeon? I think I just got scammed.

Quiz apps - the scourge of Facebook

I'm currently blocking 87 applications (and 5 individuals) on Facebook for what I call "Facebook application spam." I don't care what kind of vegetable you are most like, and I don't care to have a [random object here] thrown at me.

Facebook will probably add privacy features to account for this problem eventually, but in the meantime, we have to block every annoying application we see to prevent repeated spam from annoying applications / individuals.

Want to see my current block list?

> Slide FunSpace Pirates vs. Ninjas Likeness Movies Traveler IQ Challenge RockYou Live (formerly Super Wall) SuperPoke! Vampires SpeedDate YouTube Video Box Snowball Fight! Verbal IQ Test Zombies College Rivalries Compare People My Heroes Ability Cars (Car IQ) Speed Racing (fluff)Friends Friends For Sale! Top Friends Send Prosperity Causes DivePoke Galaxy Trade Wars Superlatives Imperial Galaxy Watch Colbert ??? Happy Chinese New Year PackRat Send Good Karma Knighthood SharkBreak What Musical Instrument are you? (best version!) SpeedDate Triumph (Lil) Green Patch Owned! Actions Pro [new name!] Stanford Sixth Man Which violinist are you? Typing Speed Movie Pong Eyesores Bumper Sticker My Camera Gear San Francisco Giants Fans Where I've Been Smarty Pants Visual Bookshelf Marvel Characters Halloween Gifts Coolest Person Contest Korean Food Save Our Oceans Japanese Sweets The Visa Business Network NetworkedBlogs 20,000,000 Strong for Obama Tetris Friends Scramble Earthkeepers Re-Green Greensburg Best Friend Contest Kidnap! (Lil) Blue Cove SocialCalendar Birthday Calendar My Christmas Snow Globes The Brain Game YoVille Mob Wars Christmas Gifts for Friends MyCalendar Hugs Most Beautiful Person Contest MyCalendar SCRABBLE Pirates: Rule the Caribbean! Adopt a Reef Nicest Person Contest Killer Whales Starbucks Coffees. Saudi LifeStyle Birthday Cards SCUBA Gifts Interview

For me, it all started with the Pirates vs. Ninjas app. I curse all Facebook pirates and ninjas! The list continues to grow, every day.

Lovely Delta flight to Atlanta

I am on a flight from SFO to Atlanta, and it's ridiculous. I'm in seat 44D, which turns out to be the worst seat on this Boeing 757-200 plane -- the last aisle seat. I dread sitting in this seat. There is currently a line of eight people standing next to me doing all sorts of ridiculous things while waiting to use the bathroom. One elderly woman decided to rest her arm on top of my chair and rock back and forth. I asked her to stop. A guy in tight jeans decided to have a oh-so-invigorating stretch while standing next to me: he turned away and bent forward, sticking his butt into my face. I've been jostled by people and food carts probably thirty times since sitting down, and everyone seems to want to rest their arms, shoulders and other body parts on the back of my chair. Combine all of this with a crying, regurgitating baby, super-loud flight attendants sharing their lives with each other, and bad turbulence, and it's one of the worst flights I've been on recently!

My image of Daryl Hannah in Sky, Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines has published an image I took of Daryl Hannah and Captain Paul Watson in Australia during the first few days of Operation Musashi, Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling campaign in Antarctica. Thanks to Adam Lau for spotting it and sending me the photos! How 'bout a photo credit, guys??

My photo of Paul Watson and Daryl Hannah in April's issue of Sky, Delta's airline's inflight magazine

The April issue of Sky magazine, Delta's inflight magazine

Fraud calls from 207-674-2609

I just received an automated message in a call from 207-674-2609. It looks like a lot of other people are receiving calls from this number (although the CallerID is probably spoofed). In my case, the recording was a man saying something about a free digital satellite system. Other have reported that calls from the number also advertise factory warranty renewals. This seems similar to the Great Atlantic Warranty calls that I used to get. As before, my solution will be to report abuse to the FTC.

DHL cutting San Francisco staff

Today is Eric complain day. I went to the San Francisco DHL office to pick up a package, and the driver for my neighborhood told me that DHL has cut a lot of the drivers and office staff, and that it ultimately "affects the customers more than it does [the staff]."

"I called you on Tuesday to attempt delivery," she said.

What I'm wondering is why that was the first and last attempt.

My package had a delivery attempt on July 28, and no reattempts thereafter. The phone at DHL's SF office (which is housed in a trailer right now) rings off the hook, and has been doing so for more than 2 days. Even DHL headquarters can't reach them; I spoke with several service agents by phone (all excellent, by the way) who said that SF was unreachable by both phone and internal messaging system.

3:22pm "A supervisor will call you within 30 minutes."

5:15pm "A supervisor never called you?"

No.

I suggest avoiding DHL if you live in San Francisco. I had to physically go to their trailer/office in order to find out what was going on with my package, which arrived barely in one piece, with a big hole in the side.

Calls from 562-228-7160 about vehicle warranty

I keep getting calls from 562-228-7160 to my mobile phone telling my my vehicle warranty has expired. I stayed on the line to talk to an operator, and he hung up on me when I told him I wanted to be taken off their list. If you call back, the number goes nowhere. A Google search for the number shows that others have had the same issue from the same number.

Anyone have more information? I've filed a complaint with the FCC, which I hope will have some effect (and you should, too, if they have called you). Those bastards.

UPDATE: Drew has a great plan. Let's flood their toll-free number with calls and run up their bill:

Now here's where we get them back. Lets run up their phone bills. 888 numbers are free for us--not for them. Let's make this the Million Man Message!!! Everyone - call this number: 888-858-8448. Don't just call it once, call it 10 times. Call it 10 times for each call you get from them. They'll get the picture.

The company answers as "Great Atlantic Warranty." Be sure to dial *67 before your call to block outgoing Caller ID! Maybe use a fax machine on auto-retry...

UPDATE, 2 Feb 2009: I'm getting a similar call from 501-977-0960 (5019770960). This is infuriating.

The kind of emails I get

Here's an email I got today:

What filter do you use on that 20d conversion, and which service to you pick, did you get the Deep BW IR Filter Image?

Thanks alot for the advice.

I get stuff like this all the time. Now, why would I reply? The guy has not introduced himself nor given me any reason to spend my time answering his question. Furthermore, a Google search for "Eric Cheng 20d infrared conversion" provides the answers as the first link.

I often get emails like this, asking about the variety of topics found on my website. It is easy enough to delete them, but I often wish the internets offered a "bitch-slap" feature as well.

United Airlines is going down the tubes

Normally, I am insulated from the incredible incompetence of some airlines because I book online using websites like Orbitz. Just now, I was forced to actually call United Airlines in order to book a ticket using credit from a previously canceled fare. A strong Indian accent picked up, and they guy was stuttering and was unable to form thoughts (stumbling over himself). I knew I was fucked. At first, he told me he would have to charge a $100 fee for using the credit (fine, since my previous ticket was non-refundable), plus a $100 fee to change the routing. I balked at that, and he put me on hold. Then, he came back and told me that he would not charge me for the re-routing fee (that is what I final figured out after about 3 minutes).

It took a total of more than 20 minutes on the phone to book the ticket. I had to coax him during each step of the process because I knew that if I just answered his questions normally, he wouldn't understand. I had to repeat just about everything I said.

United also recently announced that it will charge non-Premier members $25 to check a second bag.

I am *so* glad that I switched away from them a few years ago. I only had the credit because I had a cancel a trip to Denver a few months ago (United is direct and inexpensive to Denver). Next time, I'm going to book with another airline.

AAdvantage Citi credit card hassle

Last month, I had an unauthorized $2,000 charge by Ron's Honda Center in Soldotna, Alaska. I called them up and spoke with a nice guy named Terry, who told me that their computer systems showed no transactions of $2,000 during the month of December. I called Citi to report the fraudulent charge, and spoke with a rather annoying service representative. 7-10 day replacement? And I have to get an affidavit notarized?

This was a fraudulent charge, and I need my card to be replaced now! I managed to get 24-hour expedited card replacement, but Citi should really be trying to replace my card as easily and quickly as possible without me having to make it an issue. This is why I like my American Express. They make things easy.

Welcome home


thanks, neighbor!
One of the worst things to find upon returning home from a long trip is a sink full of greasy food-water and a slippery floor.

My upstairs neighbor has clogged my sink four times since I moved in. The last time, I asked him to be sure to run the water for a long time any time they put food down the disposal. I spoke with The Wife today (who was very nice, actually), and she said that she "remembered him saying something about that."

The plumber who just showed up quoted $334 to fix the problem. Yippee.

Unauthorized charges / fraud by Callwave

Does anyone out there know of a company called Callwave? They're some sort of service that takes over your mobile phone voicemail to provide additional services. I am not a customer of Callwave, nor have I ever been. But for the last year and a half, I've been billed 3 times a month by Callwave; each month, I am billed twice for $3.95 and once for $7.95. I've called them a few times and have sent letters, but they continue to charge my credit card. What's worse (and incredible) is that they have no record of my credit card number on file. They can't even find my charges in the system! And in the meantime, I continue to call up AMEX and dispute all the charges (every three months or so).

So if you're thinking of using Callwave, please don't. How can you trust a company that doesn't have records of 57 separate billing events to a credit card number they can't find in their system? I'm sure there are other people being charged illegally as well. I see a class-action lawsuit coming...

Their phone number is 888-777-2807, but they gave a second number, which they say is their "fraud line": 866-392-0003

I'm going to try reporting the charges as fraud to AMEX. But I'll have to time it for when I have the time and energy to change my credit card number.

---

*UPDATE* 11/29/07 - Shortly after I filed complaints with the BBB and the FCC, I received a bunch of emails and phone calls from Callwave, who suddenly really wanted to help me resolve the problem. I have to say that they were really helpful after being prodded.

We tracked down the charges to an old AMEX number, whose charges were being forwarded on to my current card. I never understood why credit card companies do this by default. I closed my old card because it disappeared -- doesn't that mean they shouldn't accept charges to it anymore!? In any case, the old card number brought up three different accounts registered to my name with fake email addresses.

One of the accounts was registered to a fssolutions1975@yahoo.com in February of 2006 (phone: 646-217-4890, fax: 646-808-3427). Fannya wouldn't give me the other two accounts, which is too bad. I would have loved to post them here, in case others have had issues with the email addresses or phone numbers the accounts belong to.

The message here? File complaints with the BBB, FCC, and CPUC (if applicable). The company involved will then get in touch with you and be very excited about wanting to resolve things.

Finally, this post shows up as #2 in Google for "Callwave fraud". I hope it helps someone.

Contesting a $2,724.14 data charge from AT&T / Cingular

I have a Blackberry Pearl, and am under a plan which Cingular used to call "Blackberry International Unlimited", which advertised unlimited data usage internationally for $69.99/month. A bundled voice plan gave me a $5 discount on the plan, making it $64.99/month for data. There was no fine print stating anything about the type of data used, but I assumed that if I ever saw a roaming indicator, I would probably get charged for the data usage. -- warning, this is long! -- When Cingular became AT&T, the plan's name changed. The analogous plan is now called, "BlackBerry® International with Voice" for $64.99/month (again, requiring a voice plan as well), and their website currently states as the plans' description as the following:

Use your BlackBerry device to send and receive unlimited e-mail in the U.S. and around the world in over 135 countries.

... so clearly, that's different than being able to use unlimited data. But the plan I signed up for wasn't worded that way.

So here's my story:

I travel out of the country a lot and use my Blackberry for e-mail, web surfing, and other apps that require data (GMail, Opera, etc.). I sometimes use the Blackberry's e-mail client to send small images to an e-mail address that automatically posts the image to my Flickr account and to this journal; it's quite handy, really. I also occasionally tether for data access via computer. And when tethering, I am a responsible user and do not transfer huge amounts of data.

During the billing cycle between May 16 and June 15, 2007, I spent a couple of weeks in eastern Indonesia, where I found that I had GPRS even while floating on a boat just off of cities that barely have roads going to them! I was amazed, and was happy to have data access in such a remote location. And so, being on the unlimited plan (and never having seen a roaming indicator), I used my Blackberry as I normally would here in the States. Remote data goodness!

June 23, 2007

When I returned home, I received a Cingular bill with $2,724.14 in data charges. Calmly, I called customer support, which is one of my favorite things in life EVER. Every time I call Cingular / AT&T, I have to first convince the support person that there exists such a thing as an international unlimited plan. 90% of the people I reach tell me that I have a plan that "enables" international Blackberry usage, but that I'd have to pay for the data. This just isn't the case. The *normal* Blackberry plan can have its plan unlocked for metered international access. Why would I pay $20 more per month for the same thing? Anyway, so after establishing the fact that I was, indeed, on a plan that would in theory allow unlimited international usage, I was told, "I see that you shouldn't have been charged because you have an unlimited international data plan. Unfortunately, because the amount in question is so high, I have to file a billing ticket." I was told that the billing ticket would be approved or denied by the powers that be, and that I should check back within 7-10 business days. She said that I should NOT pay the bill, and that it should all be resolved before my billing due date of July 5, 2007. Wrong.

Early July, 2007

While I was out of the country, I received a voicemail from AT&T with no return number. She stated that "Blackberry data on the Blackberry network differs from data on the non-Blackberry network. You can use non-Blackberry data for free in the States, but you get charged for it when you're out of the country." She said that AT&T would refund me $750.

That's a mixed message! Here's the message, "you're at fault... but, well, here's some money, because maybe you aren't..." There was no way I was going to pay the balance.

The AT&T store I walked into before I left for my Indonesia trip had all sorts of third-party application installed on their Blackberries. Opera was a favorite, and the staff there used it to test whether non-Blackberry data was working properly. Having seen applications like this in official AT&T environments, I assumed that I would be able to use these sorts of applications even when out of the country. Nothing I signed differentiates the difference between the two types of data.

July 8, 2007

I called customer service again to escalate the issue, asking them to submit another billing ticket. I requested a credit of the remaining balance, which was $2,724.14 - 750 = $1,974.14.

August 4, 2007

I still hadn't heard anything from AT&T, so I decided to file a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission. I then called AT&T again, and managed to get ahold of a supervisor. She told me that I was right: I shouldn't have been charged for the data I used, and that they would be filing for a credit request. They said they couldn't go the billing ticket route because the issue had already gone through that process and couldn't be contested. I was told to call back in 7-10 business days.

August 18, 2007

Called in to check in on status. Nothing, yet.

August 25, 2007

Received a call from AT&T. I was told that the reason I was billed for the data was because I "had two data plans on my account: one that charges per use, and one that doesn't. The system automatically uses the one that charges more." Furthermore, I was told that the charges were 100% their fault, and that they were a result of no fault of mine. The guy told me he would get the amount adjusted and that there would be no responsibility for me to pay it, no late fees, and no account cancellation (at this point, I was getting threatening letters in the mail). He said he would call me back when the issue was resolved.

August 31, 2007

Received this email:

From: NO_REPLY.CSP@cingular.com Date: August 31, 2007 9:34:38 PM PDT To: Eric Cheng Subject: AT&T Customer Notification (Change to Your Wireless Account)

Thank you for choosing AT&T for your business wireless needs!

This e-mail is a follow-up to our previous conversation on 8/31/2007 to ensure your needs were serviced correctly.

On 8/31/2007, (NAME WITHHELD) processed the following changes to your account:

1. Change to your bill 2. This email is to inform you that the requested refund for international roaming has been credited to your account. Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Please allow 1-2 bill cycles for this transaction to reflect on your next bill and account summary. If you have further questions about your AT&T business needs, please refer to http://www.att.com/business or by calling us at (800) 331-0500.

Sincerely,

(NAME WITHHELD) Business Markets Group (BMG) Customer Services (800) 331-0500

September 2, 2007

Logged into my account... and money was there!

Final Thoughts

A big *WHEW*, mixed with a healthy dose of what. the. fuck!?! How can a company exist that pisses so many people off?!

The supervisor told me that if this ever happened again, I should call in again to have the charges reversed. But next time, is it going to take nearly three months to resolve?

I wish there were a proper international plan that didn't involve AT&T, but at the moment, nothing exists. I'm out of the country 50% of the time and need data access while I am away. Since I moved over to Cingular / AT&T, Verizon has released an international Blackberry offering that combines CDMA and GSM/GPRS support. If AT&T pisses me off again, I will likely jump ship. I was on Verizon for years and was consistently happier with their service than I am with the service from Cingular.

Plus, I would be happy to be able to put my phone near a goddamn amplifier/speaker again.

"You're a hard guy to get ahold of"

Yeah, it's true. So you e-mailed me once a few months ago, and I never wrote back. But was it important? Are you sure I received your e-mail? Did you emphasize in the text that it was time-sensitive? Did you write again to follow up? Did you try using THE PHONE? Do I even know you? Here's how it usually happens:

  1. someone writes me an e-mail
  2. 2 months pass. there are no more attempts to contact me.
  3. i write back, as i try to clear out my inbox
  4. they write back: "you're hard to get ahold of"

Clearly, I am hard to get ahold of.

I also like to bitch about stuff. :)

Amazon.com is selling shark fin soup

It seems that Amazon.com is carrying shark fin soup and other products through three third-party vendors Roland, Pacific Rim Gourmet, and VitaminLife. With all the controversy surrounding shark fins and the horrible practices used to harvest fins, Amazon should be ashamed to be carrying shark fin soup and should rectify the problem immediately by pulling all shark fin products from their catalog. What you can do:

  1. Leave feedback at Amazon's product page for Roland Shark Fin Soup, Dragonfly Shark Fin Soup, and VitaminLife.
  2. Participate in the discussion over at Amazon about the product and why it's bad for them to carry it
  3. Send e-mail to Roland Food at Phyllis.Goldberg@rolandfood.com, Pacific Rim Gourmet at customerservice@pacificrim-gourmet.com, VitaminLife at customerservice@vitaminlife.com, and write letters of protest to:

    Pacific Rim Gourmet
    75-5660 Kopiko Street, Suite C7-210
    Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

    VitaminLife
    15940 Redmond Way
    Redmond, WA 98052

  4. Write to Amazon.com at Advantage Customer Service (advantage@amazon.com) and Investor Relations (ir@amazon.com)
  5. Spread the word through your webpage, blog, etc. (code available here)
  6. Boycott Amazon.com until they comply
  7. Join the discussion in the Wetpixel forums

Alibaba is even worse, and is something that also needs to be tackled by the media. Sea Shepherd has called for a ban of Alibaba's listings, as have some other organizations.

*UPDATE* Amazon pulled shark fin from their inventory!

The Bay Bridge is driving me crazy

I've only been back for a few days and I gotta say: the Bay Bridge is a f'in nightmare. I arrived home (to SFO) late Sunday evening, and by the time Geoff and I made an attempt by car to get me and my 200 lbs of luggage back to Oakland, the now-standard midnight traffic on the Bay Bridge was already terrible. We aborted, and I spent the night at their place in the city. CalTrans currently reports:

I 80 [SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA] IS CLOSED TO EASTBOUND TRAFFIC FROM THE JCT OF US 101 TO 4TH ST /IN SAN FRANCISCO/ (SAN FRANCISCO CO) FROM 0001 HRS TO 0600 HRS 7 DAYS A WEEK THRU 6/2/06 - DUE TO CONSTRUCTION - A DETOUR IS AVAILABLE

... but because the detour used to start at 1AM, I have been operating under that assumption and heading home each night at around 12:15am. By then, traffic is already really bad, and tonight was no exception. I left San Francisco at 12:05am and wasn't able to get onto the bridge for over half and hour. It gets worse. There was a surprise onramp switch (chaos!!), and the four-way intersection just before the onramp was completely jammed with cars and honking taxis trying to squeeze into the lane that would eventually lead to the bridge. People were pissed.

... but I suppose tonight was better than the first time I discovered the existence of the detour, which resulted in a 3.5-hour trip across the bay (home at around 4:30am!). THAT truly sucked.

Whoever is organizing the bridge construction is completely incompetent. Don't even get me started on the weird-ass 5th-Street-offramp / bizarre-right-jog on westbound 80 just past the bridge. That thing causes traffic at nearly all hours of the day.

I'm tempted to move away -- or back to San Francisco -- until the bridge construction is done.