11 Companies That May Have Ripped You Off in 2015
There’s a good chance that with the conclusion of another Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping excursion, you’ve already got a list of companies who have earned your undying devotion, or unmitigated wrath. Based on those experiences, you’re more likely to keep spending your money at the companies who had good deals, treated you well, and didn’t have lines around the block (or, at least made that line move as quickly as possible.)
To help with that mental list, Consumer Reports published its sixth-annual Naughty & Nice List, which highlights the companies that have treated customers the best and worst in 2015. “Whether we’re flying or buying, banking or borrowing, there’s no more important time than the high-octane holiday season to be vigilant about how and with whom we spend our shopping dollars,” said Tod Marks, senior projects editor and resident shopping expert at Consumer Reports, in a press release.
With that in mind, Consumer Reports listed several firms whose policies benefited consumers, and which companies gave customers the equivalent of a lump of coal. By quickly addressing a grilling error, Brinkmann and Home Depot both earned a spot on the “nice” list, as did Dish Network and Target. Jet Blue and Southwest were the only airlines to make the “nice list,” and Jet Blue remains the most-endorsed airline from the publication and its 20,000 survey respondents. It’s also one of the few companies to make the “nice” list more than one year in a row, along with CVS.
But which companies had policies or incidents that left consumers out in the cold this year? Consumer Reports compiled a list of 11 companies that had at least one policy that was a disadvantage to customers. “The list, based on input from Consumer Reports experts and presented in alphabetical order, is neither an endorsement nor criticism of an overall company,” Marks wrote in the list’s introduction. Instead, there’s one problem in particular that landed the company in hot water. With that information, you’ll be more informed about what to expect when you purchase items from those companies – or choose to look elsewhere for your products.
1. Allegiant Air
Like most discount airlines, Allegiant earned its spot on the naughty list for an endless stream of fees, often for unavoidable purchases. For each one-way segment, the airline charges a 3.2% processing fee for purchasing tickets using a credit card (it caps the fee at $8). It charges another $13 for every ticket bought outside an airport ticket office, and up to $80 to choose your seat. It’ll be another $5 for a printed boarding pass, and at least $35 for checking your first bag and at least $15 for every carry-on, with skyrocketing prices if you wait to pay until the airport. It looks like Spirit Airlines, which got on the naughty list last year for similar nickel-and-diming practices, has some competition.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ordered Citibank to pay around $700 million to consumers who were harmed by illegal credit card practices between 2000 and 2013, as well as $35 million in civil penalties. Among the list of grievances that Consumer Reports summarizes, the financial institution charged consumers for services they never received, enrolled members in services without their consent, and misrepresented the costs, benefits, and fees of some products. According to the bureau, roughly 7 million customers were affected by the practices.
3. Citizens Bank
Though nothing like the $700 fine facing Citibank, Citizens Bank also shorted customers millions of dollars over the course of more than five years. The CFPB found the bank never reimbursed customers when the scanner misread the deposit slip or checks coming into local branches, instead pocketing the difference after bank errors.
Though Costco is known for offering great membership deals and saving you on bulk purchases, the same can’t be said for its jewelry selection – at least not if you’re buying a ring with a robin’s egg blue box. Tiffany & Co. originally filed a lawsuit on Valentine’s Day in 2013, saying the wholesaler was infringing on their trademark by falsely claiming they were selling authentic Tiffany engagement rings and other jewelry.
Costco claimed their displays that used “Tiffany” descriptions were about the ring setting, not the brand. However, in September a federal judge ruled that Costco was willfully infringing upon Tiffany’s trademarks. According to Consumer Reports, the case is scheduled to go to a jury trial in early 2016.
5. FedEx and UPS
FedEx and UPS have already increased their fees to deliver to homes, and the costs keep coming. Both shipping companies landed on Consumer Reports’ “naughty” list after increasing additional fuel surcharges in November by 4.25% and 5.25%, respectively. Increasing prices for that particular charge doesn’t make sense, since the price of diesel won’t rise significantly until well into 2016, and even then will remain below the increases seen in 2014.
The company known for protecting your identity is once again in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission for failing to protect your data appropriately, but claiming it has similar security systems as financial institutions. The company reached a settlement in 2010 with the FTC for a related set of problems, but violated that agreement. At the end of October, LifeLock announced it reached a tentative agreement with the FTC to resolve the false claims completely, setting aside $116 million in expected fines and fees.
7. Sprint and Verizon
After AT&T landed on the hot seat in 2014’s “naughty” list, it’s Sprint and Verizon’s turn. The two companies were both found guilty by Federal Communications Commission of charging customers for unauthorized third-party text messages, often averaging $9.99 per month. “For too long, consumers have been charged on their phone bills for things they did not buy,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a press release.
As a result of the finding, Verizon will pay $90 million, and Sprint will pay $68 million. A combined $10 million will be fines paid to the U.S. Treasury, but a bulk of the funds ($120 million combined) will go toward consumer redress programs.
8. Tom’s of Maine
The company made its name for selling natural products, but that term is exactly what got Tom’s into trouble. The company hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing, but did agree to a $4.5 million settlement with people who claimed it used chemical ingredients, including a sweetener called xylitol and sodium lauryl sulfate. As another part of the settlement, Tom’s agreed to define terms like “natural” and “responsible” on its website.
9. Turing Pharmaceuticals
After paying for the rights to create a drug called Daraprim, the company hijacked the price from $13 to $750 per pill. The public became outraged with 32-year-old CEO Martin Shkreli, who greenlit the change. The outrage is at least in part because the drug, which has been around for decades, helps patients with weakened immune systems like infants, elderly people, and AIDS patients. As a result of a Congressional inquiry and loads of bad press, the company has said it’s going to revamp the payments, but there’s no final word on what the bills will be.
It’s bad enough that not too many people seem to care about the environment, but now we’re realizing that those people who did make car purchases based on lower emissions readings were duped. The German automaker admitted to installing software that would circumvent the emissions control system in millions of cars sold in the United States. On top of the PR nightmare, the cars don’t meet EPA guidelines for emissions, with some problems evident in vehicles sold as early as 2009.
11. Whole Foods
Though Whole Foods made the “nice” list just last year for its labels telling customers which products contain GMOs, the company didn’t fare as well in 2015. The company was caught twice this year overcharging customers for selling products with a mislabeled weight, with the differences meaning an overcharge from 80 cents to $15 per package. As a result, Whole Foods agreed to pay $800,000 in penalties.
If you’re looking for more details, and want to check out the full list of companies who made the nice list, check out Consumer Reports’ full article here.