Bamboozled: One victory, one warning, one loose end

A small victory for Hess Visa customers everywhere, a warning for car buyers and no change for the widow of a JCP&L workerBB branding.

Credit card victory

We shared the story of Howard Titen, a Hess Visa cardholder who complained when Chase, the company that issues the card, changed its rewards program.

The program previously credited earned rewards — a rebate — monthly, but after April 1, rewards were only going to be issued when they reached $25.

Titen complained because rewards he earned before April 1 were credited to the $25. After our story, Titen received notification from Chase that he wouldn’t have to wait to reach $25 to receive his pre-April 1 rewards.

Then reader Cynthia Cox, also a Hess cardholder, contacted Hess to complain after reading about Titen. Before long, she was told she would not have to wait to receive her rewards.

Bamboozled wondered if other cardholders would get the same treatment.

Chase’s Tanya Madison sent Bamboozled this e-mail:

”We have reviewed this change and decided to base the 4/1/09 effective date on when the credits were earned rather than when the rebates were due to be issued. We will have no further comment on this issue.”

And Bamboozled will have no further questions on this issue, thank you very much.

Buyers — and negotiators — beware

Imagine the land of Oz, the setting to the classic film featuring Dorothy Gale and her friends on their quest to see the Wizard. When their journey leads them to the Wizard’s lair, Dorothy and her friends cower before the great and powerful one — until Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals a regular guy, not a great and powerful Wizard.

One reader recently encountered a wizard of his own.

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the reader — let’s call him “Joe” — went car shopping with his wife, “Mary.” They wanted to lease or purchase two new vehicles, hoping for a better deal by negotiating both vehicles together.

Joe and Mary sat down with the salesman to talk price. After a few minutes, the salesman went behind closed doors to discuss the offer for the first car with the manager — the man behind the curtain, the great and powerful Wizard. The salesman returned with a counteroffer.

As negotiations continued, the salesman excused himself several more times to talk to the Wizard, Joe said. Finally, the couple and the salesman verbally agreed on a lease price for the first car.

Because it was late in the day, the salesman suggested they come back two days later — Memorial Day — to finalize the deal on the second car.

When they returned, Joe said the salesman started negotiations for the second car, but Joe and Mary wanted to sign for the first car before moving to the second deal. The salesman went to see the Wizard.

”This time he came back and said that he made a mistake and they can’t do it for the price he quoted,” Joe said. ”We insisted on seeing the Wizard, but he would not appear.”

Eventually, the Wizard’s boss — the Grand Wizard — appeared, apologized and said the salesman made a mistake. They couldn’t make the deal at the originally quoted price.

Joe explained the salesman got approval from the Wizard-on-duty the day before, and Joe asked if that Wizard was available. The Grand Wizard said he didn’t know who was working that day, and he failed to produce, or attempt to contact, the Wizard in question.

In frustration, Joe and Mary walked out and took their business elsewhere.

It’s common for a car salesperson to see the Wizard in the midst of negotiations. In this case, we’ll never know why the price changed and whether it was a true error or a ploy on the part of the dealer. In any financial deal, it’s not a done deal until you have it in writing.

If you ever encounter your own Wizard, make him sign on the dotted line before you walk out the door.

Update: JCP&L pension battle

Several months ago, Bamboozled reported the struggles of Brenda Slutter. When her husband, Ron, a lifetime employee of JCP&L, was on his deathbed, he signed paperwork that would allow him to officially retire.

This would give his wife a higher survivor’s pension benefit than she’d receive if he died as an active employee.

JCP&L told the Slutters the official retirement date couldn’t be until the first of the month. Ron Slutter died 17 hours before he was “officially” retired.

Now, Brenda Slutter receives only half the pension benefit her husband meant for her to receive, and the company won’t budge.

Slutter’s attorney contacted the attorney for First Energy, JCP&L’s parent company, asking the company to consider a global settlement for Slutter’s claims against the company: the pension and a separate workman’s compensation claim.

Bamboozled received the transcript of a phone message left for Slutter’s attorney by First Energy attorney Tim Hayes, in which he basically said no.

Not good news for the pension. But there is a big break for Slutter’s workman’s compensation claim. After reading Slutter’s story in The Star-Ledger, a former JCP&L worker came forward with testimony that Brenda Slutter and her attorney say will help her case.

As always, we’ll keep you posted.