Adventures in rebate-ing

Last month our six-year-old LG dishwasher died. For a week or two it would randomly beep as though it had been turned on; then it failed completely. It was probably the UI board, which lives in the top of the dishwasher door and for which a replacement part costs $120, but I don’t like working on appliances. (And I couldn’t find a way to disassemble the door to get at it.)

A couple of years ago I zigged to avoid tripping over the cat and I kicked the corner of the open dishwasher door and broke the plastic cover loose. I think that’s what let water or steam in over time, and that’s what killed it.

I called a repair service. They told me they don’t fix dishwashers because the cost is close to the price of a new one.

We shopped around and decided on a Bosch dishwasher from Lowe’s for $800. Went to the store on Saturday, May 27, to buy it. Delivery, installation, and haulaway of the old one was another $219, and I briefly considered installing it myself despite what I said above about not liking working on appliances. But then the Lowe’s person said there’s a rebate on all of that, so this made the decision.

It didn’t get delivered and installed until three weeks later, Saturday, June 17. At first the unit wasn’t in stock, then it was but the junction box wasn’t and apparently that’s specific to Bosch so they needed it. We got really tired of washing dishes by hand. Then we got scheduled for Friday, but right before our scheduled time the guy called and said he had a family emergency, so we talked him into coming on Saturday. Everything went fine and now we have a working dishwasher, yay. (Weird feature: there are no lights on the front panel, and it’s exceedingly quiet, so to let us know it’s on it shines a red light on the floor.)

A week later, I got an email survey asking our experience with the purchase and rebate experience. It was only then that I remembered we were supposed to have gotten rebate-ed. I filled out the survey, then went to boschlowesrebates.com and provided all the information. The site was nicely done, and it was an easy experience!

… except that, at the end of the experience, it told me that our purchase wasn’t eligible for a refund and that I needed to call Lowe’s. And of course that phone number wasn’t active on the weekend. So, first thing this (Monday) morning, I gave the Lowe’s rebate department a call.

  1. “You know, that rebate isn’t working for anybody. I get so many complaints about it. You need to call Bosch and they can work it out for you.”
  2. Called Bosch. In the queue for 25 minutes, then: “I’m sorry, this is only Bosch customer service. You need to call the Lowe’s rebate department. Here’s a different phone number you should use for them. If they can’t help you, call us back and we’ll put you through to the Bosch rebate department. I can’t transfer you to that department until you’ve called that Lowe’s number first. No, there isn’t an external phone number for it to call directly.”
  3. Called that Lowe’s number. A recording of an exasperated-sounding man said “No routes found” over and over again.
  4. Called Bosch back again. In the queue for 31 minutes, then: “Yes, we know that Lowe’s number isn’t working. We have a service ticket open on it. I can’t transfer you to the rebate department, but here’s the external phone number. Call it directly.”
  5. Called that number (888-771-8345) for the Bosch rebate department. In the queue for 43 minutes, then the woman there gave the answer right away.

And the answer was: in addition to entering my dishwasher purchase on the online rebate form, I also had to add a second product, type “InstallationCost”, serial number “installation”. I put all the prices in the right places and the form was accepted. Now I’m in the system while my rebate is being processed. “Everything should be fine from here on,” she said.

Pardon me if I have my doubts.

Thanksgiving 2020

Every year for Thanksgiving, whether or not we have guests, Jill and I order a ready-to-eat meal from Cracker Barrel. Their turkey, gravy, and dressing is really good, and with it we usually get ham, mac & cheese, fried apples, baby carrots, and some biscuits and sourdough bread. We preorder and set a pickup time on Thanksgiving Day, and then we just drive to the back of the restaurant, pay, and they bring the food out to our car.

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A scam in five acts

I’ve preserved unusual wording and pronunciations here as well as I could.

Act One

A woman with an Indian accent.

I am calling you from Social Security Administration. Your social security number has been used in connection with illegal activities and will be suspended. If you are not responsible for these activities, then please provide me your name, your address, and the last four digits of your social so that I can verify your information.

I identify myself as Bob Parr and give a Sunnyvale California address where I lived many years ago.

The criminal activities took place in the State of Texas. There was an abandoned black Toyota Corolla with license plate TX2440. People had called to complain about it. When the police investigated it they found blood and drugs inside. This car had been rented under your name. There are also five addresses rented in your name. One is 7609 Claremont Avenue, Rowlett, Texas, 75089. Another is [the address on public record with my current phone number]. Are you associated with any of these addresses?

The criminals wired $236,789 from banks to foreign countries for criminal activities.

You are faced with three serious charges: money laundering, theft by deception, and misleading government information. I will transfer you to U.S. Marshals and they will give to you a new social.

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Google Play cards scammer

I was excited to get a call from another scammer today. “Maxwell” from “Apple” told me that my Apple account had been accessed from Alabama and Texas, and that to solve the problem I needed to install TeamViewer QuickSupport on my iPhone.

If I had installed that app, he would have had me go into my bank account so he could watch and copy down details. So of course I didn’t. He quickly moved to Plan B: “We can verify you at your nearest grocery store. Buy a $100 Google Play card and we will use the 16-digit code to verify you. Don’t worry, I will immediately refund the purchase price back to your account.”

So I “drove” (sound effects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpTDNpWkUuM) to “Target” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj7C2g3cM_8), at which point he upped the ante. “To remove the unsecure connection I need you to buy two cards for $100 each, or one reloadable card for $200.” I pretended to get into a conversation with the cashier where I explained (just speaking my side of the conversation) that I was buying these to unlock my account because I was on the phone with Apple. “This is classified and confidential!” he told me urgently. “Do not tell them what this is for! Simply tell me them that this is for your personal use. Personal use! Otherwise they will charge you a 10% tax which will not be refunded. It is very confidential, trust me.”

Back in the “parking lot” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K07R8Y_N_pY) again, he told me to scratch off the cards and read the codes to him. I gave him codes from cards I found online that people had posted online last year, and I asked what a Google Play card had to do with my Apple account. “It is going to remove the hackers, not your identity,” he said. “This card will remove the hackers. Give me five minutes.”

A few minutes later, he returned to tell me the codes don’t appear to be valid. “These two cards are not blocking the hackers.” So I told him that I just entered the codes on Google’s redeem page to add them to my Google Play account. This sent him into apoplexy. “Did I tell you to do that? Why did you do that? Now you need to go to another store and buy more cards.”

So next I went to “Walmart” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp9yBndP-1A) and pretended to have another conversation with a cashier who was refusing to sell me the cards because this is a scam. “She is talking about something else,” my friend from “Apple” told me. “Leave the store and go somewhere else.”

The third trip was to “Walgreens” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7Yks_RIVgc). “Put your phone in your pocket so they do not see it,” he instructed me this time.

Back in the parking lot, I told him that there had been an error! They only sold me two $50 gift cards for $100 total, not two $100 cards! Could he, somehow, still use them? “Give me the codes and I will see.” A few minutes later. “These codes again do not work,” he said. I told him that’s strange because they worked just fine for me when I added them to my Google account while I was on hold. This sent him into another fit: “Why would you! What kind of an idiot are you?” And then he hung up.

Apparently I’m the kind of idiot with an hour and a half to waste on a Saturday evening, putting on a show for a scammer!

Endgame

Today I tied up a credit card scammer on the phone for more than an hour. I got further with him that I’ve ever gotten with a scammer.

I get 3-4 phonecalls every day from Indian scammers looking to help me reduce my credit card interest rate to “0% for the life of the card.” Usually I hang up on them, but for the times when I’m bored and feel like playing with them, I made a text file with fake (but consistent) card and identity info in it. First I give them a fake MasterCard, and when that doesn’t come back as valid I give them a fake Visa, and then a fake Visa debit card, and then I’ll tempt them with the promise of a Discover that I won’t give them until they answer all my questions (and, of course, I have so very many questions). I’m always unerringly polite and eager to get their help, so I give them whatever (fake) information they’d like. If I have plenty of free time, I’ll add a story about “my MasterCard had unapproved charges on it so I had them send me a new card, and I got this one on Monday, and it works because I bought coffee at Starbucks this morning, but my Visa I called in about last week and they haven’t called me back yet so I don’t know if this card is canceled or if they’re sending me a new one so maybe you can help me with that” – and that sometimes explains to their satisfaction why the cards are coming up as invalid. Every now and then I’ll also get conversational with them, asking them how their day’s been, telling them what the weather is like here, that sort of thing. They usually get impatient with that. Eventually the scammer realizes he’s not getting anywhere, and so these calls usually end with me getting hung up on, usually after the scammer has told me to stick my card up my ass.

Today, though, I got connected to someone (“James”) who’s apparently new to the game. I gave him the MasterCard and the Visa, and when both came up as invalid, I gave him my story about unapproved charges and I snowed him with lots of smalltalk whenever he wasn’t fast enough to come back at me with a request for more personal information. And eventually he got confused and decided that my info was valid.

So then he transferred me to his “project manager” (“Barry Alan”) who re-verified all the fake info with me – and then explained their program. This was the first time I’d ever reached this level!

I currently have a total (fake) balance of $8500 over two (fake) credit cards at (fake) 13.99% and 15.99% interest. He told me that I can choose either of two options:

  1. Put the balance onto a new card, plus $1200 in service fees ($9700 total), and on this I would have zero percent interest forever. As long as I kept making a minimum payment each month, that would go entirely towards the principal. (At one point he mentioned something about the service fees being charged at 12.99%, but I couldn’t get him to explain that.)
  2. Balance transfer of my existing dept to a card with an interest rate below 5% (“might be as low as 0%”).

This sounded too good to be true, and I told him so. He gave me a story about his company, CMS (Card Management Services) Corporation, being in business to help people with money.

Then he asked me for my social security number. I balked, asking him if it was safe to provide that. He insisted that it was perfectly safe because “this is a recorded line,” and because “if I was a scammer I could hang up on you right now and use your credit cards to purchase things, but because I am not a scammer, I have not hung up the line with you.” In the time it took him to explain all that, I found a social security number generator to provide a valid number that fit the birthdate I had given to him.

Then came the interesting part. We were discussing my (fake) Wells Fargo Visa, and he told me he was transferring me to someone to request my credit card statements, and I said okay, and there was a pause … then I found myself speaking with Cindy from Wells Fargo customer service. The real thing. She was confused, I was confused, I kept asking if Barry Alan was still on the line … then there was a click, and I was suddenly talking with Barry again, who apparently had been listening in – ready to take over the call as soon as I had confirmed my identity with Wells Fargo. “You are supposed to ask for your credit card statements!” he demanded. I apologized, there was another pause, and now I was speaking with Seth from Wells Fargo. “A gentleman who is helping me get zero percent on all my credit cards told me to ask you for my credit card statements!” I told him. He was confused and asked for my account number. I complained, “Barry already has that! He should have given that to you! I have given my information to three people already!” Poor Seth was an innocent casualty, but there was no way I could tip him off to what was going on without tipping off Barry.

Click. Barry was back, and he was mad, accusing me of wasting his time and trying to scam him. I got (fake) mad right back, telling him that I always have to wait on the phone for an hour and a half when I call my credit card company.

And then, yes, he hung up on me.

I feel like this is a win because I finally got them to tell me what their “offer” is. I can see why people think it’s a good offer, but I don’t entirely believe Mr. Barry Alan.

Override

I am on the national Do Not Call list, I block every phone number that scammers use to call me, but I still get huge numbers of phonecalls from people who want to lower my credit card interest rate “to zero percent for the life of the card.” Sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll politely give them my fake AT&T Universal MasterCard and my fake Wells Fargo VISA and take up as much time as they want to spend on me.

Yesterday after I wasted a scammer’s time for twenty minutes until he tried both cards and realized that I was giving him fake data, he did something I hadn’t seen before: he told me my current balance (fake number), my most recent payment (fake number), and my next payment due (fake date and fake number), then wished me a nice day. I think it’s funny that each of us knew the other was lying, but we still carried on the conversation as if both of us were legit.

Today I got a call from another guy who wanted to lower my rate on my car insurance. He never asked if I was interested or if I wanted his help, but he immediately started asking details about my current car and insurance. I told him I drive a Honda. “What kind of Honda? Civic, Accord?” I said I drive a Honda Pilot. “… Civic, Accord?” Okay, fine, I drive an Accord.

After I had given him all the fake information he asked for, he told me that someone would be calling me back within the next 24-48 hours. And then, oddly, he verified today’s date then said, “Just to inform you, this gentleman will override your number even if it is on the DNC.” Hold on, I said, what is that, I asked? He again verified today’s date and again said “He will override your number even if it is on the DNC.” Yes, but what does that mean?

Click. I got hung up on.

I’m a little puzzled by the last statement. Was he asking me to give explicit permission to be called, even though I’m on the Do Not Call list? Or what does it mean for a caller to “override” the list? And why would the guy who called me need to bring this up when he, himself, was calling me in violation of the list – or was he technically not in violation because it’s the next guy who calls me who’s the one to try selling me something?

I blocked the number. Let’s see them try to override that.

Scams

I get exactly the same three scam phonecalls every afternoon, with the same exact scripts and even the same hold music.

They don’t honor my do-not-call requests and they have a different caller ID number each time so I can’t block them. So if I’m bored, I screw with ’em. I waste their time so they can’t call other people. I practice faking sincerity.

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