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Here's the picture: refund's coming

On Jan. 17, 2000, I placed an order with the International Library of Photography for two copies of America at the Millennium. I put the $135.90 cost on my credit card. The anthologies were intended as gifts and were to include a photo by each of the recipients. One was received with the proper picture; the other, without the promised entry.

On Aug. 10, my wife called to inquire about the omission and was told it was an oversight; the picture would be included and the anthology reshipped after the next release, dated Sept. 30.

My wife called again on Dec. 14. This time she was told that the picture was not included because it was "obscene." We were never informed of this, and I disagree with that determination. First of all, the picture, of two very young children, one semi-clad and one naked, has artistic value and does not have any obscene connotations.

Second, the company put that very same picture on its Web site for the whole world to see. Third, the managing editor, Jeffry Bryan, sent a letter to my daughter-in-law on Nov. 18, 1999, praising the picture and soliciting it for inclusion in American in the Millennium. In his letter he refers to it as a "work of art."

I wrote to Mr. Bryan on Dec. 14, but never received a response. I am asking for a refund of $59.95 for merchandise not received as ordered. Leonard Geier

Response: Jim Reed, customer service representative for the International Library of Poetry in Owings Mills, Md., sister company of International Library of Photography, said that the company's records do not show an order for the anthologies. He apologized for this omission and said you will be issued a credit for $139.50.

You will note, as did we, that the International Library of Photography seems to have overlooked the fact that your letter clearly stated you did receive one anthology that contained the correct picture. In any case, let us know if you don't receive the credit.

By the way, we were glad you sent us a copy of the "obscene" photo, since it is no longer on the International Library of Photography's Web site, www.thephotosite.com. We did not find the photo obscene either.

Air-conditioning scam

I recently received a call from an air-conditioning company offering me a central air and heating system check up for $39.95. I made an appointment since I have a check-up done yearly, now is the right time for it, and the cost was $10 less than usual. This turned out to be a bad decision.

When the serviceman arrived, he read off the list of things to be performed, I signed the form, and he proceeded to begin the work. Almost immediately, he called me to say the filter had not been in place and that as a result, the main condenser coils were clogged with vast amounts of fungus, making the system incapable of properly dehumidifying the air. Not only was the machine not functioning correctly, it was sending "bad air" into the house. As I am a historian, not a machinist, I had to accept that assessment.

I walk with a cane and am disabled from heart disease and advanced lung disease. Obviously, I need to pay attention to "air threats," something I suspect the service person knew or had concluded. He informed me it was a serious condition, requiring that the coils be boiled out and the air circulation system vented with special chemicals to kill off fungus spores and other bacteria.

It would cost $188 extra. I asked how long it would take and was surprised when he said an hour or so. I had expected a day or two, not a happy prospect as my wife, a Northerner, hates even warm weather. I hesitatingly agreed to the process.

I soon discovered the process for "boiling out" the coils involved nothing more than spraying them with something that smelled vaguely like chlorine. When the serviceman asked me to review the results of this spraying, all I saw in the pan was a bit of black residue mixed with the solution. Considering the size of the coils and his fearsome description of how clogged and unworkable they had become, the amount of residue was small indeed.

The serviceman then spent a few minutes introducing a chemical into the air circulation system, added some Freon and declared the process complete. In all, it had taken less than an hour. I knew I had been "had," but that since I had signed permission for the boiling out process, etc., there wasn't much I could do. Perhaps you can warn others. Robert Hawk

Response: We thank you for the opportunity for a timely "Action alert." With the weather heating up, so will air-conditioning use. This also means a likely increase in ads and phone calls from companies offering special deals to check and clean your air-conditioning unit. We have passed on these cautionary words from the Pinellas and Hillsborough counties' consumer protection departments in the past. It's time to repeat them.

Although there are many legitimate companies making such offers, others have ulterior motives: They want to dig more deeply into your pockets by performing unnecessary work, upgrading your system, or even selling you a new one. Whatever it is, they want to do it now!

Having your system periodically cleaned and maintained is a good idea, but be wary of high-pressure sales pitches. Above all, do not sign a sales contract before getting estimates from at least three companies. Remember, if you set up the appointment, the three-day cooling off period does not apply. You can cancel the contract only if someone shows up at your door unannounced.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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