Ripped-Off Customers: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

According to this Business Week article, 2007 might be remembered as the year angry customers started fighting back. We all heard about the 76-year-old woman who came storming into her local ComCast office with a hammer and started swinging. After damaging a keyboard and a phone, she yelled out “have I got your attention now?”

And last Spring a pissed-off Apple customer made a YouTube video of himself smashing his Macbook with a sledgehammer after Apple refused to honor a service warranty. So far over 340,000 people have seen the video. (And Apple has agreed to replace his defective computer.)

The author, Jena McGregor, says: “Consumers already pushed to the brink by evaporating home equity, job insecurity, and rising prices are more apt to snap when hit with long hold times and impenetrable phone trees.”

She uses the term Consumer Vigilante. Even if you don’t settle your grudge with a sledgehammer, more and more people are discovering that there are other options besides sitting there waiting on hold all afternoon because both operators are busy.

The e-mail carpet bomb is becoming more popular.

Last October a National Public Radio host created a website called ComCastMustDie.com. The article has a few other examples of pissed off customers who settled things their own way.

And occasionally the courts come through. A few days ago, one of those slippery HMOs got hit with a crushing left hook to the bank account. In 2004, Health Net canceled a woman’s medical insurance while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She was left with $129,000 in unpaid medical bills. A judge has ordered Health Net to repay the $129,000 plus $750,000 for emotional distress and $8.4 million in punitive damages.

As conservatives are always saying, severe punishments are the only way to deter criminals.

Health Net is also being sued by the City of Los Angeles for illegally canceling the health insurance policies of 1,600 other patients. The company had an incentive program: administrators had to meet a certain cancellation quota, and if they exceeded their quota they’d get a bonus. (See, this isn’t just something Michael Moore dreamed up.)

Maybe these are just isolated incidents, or maybe there’s a positive trend. No matter who or what gets elected next November, maybe this 21st Century Gilded Age is starting to wane.

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