Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Beware of companies with unscrupulous business practices

My mother inherited a 2008 Buick from her aunt and when the title transferred to her, she began receiving dozens of postcards notifying her that the Buick's extended warranty was expiring and she was running out of time to renew. Often the notices read: "Final notice! Your vehicle's warranty is about to expire! Don't go another day without coverage!" 
 
Mom thought perhaps her great-aunt and uncle had purchased an extended warranty on the car  and so she pondered the idea of continuing it. I was skeptical because over the years I've learned that those third-party extended warranties are a scam and that the only reliable warranties offered directly by the automobile manufacturer when you purchase the vehicle. In addition, I just did not buy that my great aunt and uncle aunt would've purchased such a thing. Now mom, who for the most part, is generally pretty skeptical, decided not to go any further with the notion of purchasing an extended warranty and so she tossed all the postcards in the trash -- until one day she received another postcard that just beckoned to her and so, out of curiosity, she called the company: Guardian LLC.

Mom talked to a lady in customer service at Guardian LLC, who had obvious training in persuasion tactics, taking a very personal approach, acting as if she cared and had my mom's best interest at heart. She acted as if she was on mom's side, looking out for her, and persuading her with everything she had that mom could not let herself go unprotected. She either knew or must've deduced that mom was on social security because she warned mom that she would find herself in financial ruin if she did not get the extended warranty. Mom, despite her hesitations (and believe me, she had them) certainly didn't want to find herself in financial ruin over a major car repair and she was still not completely convinced that her aunt had not had this same warranty. When mom expressed concern about the cost of the warranty, the rep lowered the price and then told her if she didn't sign up for the contract immediately ($125 down and $96 per month for five years - for a total price of $5,885), that she would lose out on that rate. Mom, feeling pressured but at that moment, concerned that she could run into major costs for repairs took this woman's advice and signed up for an extended warranty.

Guardian LLC's website autoguardians.com

When mom called me and told me what she had done, I sighed but kept my mouth shut. I'm not in the habit of telling mom what to do as I consider her the boss of her own life and she does a great job of managing her own affairs. I know that if she wants my advice or needs help with something she'll ask but I try to take a hands-off approach whenever possible. I heard her hesitate when she heard me sigh. Then she told me about the warranty she'd just purchased that covered everything and at that point I'd already started googling the company and that's when I found out about their unscrupulous business practices. Mom could tell something was up and so I read to her a number of complaints from a number of websites. They all said the same thing about the company's shady practices. Immediately our concern turned to the fact that now the company had complete access to her checking account and could do whatever they wanted. That night, mom's bank cancelled her debit card but not before the $125 was authorized.

Mom went to the bank the very next day and they told her they would work on her behalf to get a refund. The bank manager checked out the company online and saw they seemed shady and advised mom not to call the company on her own to cancel the policy. However, a few days later, her bank notified her that because she had authorized Guardian to use her debit card, they could not interfere. That's the point when mom called the company on her own to cancel. She tried the number the first woman she'd talked to gave her but there was no answer. She managed to find another number to get through when she finally did, mom informed this second woman that she wanted to cancel her policy. Well, the second woman had mom on the phone for almost an hour using every textbook tactic in the book to get mom not to cancel her policy. It was rude, nasty and completely unprofessional.

When mom told the woman she wanted to cancel, the woman asked why and mom simply said "for personal reasons" but that wasn't enough. Oh no, this woman would not let up. She was relentless, using every fear and intimidation tactic in the book to push mom into keeping the policy. She warned mom that one repair would send her into financial ruin and that relying on her children to help her was not fair to them. It went on and on and all the while mom's blood pressure was steadily rising. The only reason mom stayed on the phone with this woman as long as she did was because she was concerned if she hung up on her or returned the nasty attitude, the woman would not give her the money back.

Thankfully, mom was so pissed off she'd decided she was not giving up. She held firm with the woman and made it clear to her that her personal financial situation was not her concern and that all she wanted was her refund. Somehow she finally got off the phone with the woman, who told her she would receive a refund. Sure enough, mom got an email a day later stating the refund would be issued. 

Of course I'd already decided I was going to write about this crappy company and post it online for the world to see.

I have a habit of writing about companies that rip people off and Guardian LLC is now on the list. I contacted Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint about Guardian's sales and customer service tactics. Days later, Guardian followed up with a carefully worded response below. I will make comments in red throughout their response to respond to and clarify a few things.

Hello, On behalf of Guardian LLC, We first off want to apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. That is certainly never our intentions.

In response to the complaint that nobody was answering when calling customer service for Guardian. Guardian’s Customer Service is open Monday through Friday 8-5 CST. When this customer called in and requested the coverage it was after 5 pm, 5:53 to be exact. (True: When I read their reply to mom, she confirmed that she may have called them before they were due to close).

The customer was probably frightened because of elaborate, negative depictions of a "sales call" such as this one.  (False: Mom was not frightened during the phone call, rather she felt pushed, rushed and intimidated. She was made to feel fearful that something bad would happen to her car and that she would greatly regret not signing up for the extended warranty.  When I read her the negative reviews about consumers having been pressured into purchasing, she said, "that's exactly what they did to me!")

These notices are NOT sent out or targeted to elderly individuals to try and "SCAM" them. These notices are sent out to anyone with vehicles that may or may not need coverage on them. If Guardian was a "scam" they would not be on the BBB and would not be responding to or refunding the customer. Both of these things have happened. (Fact: Being listed on the BB site means nothing if a business is not accredited. Guardian LLC is in fact, NOT accredited by the Better Business Bureau and they receive a "C" rating on a scale of A to F and a 2.21 out of 5 rating. The reason they are not accredited is because either the business did not seek accreditation or they did and did not meet the accreditation standards.)



Guardian LLC on the BBB page.
When a customer calls in to cancel it is a very common practice of any business to find out the reason for cancellation. (While it is absolutely acceptable to ask, it is not acceptable to badger someone into further explanation. The explanation the customer gives should be enough, they should not be required to elaborate then kept on the telephone for thirty minutes being harassed and harangued into changing their minds. Over and over again, this woman pushed mom to tell her why she was cancelling. Mom said "personal reasons" and the woman continued and wouldn't let up. When my mother tried to shut her up by telling her that her daughters would help, this woman told mom that it wasn't fair to ask her daughters to help her as she would be placing an undue burden on her children. If, at this point, you're asking yourself why mom did not just hang up, it's because she worried if she pissed this woman off, she would not get her refund. Remember, Guardian held the upper hand because they had her money, thus mom had to put up with their crap.) Regardless of the customers answer they were refunded in full. (Again, after having been badgered for more than thirty minutes and putting up with that woman's crap!)  Guardian was simply trying to provide excellent customer service by asking relevant questions. (Guardian has no business asking more than once why a customer is cancelling his or her policy. The answer the customer gives should be enough, they don't owe Guardian an elaboration).  Every customer is important to us, even the ones we lose. Nobody at Guardian has or will attempt to "cheat, intimidate, or bully" any of our current or potential new customers. (Yeah, okay.)

We understand that things can be misunderstood very easily over text. (False: There were no emails or texts involved in the purchasing of or cancellation of this policy with the exception of the final email Guardian sent to mom cancelling the policy in the end. All business was done by phone).  We urge any potential customers to call in with their concerns. (Again, this was all done by phone and there was no misunderstanding on my mom's part that she was being harassed and intimidated). The only business practices used by Guardian are providing customers with FACTS and figures from the automotive repair industry. (Fact: No facts of figures were provided.) We then offer a service that will protect a customers budget from getting hit all at once from potential repairs.

We regret losing this customer. Their policy was cancelled and they were refunded before this complaint was even submitted. (Fact: I filed this complaint on March 6th, it was approved and published March 8th. Mom was sent an email notifying her she would finally be cancelled on or about March 9th and the actual money showed up in her account on March 15th).

We hope the very best for the customer and hopes that this clears up this complaint and that it is dropped. (Fact: Rest assured that anytime I hear or read about someone wanting to do business with Guardian LLC I will warn them against doing so. Not only are warranties NOT offered through the actual manufacturer of the automobile, not worth the money spent on them in the first place but more importantly, Guardian's use of intimidation tactics, especially toward senior citizens, makes this company a bad business deal).

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us. Thank you for your time. 
Mom is a smart woman and probably a bit embarassed about this situation but I explained to her that this happens to a lot of people regardless of their age. These kind of sales people are trained well in the art of persuasion and intimidation. They're masters of the game and if you've ever bought a car, you've witnessed this behavior in action. If you think you've never been there, let me ask you - have you ever bought a car? There are sales tactics designed to wear down and intimidate the consumer so they'll sign on the dotted line just to get it over with.  

Guardian LLC is a scam for many reasons and in this case, because it uses deceptive and unethical business practices. They intimidate and incite fear (especially in senior citizens) which ultimately convinces unsuspecting individuals that they must purchase these products.  

Regardless of age, there's a lesson here for all of us. Be careful who you do business with, check it out before you buy, and never ever give anyone your debit card information or direct access to your checking account. Mom was lucky this company refunded her $125 but other customers of companies like them have not been so fortunate. 

By the way, you can read more about these third-party warranty scams at Edmunds, a trusted and reputable online resource for automotive info that has been around for years.  You should check out their site but here are some helpful tips I found at their site, for your information:
A Few Helpful Tips
Third-party extended-warranty scams are widespread enough that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a consumer alert on its Web site. Here are some of the FTC's tips, along with some of our own.
Stick with the manufacturer's warranty: The best way to avoid extended-warranty scams is to choose coverage with the manufacturer's extended warranty. This way, you deal with the same company you trusted enough to buy a car from in the first place. Almost every car manufacturer offers a factory extended warranty. These warranties will cost a bit more (although they are negotiable), but at least you'll have the peace of mind that your vehicle is in the right hands.
Research the company before you sign up: A quick Google search is easy to do, and will reveal quite a bit about the company. You can also ask about the company on message boards, or look them up on your state's BBB Web site.
Know what's covered and what isn't: This is often the biggest source of confusion when it comes to extended auto warranties. Although they are sometimes called extended warranties, they don't function in the same way that your original bumper-to-bumper warranty does. Think of these as service contracts that minimize your costs in the event of high-priced repairs.
Since their coverage is limited, it is all the more important for you to know what is covered by your extended warranty. You'll want to get an exclusionary policy. These types of warranties more clearly state everything that is not covered, with the understanding that everything else is covered. This way, you don't run into any surprises down the line.

If you get mail or phone calls about renewing your vehicle warranty, don't take the information at face value: Your vehicle's warranty may be far from expiring, or it may have expired already. Take the time to find out exactly when your manufacturer's warranty expires. That way, you won't fall for the trick.

If you're not sure about the length of your warranty, refer to our warranty page, which has a thorough listing of all factory warranty coverage. A dealership can also look up the exact day your warranty expires (assuming you are under the mileage limit) by determining the "in service" date for your car.
Never give out personal information to someone who contacts you with an auto warranty offer: Don't share your bank account, credit card and Social Security numbers, or even your driver license number or vehicle identification number (VIN). A few unscrupulous companies have been known to use your VIN to convince you they can "blacklist" your vehicle so that no one else will cover it unless you sign up with them. Don't fall for this. No such list exists.

Be skeptical of any unsolicited sales from a recorded message: You should be getting fewer of these "robo-dialed" phone calls these days, thanks to the FTC's 2009 anti-robocall rule. But in the event that a company ignores the rule, don't pay any attention to its recording. If you want to get more information about an extended warranty, we suggest that you call your local dealer, ask for the finance manager and inquire about the manufacturer's extended warranty.
Be wary of fast talkers: Telemarketers pitching auto warranties often use high-pressure tactics to gain the upper hand and get you to buy a warranty that day. A reputable company will let you see a copy of the contract and let you decide on your own time. Ask the vendor to fax or e-mail you the contract and take your time going over it. Don't fall for the "limited-time specials" that many companies claim to have. These pitches are made up to create a false sense of urgency.

If you've been burned: If you lose money to a third-party warranty, there are several agencies you can turn to. This will vary based on your situation. Since you signed a contract, your first step is to try and get it resolved with the company. If that doesn't work, file a complaint with the BBB. "Eighty-five percent of the grade we give a business is based on consumer experience," said the BBB's Thetford.

Be careful out there and be sure to share the experiences you've had so that others may learn.

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