Scam Education

Sears, Sears… How the Mighty Have Fallen

The king of mail order. At one time they shipped entire HOUSES, and just about everything else you could order and have shipped to your home. The mighty giant that should have known how to make the transition to the internet better than any other company in the world.

Apparently they slipped a gear somewhere, because they are in serious trouble. After dealing with them to try to get the freezer my mother ordered, actually delivered, I can see why.

This is a rough sequence of events:

Ordered freezer online. Price agreed to when credit card info is entered, is $530. Price on receipt is $530. Delivery date listed as 4 days after order date.

Delivery date comes and goes. We look up the order online. Price billed is listed as $561 (and change). Tax was not calculated during checkout, but has been added later. NOT GOOD!

Delivery is listed as scheduled for the day before. Ummmm Yeah. Delivery is scheduled for YESTERDAY.

We call the number listed on the website for deliveries of online orders. They tell us the delivery is scheduled and will be received when scheduled. The foreign speaking rep assures us that there is nothing wrong, and that the delivery is on schedule. We point out that the date was YESTERDAY, and they grudgingly admit that they need to look into it, and assure us that someone will call back.

Nobody does.

We call again. They go through the same routine. Nobody calls back.

We call again. They tell us that we have the wrong number for this kind of thing, and that we should have called somebody else. We tell them this is the number for online order deliveries that is posted on the website. They assure us it is not (it is), and then give us a different number to call. It is local. For a Sears store here.

We call, no answer. The Sears store is no longer in operation. There will never be an answer at that number.

We call customer service back. They tell us again it is the wrong number, but they have no other number to give us. Then they tell us they will look up the order, and that they do not know where the freezer is. The tell us they will call us back. We say no. Give us to a supervisor.

After some runaround, they do. Or at least, he says he is a supervisor. His English is a little more clear, not much. He tells us that the delivery is rescheduled, and that we will get a call the night before it is delivered.

We don’t. It does not come.

(At this point, we have informed them TWICE, that the store they keep telling us to call no longer exists. They are not interested in this information, and assure us they can fix whatever problem it is that is getting in the way, which they admit they cannot identify.)

We call back. The rep cannot speak English well enough to be understood. By this time, we have no patience with her. We tell her we cannot understand her. We KEEP telling her we cannot understand her, and that we need to speak with a supervisor. She keeps refusing, and keeps babbling on the other end of the phone. Finally she passes us to a supervisor.

He informs us that they are having trouble getting the freezer from the manufacturer, but it is scheduled to leave the factory on Wednesday night, and that they will call us when it does, and we will get it the next day.

Now, I’m no dummy. I know that there is no Kenmore factory anywhere near. Overnight deliveries DO NOT HAPPEN on appliances. NEVER. I inform him of this. He assures me I am wrong, and that it will happen just as he says, and gives us no other option but to take his word for it.

No call, no freezer.

We call back.

The rep tells us that the order has been put on hold. Then she says that she can schedule it for delivery the next day. The next day is Saturday. NOBODY DELIVERS APPLIANCES ON SATURDAY! We KNOW this! I tell her this. She says WELL if we do not want it on Saturday she can schedule it for another time! I try to tell her that she is incorrect, or that her order tracking system is incorrect, that it CANNOT be delivered on a Saturday because the stores and delivery companies do not deliver on Saturdays! She is not getting this. She is not even IN the US, so she has no clue what I am talking about. I ask for a Supervisor. She tells me she needs to check some more, and I tell her that it is obvious she cannot help me, and to pass me to a supervisor. She hangs up on me.

I call back. The next rep tells me the same thing. I ask for a supervisor, and she puts me off until I insist. Then she tells me there are no supervisors available and runs me around on the “it will be delivered tomorrow” (Saturday) thing. She does not know what happened to the order, she does not know who has the freezer, she does not know whether it is even in stock, yet she assures me that it will be delivered on a Saturday when Saturday deliveries do not happen! I ask for a supervisor again, and she hangs up on me.

I look up the local Sears store numbers and start calling, hoping SOMEBODY in the US can actually help us.

We are now waiting for a local store to call us back. At least they speak English.

This is why Sears is failing.

They did not outsource their Call Center.

They outsourced their Customer Service. They outsourced their reputation to someone who will say anything to avoid dealing with customers, and who will NEVER pass problems up the chain where they can be solved.

They outsourced their reputation to someone who does not guard it.

They deserve to fail.

Which is sad, because Kenmore appliances really are fairly good appliances.

If you can get them.

UPDATE: We finally know what happened to the freezer.

Online orders are assigned to the nearest Sears store for fulfillment. The local store near us closed, but apparently nobody in the delivery department has realized this (in spite of the fact that we informed them at least four times, and in spite of the fact that the two LOCAL stores KNEW that this IS AN ONGOING problem!).

The computers in one area don’t know what is happening in other areas, and customer service cannot see beyond their computers (and they do not want to, since that requires effort). So the delivery is scheduled, but there is no one on the other end of the delivery order to pick it up and ship it out. They promise it will be delivered, and it never is. Nobody in the Delivery department has the brains to actually look and see why, or to try to call the assigned store and see where the problem is, or to call the regional manager and see why the freezer is hung up.

This problem would have been SO EASY to solve… Not just temporarily for us, but permanently so it did not happen to anyone else! But horrendously incompetent customer service stopped that from happening, and is now perpetrating this kind of stupidity upon other hapless customers.

The left hand knoweth not that the right hand has been cut off.

SECOND UPDATE: So, here it is, three weeks and many phone calls later. For a few days it actually looked like there was hope of getting the freezer.

The Regional Center called us a week ago (after we left messages in two different local stores), and told us that the delivery was scheduled for the following Tuesday (Monday being a Holiday). Sure enough, Sunday night, the recorded call comes in, telling us the freezer will be delivered on Tuesday (the first time the call came in when promised).

Tuesday comes and goes – the freezer does not follow the call. We call back to the local store, they take a message and say they will contact the Regional manager and that he will call us back. He does not.

24 hours later, we call back, and are informed that the local Sears can do nothing, it has been too long since the order was placed, and the only people who can help us is the people who REFUSE to help us.

In fact, those are almost exactly the words of the associate who called us back with the message from the Regional Manager: “I’m sorry, but the Manager said that the only people who can help you is the people who won’t help you.”

Good call, Sears! Put the satisfaction of customers in the hands of an offshore company that does not give a rip whether your company sinks. Put it in the hands of people, whom, when there is a problem they do not understand, start hanging up on customers. Put it in the hands of people who will not actually even look to see that the system has broken down, or see where it is broke. You might as well hire your competitors to handle your customer service, because they are getting your business either way!

Today a dispute on the payment for the freezer is being filed. The payment cleared a day or two after the order was place, because their system was informed that the freezer was being delivered, even though it was not, and could not be, because those instructed to do so were laid off when the store was closed.

Sorry Sears. You had your chances… More than enough of them.

We shall mourn your passing when the company is belly up. With customer experiences like this, it is inevitable.

On the other hand, if you’d like to save your business, I offer business consulting services which could turn your ship around and head it back into the wind… Because when we consult with a company, we pay attention to the customer experience!

Sell Your Strengths

In close to 15 years of small business startup consulting, I have noticed many patterns that are repeated over and over. You get a feel for success – who will do it and who will not, and what kinds of things work, and which are not likely to do so. Much of what I teach, I repeat over and over, in different ways, just trying to help people center themselves on principles that are honest and solid. The get-rich-quick mentality is hard to subdue in most people (even myself), and the lure of the exotic often pulls people from what they KNOW, to what they do not, with the hope that maybe what they do not know will prove better than what they do know.

So… here I go again. You’ve probably heard much of this before from me if you’ve ever heard me talk about starting a business. I keep repeating it for those who do not know – because they outnumber the people who do!

So… first off… the get rich quick thing. The rules are the same today as they always were, from time immemorial.  The internet has not changed the rules, it has only increased the type of scams available.

  1. Trust your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t let greed overpower common sense, don’t ever tell yourself “It is only $29.95, if it ends up being a fraud I haven’t lost much.” If you lose $29.95 that is money you could have used for something real.
  2. If you don’t walk away feeling like they answered ALL of your questions, don’t buy. If you can’t get hold of a real person, who will admit that there are people who should NOT do it, don’t buy.
  3. If it is presented on a long page with miles of text and “testimonials”, don’t buy. This is the traditional method used by scammers, half-scammers, and other people who know it does not work, but want your money enough that they’ll do it anyway.
  4. If it is a “system” don’t buy. It won’t work. Ever.

Now that we’ve cleared that out of the way, please don’t email me and tell me you’ve found a great new system you want me to check out “just in case”. It isn’t real either.

So what do you do? The people who do best do NOT go outside themselves to find a business that works. They go INSIDE themselves. They don’t work someone else’s system, they build their own product or service based on their own skills, strengths, and desires. DON’T let someone else place THEIR idea inside your head. Find your own. It is probably already inside you, and you are probably already moving in that direction.

  • The best businesses are built on skills already possessed. It does not mean you don’t learn new things. It just means that you start with your existing strengths and build on those.
  • The lowest cost businesses are those built on materials and resources already in hand. If you work with what you’ve already got, it is far less expensive than if you try to buy into something.
  • Don’t let the “glamor” of someone else’s presentation of their life make you think that making or selling what you’ve always dabbled in has less success potential than their exaggerated representations. Most lives presented online are illusions (even mine), because nobody EVER shows the whole picture. They only show part of it. Even if they did show all of it, you would filter it through your own comprehension and still come out with something different than what their life really is. Don’t get caught up in peer envy. It can keep you from seeing the potential in yourself.

Brainstorm with a friend, or run it by a pro who knows the shoestring startup arena. Brainstorming has great power – nobody will tell you just the thing you need to do, they’ll all be busy telling you what THEY’D do. But their ideas generate a kind of energy in your brain and help you think outside yourself, which helps you hit on the right idea for yourself.

More and more of us are going to need to resort to generating income for ourselves, instead of relying on others to provide jobs for us. There are endless ways to do it, and endless choices. If you want to do it, go find the thing that is right for you.

Scambusters – Email SEO Solicitations

We can help you get more traffic! Your website is not ranking as high as it should for your top keywords. Free Marketing Assessment for your website. Marketing suggestion for insertnamehere.com.

If you are in business online, you’ve seen emails like this. Some of them may cause you to think they actually LOOKED at your site, and actually WANT to help you.

They don’t.

WITHOUT EXCEPTION, every single email you receive offering Search Engine Optimization or Marketing services is a SCAM. They aren’t all the same KIND of scam, but they are all scams. And no, there isn’t EVER an exception to this.

If you reply, one of several things may happen:

1. They just want your website access, so they can set up a phishing site inside it without you knowing. This is the kind of scam that doesn’t even pretend legitimacy.

2. They may just run an automated SEO Analysis on your site, and give you the results. Problem here is that computers CANNOT THINK, so ANY kind of automated SEO Analysis is completely bogus. That’s right. Meaningless. All that oh-so-scientific “keyword density”, and “frequency of h1 tags” garbage is just that… garbage. REAL SEO requires a thinking brain behind it, and only a real person can do it.

3. They may actually perform a service. Badly. NONE of them do a good job. NONE OF THEM. They typically do one of about four things:

They may do quick and dirty black hat SEO. Black hat refers to the stuff that every search engine forbids. And which will penalize your site eventually, if not immediately. They may completely trash your text, and replace all your good descriptions with stupid keyword strings. It always fails, for search engines and people – so you lose search engine traffic, and your site looks trashy to those who visit.

They may set up a scraping blog to pick up and redirect traffic for your top keywords. This is, again, completely ineffective, and will get you penalized. This kind of blog is ignored by search engines and people, both. You lose, and you pay for the privilege.

They may engage in “article marketing” for you. This one is VERY dangerous, and again, completely ineffective. Scammers like this are the reason our company no longer recommends article marketing as a viable marketing method – the article databases are so polluted with badly written unoriginal and downright shady articles, that even good articles don’t work for marketing anymore. Only one or two article sites even rank with the search engines, all the rest are ignored, and these companies who offer the service will tell you they are submitting to 50, 500, or even 1000 article databases. It is all meaningless, since none of them will get you any traffic anyway. It can be dangerous because they do not check facts when writing articles for your company – in the worst example of this, a medical company paid for this, and the writers wrote articles that opened them up for medical liability lawsuites, using statements like “this surgery has no risk”, and “results are guaranteed”.

They may spam blogs, forums, and social networking sites for you. Typically, they promise a certain number of submissions. They will then load everything into their automated system, press “go”, and walk away. Your spam (yes, it is YOUR spam) will be submitted to all those websites that have any kind of ability to do so – whether or not the topic is related. A few do look for related topics, but they do so strictly by keyword matching through a computerized system, so it is highly inaccurate, and often ludicrous. One or two actually hand-submit – but they aren’t any better at it than the computers, and the results are no better. At any rate, any site owner who owns a site which it WOULD be worthwhile to have your link on, will promptly remove your link, and report YOU for link spamming. Any sites it actually stays on are sites that are ignored by search engines anyway, and which people never visit either.

What they SAY they will do, and what they do, are completely mismatched. ANY company that emails YOU to solicit business, is breaking the law. Any company that emails you, offering to get your website in the top ranks, is fraudulent, and does NOT know their business. After all, if they could get a website to the top, why do they need to send you email spam to get business? They’d be getting all the business they wanted directly from the search engines themselves!

Just remember the rule – NO email offering SEO services (or anything else) is EVER legit. EVER. No matter how enticing it sounds, dump it where it belongs – in the virtual latrine.

Good SEO companies offer services you can monitor, and take the time to get to know your business, your goals, and what makes your company unique, before they dive into any work for you – including any kind of assessment. They’ll consider what your customers want to see, and then optimize THAT to attract search engine traffic. They’ll recommend or carry out marketing methods which work for YOU, and which reach your specific target market in meaningful ways. They won’t automate ANYTHING that requires a personal touch.

And they won’t ever solicit your business via an email that you did not ask for.

Call Me Paranoid

I’m a little suspicious of some of the free things Google is offering now. Because I distrust their motives, and I distrust the way in which their freebies can affect my business. Most of my colleagues are raving about them, but I am not feeling compelled to jump on the Google train and just go wherever they want to take me.

Let’s try Google Analytics. Free stats tracking. What could be bad about that? We find two issues with it:

1. Like Google Adsense, it uses Javascript. It is such common Javascript, that malicious coders have found ways to exploit it – and since so many sites use it, it is well worth their while to do so. There’s enough anecdotal evidence on this to have strong suspicions that Google Analytics code is frequently exploited, and we have personally experienced instances of exploitation of this kind of code – either viruses or malicious website links injected through the code.

2. Just how is Google using that data? They claim that they use analytical data in delivering more accurate search results. But their idea of “accurate” may not always be in the best interests of small businesses, because of what Google thinks is the most important criteria for “accuracy”. Generally, Google is just gathering bits of info and extrapolating (that’s a fancy word for “guessing”) the rest. Google CAN’T really get traffic stats for your site, unless YOU give it to them, or unless other computer users give them access to individual browsing profiles (more on that). The most efficient way to get site data is, of course, to get it directly from the site owners. Google Analytics gives themselves exactly that – a complete statistical rundown on your website. For startups and small sites, that information, in the hands of Google, does NOT help you! Because Google’s basic philosophy is that popular is better than unpopular.

That brings us right into two other services which I distrust, and do not use as a result – for similar reasons. I think Google just does not need that much information about my browsing habits.

1. The Google Toolbar. Google uses this to gather individual browsing data and then analyzes the patterns. Theoretically, if enough people use it, then Google can get a pretty good estimation of site visit patterns for most websites. This is one of the data sources used in their extrapolations also.

2. Chrome Browser. This is just the next step from the Google Toolbar. Give people a shiny new toy, and maybe they won’t notice the price attached. For both webmasters, and website owners, I think that the cost associated with Chrome may be too high.

I do not like Google having access to my desktop, to my internet history, etc. I think this is just information they can well do without, and that they are NOT gathering it for MY benefit, but for theirs, and that my goals, and theirs, are often worlds apart. Giving them access to my browsing history helps THEM achieve THEIR goals, but does not help me achieve mine.

Google Desktop has no place in my work environment either. In fact, anything produced by a third party that uses data as Google does, has no place in my work environment. I am suspicious of free “tools” which come with a craftily worded privacy or terms of use policy.

Google is not alone in the desire to gather data in every way possible, nor are they alone in their lack of transparency over it. Yahoo has valiantly tried to infiltrate our computers, and Bing is making a go of it.

But if I do not want “spyware” on my computer, and if I run software to ensure that nobody can sneak it onto my computer without my permission, why would I want to open the door and let a company like Google just waltz right in with the cameras? I don’t care how big a company is, or how common their name. There is just a limit to how much data they need, and how much they need to know about my habits.

I am NOT paranoid about the kind of data they gather. I just think there may be more harm in anonymous patterns and statistical data than we realize, especially for small businesses that are trying to launch a new site in the face of huge competition.

I don’t care if I am just “one of the numbers”. They can do without me!

I Get So Tired of Saying It…

Sometimes I really am tired of telling people what a scam is, just to have them come back to me with another one to ask me if maybe (please), won’t this one work? The list of reasons I give them are the same as I gave them before. I don’t want to insult people, but sometimes I just want to scream!

The hallmarks of scams and almost scams are pretty obvious once you get familiar with them. They are things like:

1. Emotional appeals that leave off critical details.

2. “One Page Websites” that give you no background about who is selling it, or how to contact them.

3. Requirements that you leave an email address before you can find out what it is they are really talking about.

4. Financial companies located offshore (they lack financial protections you might expect to have).

5. People who claim to have the secret to wealth who have a non-professional website (using a template driven website that does not have custom graphics, using free hosting space, etc).

6. Unrealistic claims, or claims built around “imagine this” phrases.

7. Cookie cutter websites. They don’t work…. Not unless YOU work a lot first!

8. Lack of a sound product. That means, something that people want, at the price they are asking. A $2 product plus the ability to resell it does NOT equal a $35 value. A membership to a site with “thousands of downloads” is usually NOT a sound product (those same downloads are available free every Christmas). The ability to resell something is NOT a product!

There are a bunch more, and there is no way you can list everything, because someone will come up with another one just as soon as you think you got all the ways they conceal that they are going to rip you off.

Today I reviewed a financial investment scheme where the terms of use stated that you certified that you were not a law inforcement agent, nor an informant for a law enforcement agent, and that you released the company from ALL civil or criminal charges that you might feel you could file against them!

Stuff like that is a huge, screaming red flag! And it was right there, in print, for anyone to read!

If you don’t want to get scammed, read the fine print. Not only that, figure out what it MEANS, not just what they want you to think it means. “Imagine that you got up every morning to find hundreds of payment notifications in your email inbox…” is NOT saying you WILL. They just want you to IMAGINE that you could, and to THINK they are promising you will.

I keep saying it though, with the hopes that maybe it will help someone not just avoid getting scammed once, but help them spot how to never get scammed again.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.