How to Stop Big Companies from Ripping You Off

The notion that big companies are unstoppable, greedy and ultimately evil isn’t exactly new, but it is something that many people wholeheartedly believe. While this may be true in some cases, I would wager that most companies aren’t seeking profit because they are malicious or greedy, but because they need to stay in business and hopefully expand, creating more jobs and products in the process.

Does this mean that they are incapable of overpricing their goods? Of course not! If a company can charge more and still get paid, why should it not? The best way to tell a corporation that you don’t like its prices is by withholding your money. You can do so with these overpriced goods and services:

Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles

A certified per-owned (CPO) vehicle is a used car that has been checked, refurbished and certified by a manufacturer or dealership. Automakers call these vehicles the next best thing to buying new, but that’s not always true.

CPO vehicles tend to cost about $2,000 more than its non-certified peers. The amount should cover an extended warranty and a rigorous inspection that’s meant to catch any existing issues. However, most non-certified used vehicles are unlikely to cost you this much in repairs over the duration of an extended warranty anyway. We would note that luxury cars are an exception to this rule due to their exuberant repair costs, in which case a CPO vehicle may be worth the money.

The aforementioned inspections aren’t always rigorous enough either. A highly-publicised instance of this surfaced in 2007, when a customer bought a “G.M. certified” 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which was a fusion of two different versions of the vehicle. These kinds of mishaps are extremely rare and General Motors itself has gone to great lengths to avoid similar incidents, but this does show that CPO cars don’t always come in perfect condition, like all used vehicles.

So, if you want to buy a car that feels new, but you don’t wish to “overpay” for it, then it may be better to simply hunt down a good deal on an actual new car, using an automotive resource like Unhaggle.

Cable Television

Cable television has been on a steady decline for a while now — courtesy of online video streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped media companies from overcharging for their television channels by selling them in bundles or packages.

So, if you want a specific channel, then you would have to get it as part of a particular bundle, which, of course, equals to paying more. That’s how you end up with thousands of useless channels that you never watch, but pay for all the same, which can be up to $100 per month or more.

If you’re still paying for your television, then maybe it’s time to stop. Just use Netflix, Shomi, CraveTV or any number of online services. Netflix alone provides you with access to thousands of movies and TV shows, while asking you to pay for them only $8 a month.

Textbooks

University textbooks can cost a Canadian student up to $1,000 per year. In fact, the cost of university textbooks has risen by 812 per cent in the last three decades, which is double the increase in home prices and triple the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). As a result of this price hike, many students can no longer afford all the textbooks they need, which leaves their publishers without profit and students without a potential source of education.

The good news is that new editions tend to cost 40 per cent more than used copies of previous editions. This means that buying used books is a viable option, particularly if you take advantage of websites like BookMob.ca, AbeBooks.com and Amazon.ca. It’s also possible to rent a textbook, which you can do through TextbookRental.ca.

Broadband Internet

Not so long ago, a Harvard University study has concluded that Canadian internet is both slow and expensive, when compared to what one can get in many other developed countries. According to the 2013 OECD Communications Outlook, Canada is the ninth most expensive country for plans offering 54 GB of data per month at speeds of 45 megabits per second (mbps). If you move down a bit, to 42 GB of data per month at 30 mbps, Canada becomes the eighth most expensive country. And if you go even lower — to 33 GB of data per month at 15 mbps — Canada will move to the 11th spot. Finally, at 18 GB of data per month and 2.5 mbps, it ranks as the ninth most expensive.

The prices are even worse when you look at wireless broadband services as Canada happens to be the third most expensive country for a monthly subscription of 500 MB or 1 GB per month.

The cheapest Bell Fibe internet plan, which provides its customers with 5 Mbps and 40 GB, costs $47.95 per month. On the other hand, a comparable plan from AT&T in the United States costs $34.95 US per month.

How do you avoid paying these kinds of prices for your internet? You can try out cheaper internet providers like Yak or TekSavvy.

Cellphone Plans

According to the 2013 OECD Communications Outlook, the average Canadian cellphone user pays among the highest bills in the developed world. Canada is the third most expensive country when it comes to wireless rates, right behind the U.S. and Spain. The OECD stated in 2009 that Canadians who go for a “medium-sized” package of 780 calls, 600 texts and eight multimedia messages per year, spend $500 US on average.

There are many fees within cellphone plans that are simply too high to be considered fair. According to various reports, the markup on text messages ranges from 6,500 to 7,314 per cent — which is an outrageously high profit margin. This is possible because carriers can transmit text messages for free (or close to that), while still charging for them.

A plan with unlimited calls, unlimited texting and a small amount of data from major providers like Bell, Rogers and Telus can cost up to $80 per month, and that doesn’t even cover roaming fees or long-distance calls. To save money, you may want to look into some of the cheaper brands like the Telus-owned Koodo or Wind, and avoid the “Big Three.”

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Cubans Can Now Get Netflix. Now All They Need Is An Internet Connection

The streaming video service announced today it was “delighted” to make its product available in Cuba. But with an estimated 5% of the Cuban population having access to the web, the country is unlikely to go on a national House of Cards binge just yet.

JoJo Whilden/Netflix

Netflix announced today that it is expanding its streaming service to Cuba: a country where internet access is restricted to a tiny portion of the population and the company's $7.99 subscription fee would claim a big chunk of the typical worker's salary of about $20 a month.

“I'm not sure who is going to subscribe to this service,” said Ellery Biddle, an editor of Global Voices who has studied the Cuban internet for a decade. High speed internet in Cuba, such as it is, largely comes through a single fiber-optic cable from Venezuela.

“We are delighted to finally be able to offer Netflix to the people of Cuba, connecting them with stories they will love from all over the world,” Netflix chief executive officer Reed Hastings said in a statement. Netflix said it has over 5 million customers in Latin America and over 57 million worldwide.

The Obama administration announced an opening of relations with Cuba in December of last year, but connections between the island and American businesses are still slim.

Before the installation of the cable from Venezuela, only slower satellite internet was available in Cuba. The only service provider is the state telecom company ETECSA, and a small portion of Cubans who apply to get internet service actually receive it, Biddle said. They're mostly academics, high-status foreigners, and state journalists.

“It's going to be really expensive relative to most people's ability to pay, it will be an elite group or people who have money coming in from abroad, people in the monied sectors,” said Ted Henken, a professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College. Internet access to international websites in a Cuban public kiosk costs about $4.50 an hour.

Freedom House estimates that about a quarter of the population has some internet access, but the majority of that is to a “tightly controlled government-filtered intranet” which has email, an encyclopedia, some educational materials and websites. About 5% of Cuba's 11 million people has true access to the world wide web.

The White House described the cost of internet access in Cuba as “exorbitantly high” and said that telecommunications companies would be allowed to “establish the necessary…infrastructure” to expand telecom and internet services.

“What Netflix is doing it is making something completely legal and possible before it's practically possible from a technical standpoint, which then puts the pressure on the Cuban government and the U.S. government to make this stuff happen technically,” Henken said.

But while few Cubans will be binge watching Orange Is The New Black via online streaming anytime soon, more are likely to access it the old-fashioned way – via downloaded copies, passed around between friends. “Cubans are extremely creative and inventive,” Henken said, “I'm sure there are some people who are able to get access to this very quickly in Cuba, who will be able to rig something out and figure it out.”

And Netflix already has an old-school competitor in Havana: A bundle of the latest TV shows and movies is distributed through an informal network known as the “Weekly Packet,” where USB drives are distributed and sold throughout the country packed with video for offline watching.

“You can get almost anything now, except porn or politics,” one purchaser told The Guardian last year. “You won't find the Miami Herald in the Weekly Packet. But if you want to be informed about the world, then you can be. There are no mysteries anymore.”

Staples Threatens To Fire Staff For Working More Than 25 Hours A Week

In 2015, an Affordable Care Act provision requiring large employers to offer health insurance to staff working more than 30 hours a week kicked into effect. Now, some part-time staff at Staples say management has become extra vigilant about limiting their hours.

Notice in a Staples store / Via Photo submitted to BuzzFeed News

Last year Alice*, 19, typically clocked anywhere from 25 hours to 40 hours a week at the Staples store where she works as a part-time staffer. The hours were great, she says, because she loves her co-workers and uses the job to help support her family.

She started working at Staples around the same time the office-supply chain was making headlines by forbidding its part-time employees from working more than 25 hours a week. The rules, rolled out in the lead-up to the Affordable Care Act, were seen by many staff members as an effort by the company to avoid paying benefits to “full-time” employees — classified under the law as anyone working more than 30 hours a week.

But for most of 2014, the rules didn't really affect Alice or her colleagues, who regularly exceeded the threshold and were still considered part-time. That all changed this year, though, as the employer mandate kicked in; if Staples doesn't pay benefits for people working more than 30 hours a week, it could face up to $3,000 in penalties per person.

Now, Alice is working far fewer hours — and if she clocks above 25, she may be fired.

A petition on Change.org last year urged Staples not to go ahead with a new policy limiting the number of hours that can be worked by part-timers.

Change.org / Via change.org

“Before January, it was a smack on the wrist if anyone went over 25 hours — they got an email scolding them saying, 'You went over 25, try not to do that,'” she told BuzzFeed News in an interview on the condition of anonymity, given she still works at the company. “But now it's become really serious…they've threatened to write up managers and every person that goes up over 25 hours.”

Alice is one of five current and former part-time Staples employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News about the retailer's strict new policies this year, now that the Affordable Care Act provision requiring companies to offer health insurance plans to full-time employees has come into effect. Many others on a Staples employee subreddit corroborate these accounts, speaking of managers and associates getting written warnings and threats of termination for working even 10 minutes above the 25-hour weekly limit.

The employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they are now only scheduled up to 20 hours a week if they work in one of the worst-performing stores, and 23 hours a week at others. They all used to get more than 30 hours during good weeks. They said they are frequently told to leave early now, even if they're scheduled for additional hours. All told, it can result in $200 to $400 in lost wages per month for each employee. For these low-income workers, that's a lot of missed groceries, tanks of gas, utility payments, and, paradoxically, health care expenditures.

One employee shared the notice published above, which was recently posted in a Staples store. “Recent changes have necessitated a strong stance on part time associates going beyond 25 hours worked per week,” it begins.

“Going forward, exceeding 25 hours will result in documentation for the associate. The first discrepancy will result in a note to file; following issues will result in written documentation up to and including termination. Exceeding 25 hours will also result in an immediate cut to your hours in order to preserve the integrity of 25 hour or less part time shifts.”

The message goes on to point out that “associate overspending caused a $4 million dollar penalty last year.” After noting that the new rule is “painful and affects each of you personally,” it ends with: “I appreciate and value you.”

In response to inquiries regarding the message and claims from employees, a Staples spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company's policy on part-time worker hours “pre-dates the Affordable Care Act by many years.” The policy has been in place for more than a decade, he said in an emailed statement, and “some managers may have reiterated the existing policy to our associates as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of our stores.”


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