Consumer Confidential: David Lazarus
Recent columns by Times' business columnist David Lazarus.
9:31 PM EDT, September 16, 2013
One of the most dubious practices of the business world is making people pay to pay — charging customers money so they can give the company money.
8:44 PM EDT, September 12, 2013
CVS Caremark insists that it's just complying with federal law by informing customers that their medical information could be "redisclosed" if they sign up for the company's prescription-drug reward program.
6:48 PM EDT, September 5, 2013
So here's the final score: Time Warner Cable got some but not all of what it wanted. CBS got pretty much everything that it wanted.
8:00 AM EDT, September 3, 2013
Katherine Gould recently enjoyed a thrilling ride on Magic Mountain's fast-zooming, forward-and-backward-rotating, face-down-plunging X2 roller coaster.
11:41 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
For Patti Williams, it was all about the jingle.
7:02 PM EDT, August 29, 2013
Like most employers, Trader Joe's is grappling with how to look after the well-being of its workers amid difficult financial circumstances.
8:39 PM EDT, August 26, 2013
Here's a hard-and-fast rule: Don't give your Social Security number to anyone unless it's absolutely necessary.
7:33 PM EDT, August 19, 2013
It's always impressive when businesses go out of their way to mess with customers.
9:43 PM EDT, August 22, 2013
A lot of people are sick of the money-grubbing spat between Time Warner Cable and CBS, which has resulted in CBS, Showtime and other channels being unavailable to the cable company's subscribers since Aug. 2.
8:54 PM EDT, August 15, 2013
Since February, CVS Caremark has been pushing its pharmacists to enroll customers in a prescription-drug rewards program.
8:56 PM EDT, August 12, 2013
Jennifer Frankenberg recently learned that she had been approved to receive much-needed health insurance from Anthem Blue Cross.
9:17 PM EDT, August 5, 2013
It never ceases to amaze me when large companies, which claim to put customers first, demonstrate their complete heartlessness.
7:13 PM EDT, August 8, 2013
Rocco Bersane died in March at the age of 56 after being hospitalized for a gallbladder infection and liver failure.
10:24 PM EDT, July 29, 2013
There are plenty of stories about plumbers or other tradespeople ripping people off.
9:32 PM EDT, July 25, 2013
"Good news — you've been accepted!" the letter says. "Get up to 75% off when you use these free cards at your favorite pharmacy!"
9:43 PM EDT, August 1, 2013
Dorene Butler received what looked like a check for $1,198 the other day, but it didn't pass the smell test.
10:15 PM EDT, July 18, 2013
If you had asked me last week how I felt about people having to pay for dozens of TV channels they never watch, I'd have told you it's an unfair and archaic practice that should be done away with.
10:45 PM EDT, July 22, 2013
Susan Segal normally spends about $30 for a three-month supply of a thyroid medication from CVS Caremark's mail-order pharmacy.
7:47 PM EDT, July 8, 2013
The business world is fond of presenting consumers with Catch-22s. Richard Leza received a real beauty from a debt collector.
11:22 PM EDT, July 15, 2013
Dan Yeh has been on the federal government's Do Not Call Registry for years. And for a while, it seemed like the leave-me-alone system worked just fine.
July 5, 2013
Summer is here, people are traveling and scammers are turning up the heat.
9:47 PM EDT, June 20, 2013
Ed Stoecker's brief, unintended and unhappy stint as a telemarketer occurred recently when he spent several days receiving angry calls from people who didn't appreciate his bothering them.
July 2, 2013
The healthcare system, like the government, is easy to criticize until you need it. And then it's indispensable.
10:51 PM EDT, June 27, 2013
When you lick a problem, you expect it to stay licked. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
9:49 PM EDT, July 11, 2013
The woman in the TV commercial is identified as Julie, a mother of two. She's sitting on a bench in a nice yard containing a kids' play structure. A little boy swings in the background.
June 25, 2013
Flavio de Pecol hit the trifecta after taking his daughter to the emergency room for a horse-riding injury: hours of waiting, a 16-mile ambulance ride to a different facility and bills for more than $40,000.
June 14, 2013
It's always amazing that we need academic studies to state the obvious, such as the one in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology a few years ago finding that people are happier during weekends.
June 4, 2013
Sherry Tedeschi is an avid moviegoer, typically hitting a film a week, sometimes two or three.
June 18, 2013
Desiree Tibbets' mother died in 1995. Her father passed away four years later.
9:44 PM EDT, June 6, 2013
Verizon customers have every reason to be outraged that the federal government is spying on them.
9:14 PM EDT, May 27, 2013
Glenn Egelko used Ticketmaster to buy tickets to a matchup this month at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena between the United States and Iranian wrestling teams.
May 31, 2013
Consumers have been told by insurers again and again that if they want cheaper prices for prescription drugs, they need to order them in bulk from mail-order pharmacies. And typically, it works out that way.
9:18 PM EDT, May 23, 2013
So this is what socialism looks like: Private companies competing for people's business in an open marketplace.
June 11, 2013
Generic prescription drugs have to meet exacting standards for ingredients and quality, which you'd think would make them uniformly priced at pharmacies.
May 17, 2013
Sandy Valdivieso and her husband intended to fly from Los Angeles to Dakar, Senegal. They ended up almost 7,000 miles off-course in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
May 14, 2013
It's long been a basic tenet of the business world: You give us more business, we'll reward your loyalty with better deals.
May 10, 2013
It was your basic, run-of-the-mill accident. Kim Haselhoff's 9-year-old son got nipped in the finger by one of the family dogs. It didn't seem too serious, but there was a bit of blood.
April 23, 2013
Barbara Butkus bought an airline ticket in November to fly from Palm Springs to Washington, D.C., a month later for a family reunion.
7:15 PM EDT, May 2, 2013
The Better Business Bureau wants you to know that it's cleaned up its act in Los Angeles.
May 7, 2013
President Obama has nominated venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and the wireless industries, to serve as head of the Federal Communications Commission. "Tom knows this stuff inside and out," Obama said.
9:20 PM EDT, April 11, 2013
Barbara De Maria received calls from her local CVS store in Glendale recently saying that her son's prescription had been automatically refilled, as per his instructions.
9:10 PM EDT, April 29, 2013
A growing number of Indian tribes are getting into the payday loan business, saying they just want to raise revenue for their reservations while helping cash-strapped consumers nationwide.
April 16, 2013
Satellite TV provider Dish Network says it's thinking only of customers as it offers $25.5 billion to buy Sprint Nextel, the third-biggest U.S. wireless company.
9:56 PM EDT, April 25, 2013
It's a common mantra among free-market-loving conservatives that government regulations hinder business growth and cost workers jobs.
7:47 PM EDT, April 18, 2013
Ted Kamp wanted to make sure his daughter received the medical treatment she needed. That was his first priority.
April 9, 2013
Health insurers don't exactly enjoy a reputation for timely payouts when people submit claims. They've been known to make policyholders jump through all sorts of hoops before coming across with a little cash.
9:50 PM EDT, March 25, 2013
Bob Toomajian worked for 16 years as Kaiser Permanente's drug purchasing manager for Southern California, giving him an insider's knowledge of how medications are priced before reaching consumers.
8:02 PM EDT, April 4, 2013
It's hard not to detect a whiff of desperation in Facebook's new please-don't-go interface, which is determined to keep people within the social network as long as it can.
April 2, 2013
On a recent evening, students at Pomona College feasted on chicken pot pie, steamed veggies, biscuits and rice. And, as is often the case, there were plenty of leftovers in the dining hall, enough for about 100 extra meals.
6:16 PM EST, February 28, 2013
The cable company Cablevision says it's just looking out for consumers in its lawsuit against Viacom, owner of MTV and Nickelodeon, over bundled programming packages that drive monthly bills higher.
March 28, 2013
Wen Chao received a text message on her iPhone the other day from something called Ringtunecloud.com. It offered mobile content, such as ring tones, for $9.99 a month.
March 22, 2013
Sometimes it's hard to do good. For example, donating leftover banquet food to charity.
10:55 PM EDT, March 14, 2013
Bernie Morse, 65, of Century City retired last year from the aerospace industry and joined the ranks of Medicare beneficiaries. The nearly $8,000 he used to spend annually on drugs for a liver condition now will be cut almost in half.
8:11 PM EST, March 7, 2013
Diane Shattuck filled a prescription in December for a generic antibiotic called doxycycline. With insurance, she paid $4.30 for 60 pills at a CVS store in Orange.
8:25 PM EDT, March 18, 2013
Wanda Ferrin fills her husband's prescription for the generic antibiotic doxycycline at a Target in Simi Valley. For years, the medication has cost her $6 a month.
9:28 PM EST, February 21, 2013
Sue Grey had used the product before, so she knew what to expect when she purchased a bottle of Super Colon Cleanse at a Woodland Hills CVS drugstore. Inside should have been 240 little gray capsules.
March 12, 2013
It was the sort of letter designed to get attention. "Final attempt to notify," it said on the outside.
7:48 PM EST, February 14, 2013
Here's a question for you: Is there a single example of consumer prices going down and market competition increasing after deregulation of a U.S. industry?
10:30 PM EST, February 18, 2013
About 10 million consumers, through no fault of their own, have serious errors on their credit reports, raising troubling questions about people's ability to secure loans and the fairness of interest rates they're charged.
8:17 PM EST, January 31, 2013
We can put men on the moon. We can make computers small enough to carry around in our pockets. But we can't make a razor blade that stays sharp longer than a week?
January 29, 2013
Just as Time Warner Cable has cut a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a new baseball channel, which could add $5 to customers' bills regardless of whether they watch the channel, the company is jacking up rates for nearly all its other TV services.
February 12, 2013
Joseph Aguon believes in preparing for the worst. So even though he makes most of his calls using a cellphone, he maintains a landline at his home in the Fairfax neighborhood — just in case an earthquake or storm knocked out wireless service.
March 5, 2013
If you want to dance, you've got to pay the piper. And if you want to zip along the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, you have to pay a toll of as much as $9.55 per trip.
7:38 PM EST, February 6, 2013
The U.S. Postal Service, in its latest bid to save a few billion bucks, plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays.
7:16 PM EST, January 21, 2013
Brad Newman thinks that people who post lots of reviews on websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor don't get enough respect from the businesses they write about.
6:32 PM EST, January 24, 2013
A friend of mine, a weatherman for a local TV station, always greets me the same way: "Time to sell my Apple stock?"
6:31 PM EST, February 25, 2013
It's perhaps not so surprising that a Bank of America customer discovered recurring payments on his credit card bill for a service he swears he never signed up for. This kind of thing happens a lot.
10:48 PM EST, February 19, 2013
Anthem Blue Cross is backing off a decision to require some policyholders to buy their prescription drugs from a single mail-order pharmacy — a requirement that the California attorney general's office said may be illegal.
9:21 PM EST, January 17, 2013
Saturday is Gun Appreciation Day, an occasion to feel good about a consumer product that is guaranteed to play a role in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans this year.
February 5, 2013
Deborah Shapiro decided a few months ago to switch her prescription drug coverage from her former employer's plan to Medicare. The Medicare literature made clear that she could save hundreds of dollars on the various drugs she and her husband required.
January 15, 2013
Call it the $55,000 cat bite.
8:00 PM EST, January 10, 2013
Anthem Blue Cross may be breaking California law by requiring some policyholders to buy their prescription drugs from a single mail-order pharmacy, according to the state attorney general's office.
7:52 PM EST, January 3, 2013
Words I never thought I'd say: Justin Bieber has a point.
6:44 PM EST, February 7, 2013
A sportswriter here at the paper responded to a tweet from basketball star Lamar Odom to enter an online sweepstakes for a free trip to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
6:33 PM EST, December 17, 2012
Do airlines deliberately withhold seats until the last minute to get you to splurge on pricier options?
January 8, 2013
A mortgage is a contract. You agree to pay a certain amount of money to the bank each month, and the bank, in turn, agrees to finance your purchase, play fair and not jeopardize your ability to keep a roof over your head.
8:14 PM EST, December 13, 2012
Rita Corwin, 90, conscientiously paid her premiums for long-term care insurance for 21 years to make sure that if she needed help as she grew older and more fragile, she'd get it.
December 7, 2012
The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act makes it illegal to sell a prescription drug for any purpose other than what's listed on the label.
December 30, 2012
This was the year of the healthcare mandate. No other consumer story of 2012 comes close.
January 1, 2013
It's a time for new beginnings. So here are some resolutions I'd like to offer on behalf of some of our friends in the business world.
November 9, 2012
Time Warner Cable is seeing growth in its broadband Internet business but steady losses in TV viewers. So how is the company responding?
10:33 PM EST, December 20, 2012
Think your email, and your money, are safe? Think again.
November 30, 2012
It's hard enough having a serious condition like cancer or kidney failure. It's even worse, some might think, when your health insurer says you have to buy your medicine from the pharmacy of its choice — or pay the full amount for expensive life-saving drugs elsewhere.
December 11, 2012
Remember when you liked to fly? Bill Knauer does.
November 27, 2012
State and federal authorities may have cracked down on unscrupulous mortgage lenders to avoid a repeat of the housing market meltdown, but there are still plenty of companies that are eager to dupe people into taking out bad loans.
November 23, 2012
It's a day late, but I'll tell you what I'm thankful for.
November 6, 2012
Ann Walton-Teter was diagnosed with breast cancer in September. About a month later, she was informed by her health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, that her coverage had been canceled because of a missed payment.
6:00 AM EDT, October 19, 2012
The U.S. Justice Department's civil fraud division is investigating claims that CVS Caremark wrongly refilled prescriptions and billed insurers without the knowledge or the approval of its customers.
December 4, 2012
When it comes to travel, especially involving something as pricey as a cruise, it's wise to take precautions. You never know when you may have to cancel your trip.
November 13, 2012
It's understandable that car insurance rates can change when you move. One neighborhood might have more accidents or burglaries than another.
10:49 PM EDT, November 1, 2012
AMC Entertainment wants to thank you for patronizing its movie theaters. But not too much.
September 25, 2012
Carol Scott's idea of unwinding at home is ordering a movie from Time Warner Cable's pay-per-view service, maybe a nice romantic comedy or an engaging mystery.
October 12, 2012
Medicare is investigating reports that CVS Caremark Corp., the country's second-largest drugstore chain, has refilled prescriptions and submitted insurance claims without patients' approval, according to an official with knowledge of the matter.
11:20 PM EDT, October 25, 2012
Chris Cullum normally gets his prescriptions filled at a CVS Caremark store in San Diego. But, while traveling, he placed orders at a CVS branch in Arizona this year and at a branch in Illinois last year.
October 16, 2012
In a soda market completely dominated by Coke and Pepsi, it wouldn't make much business sense to purchase Royal Crown Cola unless you also had plans to get your hands on Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper.
October 30, 2012
The envelope looked official enough. "Confidential materials enclosed," it said on the outside. "Unauthorized use strictly prohibited."
October 9, 2012
George Engelke manages his CVS prescriptions online. If he needs more of a medicine, he orders it. If he's going to be away from his Corona del Mar home, he tells the pharmacy where to send the shipment.
October 5, 2012
You already knew that our healthcare system is screwy. But you probably didn't know that at least some pharmacists at CVS, the nation's second-largest drugstore chain, were refilling prescriptions and submitting claims to insurers without patients' approval.
January 16, 2008
When Sarah Harper took her cat, Pete, to Banfield, the Pet Hospital, she was encouraged to sign up for one of the company's "optimum wellness plans."
October 2, 2012
If you're an EBay user, heads up: The big dog of online auctions says it will take away your right to join class-action lawsuits unless you send in a letter challenging the move.
March 12, 2008
With oil prices at record highs and gas heading to the $4-a-gallon level, I was set to come roaring out of the gate today with a proposal that all vehicles be slapped with a conservation-promoting surcharge based on mileage, with proceeds going to public-transit projects.
October 23, 2012
Ivor Davis received a call recently from the Target pharmacy near his home in Ventura. He was informed he could pick up a refill of medication for his wife, Sally, who is battling pancreatic cancer.
7:05 PM EDT, May 28, 2012
Making money from YouTube videos — it's something I've always wondered about. You won't get rich stuffing Mentos into bottles of Diet Pepsi, right?
October 4, 2012
Consumers would normally shake their heads in dismay at news of yet another market-shrinking telecom merger.
January 28, 2011
Galen Dean of Yucaipa has worked on and off for Southern California Edison Co. for 29 years. As he puts it, he's done "pretty much everything except climb poles."
April 16, 2008
The name of the game for social-networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook is to draw as many users as possible into the fold. Typically that's done by creating a community and features so irresistible that people feel they just have to join.
March 9, 2008
Deanna Corbin, 46, would live in Los Angeles if she could. But she can't, at least not with a modicum of space and safety, not on her $38,000 salary as an administrative secretary.
September 28, 2012
Like many people, Marlys Burke was thrilled when federal authorities unveiled a "do-not-call list" in 2003. She signed up immediately in hopes of keeping telemarketers at bay.
4:37 PM EDT, September 20, 2012
Anthem Blue Cross wants people to eat better. And to help its members make more healthful food choices, the insurance giant is sending out money-saving coupons.
January 8, 2006
THE PEOPLE'S COURT
SUPREME COURT nominations are as old as the republic, but the modern history of the battles over court appointments begins in 1987. That's when the Senate rejected Robert H. Bork, the conservative appellate judge who President Reagan nominated to replace Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., the swing-voting centrist on what was then, as now, a closely divided court.
April 6, 2008
A lot of drivers probably thought they were finally getting a break when then-California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi announced in 2005 that he was requiring insurers to stop using ZIP Codes as a main factor in determining car-insurance rates.
September 4, 2012
The letter from debt collector Resurgent Capital Services arrived at my home the other day. Enclosed was a bill for $2,852.56, originally run up in the 1990s on a Citibank credit card.
March 23, 2008
The economy is tanking, banks are scrambling for cover, the Fed is repeatedly cutting interest rates . . . and business is booming at pawn shop Crown City Loan & Jewelry in Old Pasadena.
April 20, 2008
California's three biggest utilities are charging customers nearly $4.6 billion to install millions of "smart meters" at homes and businesses. These newfangled meters, the utilities promise, will revolutionize energy usage by giving consumers far greater control over how much they pay for power.
December 12, 2007
When I heard that President Bush wants to bail out homeowners caught up in the sub-prime mortgage mess, I figured I better move fast if I want to profit from other people's misfortune.
April 9, 2008
When Stockton resident Kevin Byrd refinanced his mortgage a couple of years ago, he figured he'd need the full 30 years to pay off more than $300,000 in debt.
December 19, 2007
We all know that some airlines nickel-and-dime you with fees -- fees for baggage, fees for food, fees for blankets and pillows. But fees for death?
January 23, 2008
Keith Fitzgerald, a concessions manager for Los Angeles International Airport, was in the middle of a meeting last month when his cellphone suddenly emitted an unfamiliar ring. He'd received his first-ever text message.
April 2, 2008
The Cuban government made headlines worldwide when it announced the other day that its citizens would finally have unrestricted access to cellphones, ushering in a new era in telecommunications for the economically challenged island.
December 23, 2007
The Connecticut attorney general's office sued Best Buy in May, charging the electronics heavyweight with using deceptive in-store websites to trick customers into paying higher prices than available on the company's actual site.
February 17, 2008
We live in an age of supercomputer-driven, lightning-fast digital technology that can determine the time of day down to the nanosecond.
February 2, 2008
If there's a sentiment that crops up with frequency in this column, it's that bigger is seldom better when it comes to how businesses treat consumers.
February 13, 2008
The Bush administration's announcement Tuesday that it would put the foreclosure process on hold for 30 days to rescue struggling homeowners came several weeks too late for Mike Salgado.
October 24, 2007
If past history is any measure, many homeowners affected by the wildfires burning throughout Southern California will find that claims they submit to insurers will result in higher rates or even dropped policies.
February 27, 2008
Just when it was looking like things couldn't get any worse in the housing market, government officials announced Tuesday that home prices had their biggest fourth-quarter drop in 17 years.
December 26, 2007
I don't pretend to understand all the minutiae of the writers strike, but I do know this much: Hollywood scribes want to be compensated fairly when their work is accessed on the Internet, which is increasingly becoming a venue to watch movies and TV shows.
October 26, 2007
You buy a Band-Aid. You get a scrape. You use your Band-Aid. And the next time you go to the drugstore, you're told that you have to pay more for Band-Aids. Or maybe they won't sell you another Band-Aid at all.
March 16, 2008
You might not know it, but as of January it became illegal in California for companies to require workers to have devices implanted under their skin that would reveal their whereabouts at all times.
December 9, 2007
The traffic in L.A. bites -- you know that. The question is: What are we going to do about it?
November 28, 2007
First people were allowed to take their phone numbers with them whenever they switched wireless providers. Now, Verizon Wireless is handing consumers greater clout by allowing them to use their own handsets, not just Verizon's, on the carrier's network.
December 16, 2007
Donald Trump wasn't happy with Wednesday's column about his seminars on profiting from the foreclosure market.
October 22, 2007
Lawndale resident Julian Torres' cellphone experience will be familiar to many wireless customers.
March 5, 2008
In his weekend radio address, President Bush warned of rogue pharmacists making potentially dangerous prescription drugs readily available online.
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