In January, abandoning my customary prudence, I ordered a $2,000 telephoto lens from an online company I had never heard of. I did this after a brief shopping excursion on the Internet, choosing the vendor that offered the lens at the lowest price. I had a slight catch in my nervous system when I typed in my credit card number, but I did it anyway.
Well, you can guess the rest, at least some of it. The vendor, or alleged vendor, responded that the lens was on back order and would not be available for three to five weeks, at which point I suspected he was not a vendor at all but just a fly-by-night operator. I sent him an email canceling the order, then went ahead and bought the lens from a reputable company.
I heard nothing more about the first vendor until three months later when a charge for $2,072.40 appeared on my credit bill — in addition to the $2,000 I had already paid to the legitimate company.
Gadzooks, I thought. I called the credit card company, which, in tribute to Henry Miller I will identify as the Cosmodemonic Credit Card Co., and told my story to a customer service rep, who in turn told me not to worry. They would send me a form to fill out and in the meantime issue me a credit for $2,072.40 to counterbalance the debt.
Fine. I filled out the form and, per instructions, wrote a cover letter explaining the situation, enclosing the back-order statement from the vendor and my message canceling the order. I figured that was that, until a couple of days ago when I received a form letter back from Cosmodemonic.
“We have closed our investigation and reversed our credit,” the letter said, meaning I had to pay the $2,072.40.
On what basis? They didn’t really say but just sent along a copy of the alleged vendor’s response to them, which was nothing more than the bald, ungrammatical, and false statement that, “We spoke with the customer today and they acknowledge making this order.” I had not spoken with them. They hadn’t called me, and I hadn’t called them. There was not even a pretense that the vendor had actually sent the lens, only the claim that I acknowledged making it, and on that basis, Cosmodemonic was demanding that I pay up. Can you imagine such a thing?
“If you still wish to dispute this charge,” Cosmodemonic said, “A new signed detail letter is required.” I don’t know what a “detail letter” is, and of course if I send a letter I’m going to sign it, but never mind. I would need to provide “details and proof of what was to be received” as well as “dates and details of contacting the merchant and the merchant’s response to request for credit,” and also “any documentation you have that supports your position.” I even had to return Cosmodemonic’s own letter to them. And I had to get it all back to them within two weeks.
Well, I had already sent them a “detail letter,” and I had already provided them with supporting documentation, and they had apparently disregarded the whole package and taken the vendor’s unsupported word that I acknowledged placing the order! Santa Maria!
Well, you can imagine the letter I wrote back to them. It was a real scorcher, even by my high standards. Not satisfied, I called the next day and got a sweet and pleasant customer service rep on the line who told me, “Oh, no, no, the investigation hasn’t been closed, that’s just the way it has to be worded. As soon as we get your letter the investigation will continue.” And in the meantime, I shouldn’t worry about paying the $2,072.40. I should just deduct that amount from the bill and go my merry way. She was so sorry I had taken their letter amiss.
So what’s going on here? I’ll tell you what I think. I think Cosmodemonic and other credit card companies have this as their modus operandi — and I remember that it happened to me once before. Make the disputing of a charge as awkward as possible in the hope that the customer will eventually just blow it off and pay the disputed charge. If you do that with a thousand customers, some of them will certainly fall for it, and Cosmodemonic will save money proportionately. Do it all year, and you’ll probably save a million dollars. If anyone calls to complain, be nice as pie and say, oh, don’t worry.
The state Attorney General’s Office says it gets very few complaints in this area, but I assured them they’re going to get one more pretty soon.
Phish & ballet
On the culture front, what are we to make of the news that SPAC will host the New York City Ballet for only one week next year, delivered at the same time that it was hosting so many Phish-heads you could hardly move in the vicinity of Route 50 coming out of Saratoga?
I make no judgment myself. The ballet has little appeal for me, though I like the music well enough. The dancing strikes me as strained and unnatural. And the Grateful Dead-type of improvised rock played by Phish, though I find it more congenial than the angry, ear-splitting assaults of later groups, is not my cup of tea either.
But here you have a situation where an art form regarded as refined and sophisticated cannot attract as many fans to two weeks of performances as another art form, funky and folky, attracts in a weekend.
Does this illustrate the decline of Western civilization? I will not venture to answer, but it’s odd — isn’t it? — that something regarded as the very flower of the civilization draws so few people, while something regarded as ephemeral draws so many.
Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.