Is there a way to beat gotcha artists at their own game? To make money off those who make money by tricking consumers? Two brothers in Tennessee may have figured out how to do just that.
Their proposition is simple. Feel like you’ve been mistreated by a company and you’ve hit a brick wall? Paid too much for cable, cell phone service, Internet access but hate the thought of wasting hours sitting on hold? Julian (26) and Ben Kurland (23) will take on your case. Whatever money they recover on your behalf, they keep half. You get to keep 100 percent of the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve denied corporate America another Gotcha tax.
The Kurland kids stumbled on their idea for all the right reasons — they just didn’t want to let companies get away with it. They launched with a simple post on Reddit, asking if anyone wanted help negotiating bills. The response was so overwhelming they soon had to hire help.
After a few fits and starts — Julian was finishing law school at Notre Dame — the brothers moved in together this summer and decided to focus 100 percent on their venture, called BillFixers.com. They say they’ve helped 1,200 clients save about $300,000 already, and now have seven negotiators working for them. They say an average client saves $300 and their success rate is 94.9 percent. While most of their work involves easier targets like cable companies, the brothers say they’ll take on any kind of bill (outside of complex medical bills. An entire industry has already sprouted up around third-party medical bill negotiation).
How do I know they have their hearts in the right place? Because they are about to give away all their secrets, for free, on my site. Today, I’m starting a new regular feature that traces BillFixers as it tries to get refunds for customers. Through these stories, the Kurlands are going to explain their tactics. You can, and should, try them yourselves. But if you hit a brick wall, or you just can’t face the prospect of listening to cable company hold music yet again, now you know you have options.
Those options include trying a similar firm named BillCutterz.com. BillCutterz tells me it saves consumers between 25-35 percent on monthly bills, with best luck on cell phone, pay TV, satellite radio and alarm services.
Nearly 10 years ago, I introduced the phrase “Gotcha Capitalism” into the world with my book of the same name. This fight isn’t about annoying $10 fees and small ripoffs. It’s a fight for the soul of America. It’s not about consumer rights, though those are important, and it’s certainly not some left-wing cause. It’s a fight to preserve capitalism and the very free markets that corporate lobbyists say they love. Gotcha Capitalism is the opposite of free market economics. Free markets require perfect information, transparency, and powerless, equal actors on all sides of a transaction. In Gotcha Capitalism, companies hide prices and break markets. Gotcha Capitalism ruins the concept of winners and losers that capitalists (and me!) hold so dear. Price tags are dead, and with them, comparison shopping and free markets. Instead of the best companies with the best product and the best price winning, the most deceptive, anti-competitive firms win. This is why America has crappy cell phone service and home broadband caps. This is why the boom and bust cycles of our economy now happen every few years instead of every few decades.
Complaining, then, is essential to rescuing capitalism, free markets, and America. Complaining is like voting. If no one does it, we all deserve what we get. For a decade, I’ve been trying to rouse Americans to complain more, and not to take Gotchas lying down. Even if you don’t ‘win’ an individual fight with a company, you’ve registered your vote. That matters.
I welcome the Kurland brothers as they’ve opened up a new front in this fight. Fighting back with capitalism is a really elegant way to join the battle. Here, now, is volume one. I promise the introduction won’t be so long next month.
The BillFixers File: Volume One
Name: Gary Witzgall
Industry: Pay TV (Comcast)
Location: Nashville, TN
Nature of Dispute: Baseball package was erroneously removed, Gary was still partially charged AND charged for technician to fix it.
Resolution: $511.26 in savings. $99.42 one-time credit for the baseball/technician overcharging, and, reduced base package by $34.32/mo for 12 months.
Time: 9 days from signup to resolution (then the bill showing the changes showed up on his billing date roughly 2 weeks later)
Number of Contacts: 3 for Gary, 3 for Comcast (initial phone call with Gary, then he signed up and attached a letter detailing the problem – We then called Comcast once to resolve the issue, another time to confirm, and called again after a few days to make sure the changes had successfully made it through their system and been applied.
The Story: Gary sent us over his Comcast bill and a note explaining the trouble he’d been having. He’d ordered a baseball package from Comcast, but partway through they shut off the package, but kept charging him for it. He called and they weren’t able to get the package back on. He called again and they sent a technician out, but ended up charging him for the the service call even though it was their error. They promised they wouldn’t charge him for either the call or the missed baseball, but charged him for both anyway. When he got in touch with us, he was frustrated and had been lied to numerous times by Comcast. We called and were able to clear things up. We got him $134.53 in credits, completely refunding the missed sports and refunding the service call, and then some. Even though that was all taken care of, we thought there might be some overcharging in the rest of the bill and were able to knock $34.32 off the rest of the bill, by a combination of discounts. We kept at it and were able to triple his internet speed and get him HBO for free. All in all, we probably called Comcast almost a dozen times for Gary to make sure there wasn’t something a little better available. I actually spoke to Gary a few days ago—he called because Comcast had sent over a confusing email and I asked if we could take a look. I went through it and it was actually a notice from Comcast saying that he didn’t owe anything next month and actually they now owe him more than $80.
Lesson: It never hurts to keep calling and push your luck. Originally, he was just looking to get about $100 in credits. Because we kept calling and kept asking for additional discounts, he’s now got more than that, plus more than $400 in savings, plus the free HBO and faster internet. It’s not always easy, but there’s often additional savings or freebies that you won’t find out about until the 2nd, 3rd, or tenth call.
Comcast official response: “We apologize for the experiences Mr. Witzgall had. We’re taking a look at what happened to see where we could make improvements to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Being able to resolve issues quickly the first time is a key focus of our overall effort to improve our customers’ experiences.”
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