Dwight Eisenhower once talked about preparing for battle only to find out that while plans were useless, planning was indispensable. Last fall my son made a purchase from an online website that sells customized computers. Over the course of three years he had saved almost a thousand dollars setting his heart on an ideal dream machine for hardcore gaming and CyberPower located in Baldwin Park, California had the best deal going. Or so they advertised. Part of their mission statement reads:
    "Cyberpower Inc. was founded with two simple goals in mind: to offer our PC customers with both personalized cutting edge technology at wholesales prices and an extensive range of other technological support. By being the manufacturer AND the distributor, we are dedicated to meet your personalized needs with the most effective computing solutions."
Nothing could have been further from the truth in our experience when it came to personalized or an extensive range of other technological support. A lot of young teens are on line making purchases like my son and may not understand how to get their money back when things go awry. It cost over $100.00 in shipping and paperwork to get his money back and took a great deal of planning and patience. Here are some things to know about getting refunds of online credit cards purchases from a US business.
  1. Before you buy, look on line for complaints.

    If you aren't sure about the company's reputation it’s just smart shopping to ask questions and read around. We googled ‘CyberPower complaints’ (without the apostrophes) and came across Resellerratings.com and a couple others web sites with complaints about CyberPower.

    Because the number of users that complain about CyberPower online was unusually numerous and most of the complaints were consistent about communications and refund problems that should have been a red flag for most experienced buyers. Unfortunately we had already ordered from them so we had to adjust our planning.

    When I accessed Resellerratings.com today for their stats for this write up, CyberPower’s were still dismal although to their credit they seem to be making an effort with comments about how they resolved several customer complaints. However, without the customers replies that, yes indeed they were satisfied, it’s a good idea to remain skeptical. At this point I would still strongly discourage purchasing a product from this company.

    Today’s lifetime rating of CyberPower on Resellerratings.com of 6.20. Some might look at that number and think "Hey! Over half of them were satisfied!" Out of a rating scale from 1 to 10 use extreme caution when buying a product from any company that has a rating of less than 9.0. Why? Well I’m a teacher so I tend to think of things along the lines of grades. A 6.20 translates into a D in my grade book.

  2. Read through all of the warranties.

    Have you ever wondered why they say, Always read the fine print? It's important to read it before making a purchase and most are remarkably similar. That’s because they are written based on business laws. One thing that should be a warning is any unusual language about policies and warranties. This could be a sign that the company has run into trouble before or may be trying to skirt the laws. Be aware that even though the company can say they aren’t liable for certain things; they are subject to state and federal business laws before any business policy comes into the picture.

    For example, even though getting through to CyberPower within the 7-day period to request a Return Merchandise Number was impossible the Federal Trade Commission says they have to give the customer a full refund if the request was made within 30 days of receiving the merchandise.

  3. Take notes

    Keep a file. Once a yellow flag goes up start gathering names, dates, and jot down brief summaries of the conversations and note the time. If you’re put on hold, set the kitchen timer and after 20 minutes hang up. Include these incidents too. Print up any e-mail you send as well as the company’s reply and add it to your file.

  4. Put it in writing, make copies and keep the original paperwork.

    When the computer arrived there were problems immediately. As noted by many at several web sites who complained about this particular company, phone calls to tech support were essentially frustrating and futile and e-mails were not replied to.

    Write letters and send along copies of any e-mails to them. Make sure the first letter is post marked within the company’s warranty period. Many business use stationary with special letterheads or particular watermarks. You want to hang onto the originals in case they ever have to cross a judge’s bench. Copies won’t do.

  5. Send all your correspondences by Certified Mail.

    Some less than ethical businesses will say they were unaware that there was a problem, the product is out of warrantee and the customer is out of luck. Sending Certified Mail requires a trip to the post office. You will fill out a small form with both the sender and recipients address. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. I’ve only had to send certified mail a handful of times to settle a dispute and each time I’ve had to ask how to fill it out. It only costs a few dollars, takes a little time, but is well worth the investment.

    The signed receipt is important, hang onto it just in case. It’s evidence that the business has been getting correspondence from you within the time constraints of a warrantee and helps to settle the dispute should it go on to the State’s Attorney General Office.

    The recipient signs a copy of this receipt and it is sent back to you by mail. This is a record verifying that the person received the mail directly from the hands of the delivery person. If they refuse, the delivery person will make a note of that and return it along with the letter to you. This provided the proof I needed that I began my attempts to return the computer to CyberPower within the 30-day warranty period required for a full refund.

  6. Patience and persistence will pay off. Know who to contact.

    Since customers were and still are losing their hard earned money to this company and several were already looking into the company's status with the Better Business Bureau I resolved to take further actions to encourage CyberPower to be responsible to their consumers when it comes to communications as well as to realize they are incurring liabilities with their standards of business practices.

    First, contact your credit card company. They can be your advocate and middleman for getting a refund. If it’s been less than 30 days since the charges were made to your account they can freeze the funds until the dispute is settled. During this time you are not responsible for making any credit card payments and no interest will accrue on those charges. Legally, if you can prove you have returned the product the company, the company has to settle the dispute within a certain period of days or the credit card company returns the funds to you. Read through your credit card agreement. Most of the time you can find this information listed on the back of the credit card statement.

    I use USAA MasterCard. They offer banking needs to all members of the US Armed Forces and are very proactive in resolving conflicts. Some credit card companies may charge a fee for this. If they do or aren’t very helpful consider using another credit card company. There’s a lot of competition out there.

    Next, notify the Federal Trade Commission. It may take four to six weeks to get a reply. You can file a complaint with the FTC online here:
    https://rn.ftc.gov/pls/dod/wsolcq$.startup?Z_ORG_CODE=PU01

    The FTC contends that CyberPower’s practice of not answering the phones, putting customers on hold on the phone for unreasonable periods of time, not returning calls, not replying to e-mail and written correspondence are a breach of warranty and told me to contact an attorney.

    Finally, notify the Attorney Generals Office in the state where business sells their product.

    The State Attorney General is an attorney, an elected official and a public servant. This is part of the job he or she is elected to do and best of all it’s paid for by tax dollars and not out of your pocket. It may take four to six weeks to get a reply.

    The Attorney General of the State of California replied to my complaint by mail that they are investigating CyberPower’s business practices and have put them on their “watch list.” As more customers complain about a company the more evidence they will have for an investigation.

    In this instance CyberPower does business out of California. If you would like to see an example of the Attorney General State of California’s complaint form you can visit:
    http://caag.state.ca.us/consumers/mailform.htm

  7. Print up and keep copies of on line tracking reports when you return a product.

    The US Post Office, Fed Ex and UPS are a few ways to return the product. UPS did handily in returning the computer because they could package it properly, offered insurance and the package could be easily tracked it online.

    CyberPower tried to return the computer twice. Since they have never returned phone calls, replied to e-mails, or letters I can only speculate as to why. Most likely it’s because of the poor business skills when it comes to communications.

It took a lot of planning along the way; over twenty pages of documented paperwork that included four receipts of certified letters asking for a refund, as well as, UPS tracking reports as proof that they had received the computer safely. CyberPower initially refunded only $59.00 and still “wanted more proof.” I have no idea how they managed to talk with this company, but USAA was eventually able to reverse the charges. While it did cost dearly, in the long run the hope is that they will make improvments in communticating with customers and to keep them accountable for future customers.

I think it’s ethically irresponsible for any company who sells products to a primarily inexperienced customer base of young teens in this manner. I would have to agree with many of the comments at Resellerratings.com and that they thought it was an expensive lesson.

Even though CyberPower provides a flashier, fancier and faster product they’re disenfranchising a potentially loyal lifetime customer base. My son bought a Dell last December and chose them because of their outstanding reputation. He is very happy with it and has had no problems, although he is reluctant to call their tech support because of this nightmarish incident with CyberPower. My son may have kids of his own one-day and doubts he or they will ever be shopping at CyberPower.

Many thanks to:

    C-Dawg who says "You probably don't need registered mail: certified is just as good, costs maybe 1/5 as much, and you can still get a return receipt."

    And

    eliserh who says Re resolving online customer disputes: It's also worth talking to your own state's Atty General, because most states have long-arm jurisdiction over merchants who do business in their states.

Sources:

CYBERPOWER:
www.cyberpowerinc.com

Federal Trade Commission:
http://www.ftc.gov/index.html

Office of the Attorney General of the State of California, Department of Justice:
http://caag.state.ca.us/ag/index.htm

Resellerratings.com:
http://www.resellerratings.com/seller2120-p1.html

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