The following are some suppliers to avoid. The entries are mostly anonymous, to protect the sources, but have been validated as much as possible. I would like to thank people for their contributions.
In 2007 Sheryl & I flew to New Zealand to visit my family. Our outbound flights were with British Airways & Quantas.
We checked in at Munich Airport very early (Sheryl is rather paranoid about being on time for flights). We received not only our boarding passes for the flight to Heathrow, but also those for the flight out of Heathrow. Our boarding passes for the onward flight showed that we were among the first passengers to be allocated seats (there is an index number, if you know where to look). Imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered (on boarding the plane) that we weren't seated together. The purser managed to organise a seat swap, enabling us to sit together as far us our first stopover at Singapore (a stopover that surprised us, as it wasn't on our itinerary); from Singapore to Sydney we were seated separately.
We bought duty-free alcohol at Munich Airport, after confirming at the shop that we would be able to take it through airport security at our stopovers. The bottles were in standard transparent duty-free bags, with the receipts enclosed. We took them through Heathrow, and also Singapore, without problems, but in Sydney they were confiscated. We were annoyed, but when we saw people from our flight queuing at passport control in Auckland with the duty-free alcohol that they had bought in Singapore we became really annoyed. I have never been able to find out why our duty-free was confiscated, and other people's was not.
Our luggage was delayed. It didn't get onto the flight from Heathrow to Sydney, due to the flight from Munich to Heathrow being delayed. It was supposedly sent on to Sydney the next day, but didn't reach us in New Zealand until later; one piece after 3 days, the other after 4. Every time that we phoned the Quantas luggage tracing office, they told us a different set of lies (since the stories were contradictory, they were clearly lying). It was always promised that it would arrive "today" or "tomorrow", making it impossible to plan what replacement clothes & toiletries to buy. On the day the final piece of luggage arrived in Auckland, we flew to the South Island, so the luggage was delivered to our destination in Wanaka. Contrary to their procedure, the luggage was simply left on the veranda of the house. It was, of course, damaged (a broken wheel & internal damage).
Our trip home was even worse. We arrived at the Cathay Pacific check-in desk to be told that our flight bookings had been canceled. We had tickets, but no seats on any flights. British Airways have no office in New Zealand, so we phoned the number provided, which was a call centre in India. The man at the call centre was useless, and couldn't help us, but told us that we had canceled the flight segments on the same day as we had originally booked the flights (he suggested that we contact our travel agent in Munich, even though it was the middle of the night there). Cathay Pacific, on the other hand, were able to tell us that our flight segments had been canceled that morning, just a few hours before our flight, by British Airways.
Cathay Pacific got us onto a flight to Hong Kong, as standby passengers. They told us to contact the British Airways desk at Hong Kong for the remainder of our flights. British Airways were again unable or unwilling to help, and sent us back to Cathay Pacific, even though our contract was with British Airways. We therefore did the rest of the journey on standby, courtesy of Cathay Pacific.
Cathay Pacific were fantastic throughout the whole ordeal. I really can't praise them enough, and will have no hesitation in flying with them again.
British Airways, on the other hand, showed a level of incompetence and disinterest in their customers that is hard to comprehend. There was only one exception to this: the purser in our cabin section on the flight from Munich to Singapore. "The World's Favourite Airline" - I don't think so. They deserve to go bankrupt!
In 2014 I bought a BahnCard (a discount card for use on Deutsche Bahn’s rail network). At the time I was commuting weekly from Munich to Frankfurt for work, and the BahnCard provides significant discounts for ticket purchase.
My BahnCard expired in the summer of 2015. Apparently, Deutsche Bahn sent a new card, but I never received it; although they had no problem delivering invoices for it (by email and post), they were unable to deliver the card itself. I ignored the invoices, as I had received no product or service for which I should pay, and had applied for no such service.
Today (January 2016) I have finally had to pay the invoice (plus late fees) because the Terms and Conditions (which I signed) state that I agreed to automatic renewal, and under German law, proof of posting is considered proof of delivery (so claiming that I didn’t receive the card is no defence).
I feel that both Deutsche Bahn and German Law are at fault in this case. Terms and Conditions which enforce automatic renewal should be illegal (and are in many countries): Deutsche Bahn should not put such clauses in their Ts & Cs, and the law should declare them as unenforceable if they do. Also, the law (actually a legal precedent) that proof of posting is considered proof of delivery is nonsensical and should be overturned; the idea that the German postal Service (Deutsche Post) is that reliable is ridiculous (my girlfriend’s experience of mail being returned to the sender because of a claimed incorrect address, when in fact the address was correct, complete and entirely legible – the post office could offer no explanation – proves that their service is not 100% reliable).
I only used my BahnCard for 2 months (admittedly it saved me money at the time, but that saving has been largely offset for paying for a year of unused subscription). After that 2 month period, I was out of Germany; I still am. It is very unlikely that I will have any use for a BahnCard in the near future, and even if I do, I will probably not get one because of Deutsche Bahn’s questionable business practices. Even with a BahnCard, German intercity train services are expensive, and flying is often cheaper and faster (and more reliable in my experience).
Tough luck Deutsche Bahn: No SALE!
Update - 2018
Deutsche Bahn sent me a new BahnCard this year. Not a current card, but one for 2015 to 2016. This was followed by an invoice, which was further followed, because I didn't pay the invoice, with a series of "final demands" from a debt collection agency.
I wrote to Deutsche Bahn explaining that they had no contract with me, accompanied by a copy of their confirmation of the cancellation. I threatened to sue if they did not stop the demands for money. They wrote back, saying that they had questions, and could I phone them. I said no, but they could call me if it was essential. I also told them that, if they continued to waste my time, they should expect an invoice from me, and quoted the hourly rate they would have to pay. Strangely, they have not phoned me, nor have they written again.
It may surprise some of you to see Apple on my blacklist. After all, they are the kings of plug-and-play; their products (iPods, iPhones & Macs) just work, right?
The fact of the matter is that their products "just work" only if you use Apple software.
My own story of pain involves trying to get a new (bought December 2009) iPod nano with video to work with Linux. Normally I wouldn't try this, but we had a hardware failure on our laptop which meant that there was no keyboard input when running (or installing) Windows. As I can't currently afford to buy a new laptop, I installed Ubuntu Linux on the laptop (no problems with the keyboard with Linux). Then I had to find some way to load music onto the iPod.
With each new generation of iPods, Apple introduces new technology to prevent them working with third-party software. If you want full functionality, or indeed any functionality when the products are new, you need to use iTunes. Apple spends a lot of money on this, and it then takes time and money for the third-party software providers to work around it.
I would be fairly happy (not 100% happy) to use iTunes on Linux, but their Windows version will not run under Wine (a software platform that lets you run software written for Windows on a Linux PC). There is no native Linux version, which I find strange; it should be easy to port iTunes to Linux, since the current Mac-OS is based on Linux.
Why does Apple think that we want to be locked in to their software when we buy their hardware? Did they ask you (they certainly didn't ask me)? Since iTunes is free, I don't see how they would lose revenue by allowing us to use other software with our iPods. What you may not realise is that iPods could be cheaper if Apple did not spend so much on this third-party lock-out functionality.
The other side-effect of this third-party lock-out functionality is that Apple is actually promoting one of its main competitors: Microsoft. If you buy an iPod, you need to have a computer on which to run iTunes. When you buy that computer (whether specifically for using your iPod, or to replace an old one), you have a choice of a Mac or a Windows PC; given the price difference, very few people will opt for a Mac. Promoting your competition makes no business sense that I can see.
Even if all other issues were addressed by Apple, I would still rather not use iTunes with an iPod. It is not well behaved software. I have lost count of the number of times I have removed Bonjour, which keeps creeping in through iTunes updates even though I have never said yes to installing it in the first place. When you install iTunes, even if you say that you do not want it to be your default media player software, it changes your settings to become the default; I then manually change it back so that VLC media player is the default. Due to the bizarre screen effects and failure to work under Wine, I also suspect that iTunes is not properly Windows compliant.
I do not have an iPhone (people often ask me why). The reason is that I strongly suspect that most or all of the issues with iPods apply equally to iPhones.
Most modern mobile phones have most of the same features as an iPod: photo & video camera, calendar, contacts, music and video player. Unless you need something to monitor your performance while running, I cannot see why you would buy an iPod; I never have (the iPod nano that caused me so many problems is not mine), and I suspect I never will.
In case you don't know this company, their main service is money transfers. If you need cash when you are away from home, someone can go to a Western Union office and send money that you can collect in another Western Union office anywhere in the world. Transfers are done in an hour or so. When you really need this service, it is great that it is there. There are other companies that offer similar services, but often you (the sender or recipient) need to be a customer of the company, whereas anyone can use Western Union.
There is, however, a scam which makes use of Western Union. A friend was caught out by it. It works like this. You see an advertisement on the Internet or in a paper publication for something that you want to buy. In my friend's case it was a car: a mini, advertised at a good price. When you contact the seller, they say that they need proof that you have the money, and that you can provide proof by sending the funds to yourself, a friend or relative, via Western Union, and then sending them the transfer slip. When you, your friend or relative goes to collect the money, it has already been collected; your money is gone, having already been collected by the scammers!
Of course this should not be possible. When you send money via Western Union, you can specify where (which office or at least which city) the money is to be collected, the name of the person who may collect, and a password question and answer that must be provided in order to collect. The person collecting is supposed to show ID as well as answering the password question. Normal procedure is that Western Union copies the ID and keeps it on file.
Magically, however, when you complain to Western Union that they gave your money to the wrong person, usually in the wrong city, they do not have the copy of the ID. They claim that they followed their security procedures correctly, but cannot or will not provide any documentation to prove that they did.
You can, of course, get a lawyer, or even go to the police. As far as I know, neither of these actions has ever resulted in a refund of the stolen money, nor any prosecutions of Western Union or anyone else. Western Union denies any responsibility, even though it seems clear that the advertised security procedures have not been followed.
Of course, Western Union may by now have tightened up their security to prevent this kind of abuse, but maybe not. Either way, their attitude of denying responsibility is not what one expects from an international and reputable financial services company.
You have been warned! This example may not be the only hole in their security.
"Do not use this so-called service!
Although this is a German site, the company is based in the UK.
They get their business by getting their web-site good listings in search engines. If you search for some free software that you know of and want to download, you may get 99downloads.de as your first result. If you click that link, you are asked to complete an online form before you get your download.
What you may not realise, if you don't read the terms & conditions (which you probably won't read - after all, you are trying to download free software) is that you are agreeing to pay for their service under a 12 month contract.
After the sign-up is complete, you will receive an email (to the address that you entered in the form) which gives you access to the download that you wanted. After a few days, you will receive a bill (at the time of writing, €60); after a while longer, you will receive a final demand, with threats of legal action.
There are some big issues with this business model:
There is lots of stuff in forums on the Internet about this company (in German), where people cannot believe that they are being asked to pay for something free, or have never even used the service for which they receive a bill.
This company should be closed down by the authorities."
Internet Service Providers
I was forced, in 2008, to change my ISP (Internet Service Provider) from CableSurf (with whom I was very happy, but who could not at that time provide service at our new address). After much investigation, and on the advice of The Phone House (who usually give excellent advice), I chose to get a UMTS USB modem from Vodafone. The specification is good (7.6 Mbps), and so is the price (flat-rate, with 6 months free service). There is a wait of only an hour or so before the Internet connection is working, unlike the wait of typically 3 weeks for a DSL connection
For those of you who are considering this option for your ISP, there are a few points to take into account. Some of these may be irrelevant to most of you, but if they are relevant, you would probably like to know them before you sign a 2 year contract.
"Jamba sells downloads for mobile phone: ring-tones, music, logos, screen-savers, and games. They operate in Germany, and at least 23 other countries.
Apart from the usual advertising channels, they advertise with SMS messages. In Germany, if you are not a subscriber to Jamba, you typically receive a constant barrage of advertising SMS messages. These are a kind of SMS virus - on many mobile phones they will unlock your keypad so that if you are carrying your phone in your pocket you can accidentally call them back and subscribe without even knowing it. The mobile operators who allow these SMS advertisements are in effect accessories to this form of electronic theft. Charges are booked directly from your phone account, usually weekly.
If you decide you want to cancel your unwanted subscription, your operator will normally insist that you do it yourself, by telephoning Jamba directly. The number is a premium rate number (you are charged more than a normal call rate). You will typically have to wait several minutes, pressing buttons to get into the correct queue, and then waiting until a representative is free. When you ask to cancel your subscription, they will then try to sell you another Jamba package "more suited to your needs"; once you convince them that you don't want to subscribe to any Jamba package, they will usually try to sell you something else (e.g. financial services). Remember that you are paying the whole time, for them to try to sell you these things.
Jamba's whole business model and operating practice seems to be morally and legally questionable."
This car rental firm operates in several countries. The events described occurred in Germany.
"I booked a rental car from Europcar. While booking, I confirmed exactly what documentation etc. I would need to bring when I collected the car (passport, driving licence and credit card). The sales representative confirmed exactly which model car I would receive, and that there would be a ski-rack with the car.
When I arrived to collect the car, I was told that I needed an additional document: my registration of my address with the Gemeinde (local council) - no other car rental firm had ever asked for this document. Since it was shortly before the office closed, there was not enough time to go home, collect the document, and return with it to the office. I was forced to return the next morning. As a result, I and my party missed half a day of skiing and I had to collect my visitors from the airport by public transport (extra time and money).
When I returned the next morning, with the additional document, the representative from the previous evening was not on duty. I was not asked for my registration of address. When I queried this, I was told that it was not needed, and that they did not understand why I had been asked for it. The promised vehicle was not available. The ski-rack was also not in or on the vehicle, and it took an additional 15 minutes to provide.
I will never rent from this company again, unless there is absolutely no other choice."
This car rental firm operates in several countries. The events described occurred in Germany.
"I have rented cars from this firm many times. With only one exception there have been problems and disappointments. The only reason that I continue to use them is that I don't have my own car and they they are the only firm I have found whose cars can be driven to the Czech Republic (which I visit often).
The usual issue is that the promised model of car is not available when I go to collect it. If supplementary equipment is booked (child seats, winter tyres, ski-racks, etc.) it is never ready and sometimes cannot be provided. Sometimes standard equipment (e.g. the disc for the navigation system) and even legally required equipment (e.g. the warning triangle) is missing. As a result, it can take up to an hour to collect the car!"
Volker Müller (Gerichtsvollzieher)
"For various reasons, I found myself with a large number of debts. Most of these debts were factored out to debt collection agents (Inkasso). Once I had the resources, I started to repay them; the smaller ones as lump sums, and the larger ones in installments.
When paying in installments, it can be difficult to know exactly what is owing for the final payment, since it depends on when you pay (interest & other charges), and the agents do not usually send regular statements. I therefore telephoned this particular agent to find out how much to transfer for the final payment of this debt. I could hear him opening his filing cabinet, and turning the pages in my file, to look up the amount, so I know that he didn't guess it. I promptly paid this "final" bill. Imagine my surprise when I then received a further bill for an additional amount of more than €700 a few days later.
Unfortunately, the debtor is not the customer of the debt collector, and cannot exercise any choice, but if I am ever on the other end of the relationship (in need of a debt collector to collect funds owing to me) I will not be using the services of this particular agent."
The comments below are a collation of a large number of complaints from multiple sources. The list of agencies and related links is only a selection of the worst reported offenders.
Contract consultants get a lot of their work via agencies. Some are good, but many are not.
Typical complaints include:
Please note that not all of the listed companies are guilty of all of the above-listed offences, nor are they all guilty to the same degree.