When 'Replacement' Means 'Refurbished'

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - When Roberto Doumet of Miami saw Sprint PCS's TV ad featuring a black-robed prophet promising wireless Web access, he was hooked. He canceled his regular cell phone service and bought a Web-enabled Motorola Inc. phone and an insurance plan to go with it.

Three days later his phone was stolen. As a replacement, Sprint Corp. offered him a refurbished phone. "But I paid for a new phone, not a refurbished one," says Doumet. "I felt like I was robbed twice."

Unfortunately, he isn't the only one who's had this experience. Customers of companies such as Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Sony Corp. and of several online retailers and auction sites have written me about getting refurbished PCs or components to replace damaged or lost ones. In most cases, a customer returns an item--often under warranty and within weeks of the original purchase--for repair or replacement and ends up receiving a refurbished product.

Is this practice legal? It sure is--as long as the vendor outlines its warranty and insurance policies in the product documentation. But this information is sometimes hard to find, especially with online purchases. So before you buy, get all the facts straight, especially the fine print on the warranty.

Many vendors reserve the right to replace faulty parts with reconditioned ones, especially for pricey components such as monitors.

As for doumet, Sprint PCS's Florida public relations manager Nanci Schwartz says the insurance policy states that replacement products may be reconditioned, although Doumet says he never received any documentation for the policy. Sprint PCS is working with Doumet to resolve the dispute.

Seamy site scam: A ploy that could show up on mainstream Web sites has recently been reported on some adult sites: A person goes to a site or receives an e-mail promising free access to X-rated photos. To access the pictures, the user must first click a button on-screen. The screen explains in fine print that clicking the button will cause the user's modem to dial a toll number overseas--at a cost of $7 or more per minute. That critical information isn't made clear up front. Be wary.

PayPal Tests Its Friendship: We've heard from several disgruntled customers of X.com's PayPal, a Web-based payment service. Reported problems range from inability to access accounts to unresponsive customer support. X.com's Director of Communications Vince Sollitto acknowledges the difficulties, citing a recent upsurge in number of users and a failure of the in-house credit card processor.

Sollitto says the company has installed new hardware and added 200 customer service reps to keep the site running more smoothly.

MaxTech Goes Belly-Up: This manufacturer of PCs, components, and peripherals in Cerritos, California, has gone out of business. For information about support for some MaxTech products that are under warranty, contact Assurance Service at 562/926-0747.

When I Tried to order a boxed copy of WinFax Pro 10 from Buy.com, I pressed a button marked 'You must click this button to get your product'. When I saw something was about to be downloaded to my PC, I canceled out of the screen because I wanted the product shipped to me. Even though I didn't download the software, I was billed for a copy. I called Buy.com, but a rep refused to issue a refund, despite the site's promise of a 60-day refund policy for all software.

Mel Burstein

Santa Ana, California

On your side responds: "Downloading software is another means of delivery," says Travis Fagan, vice president of customer support at Buy.com, "and just as your credit card is charged upon shipment of a product, it'll be charged upon download." To get a refund from Buy.com, buyers complete, sign, and return a "letter of destruction," a "good faith" contract promising they no longer have the downloaded software on their PC. Buy.com credited Burstein's card for the inadvertent purchase. He ended up buying a copy of the program from Symantec Corp.

Or a great one? E-mail the details to onyourside@pcworld.com. We'll investigate complaints and publish items of the broadest interest. Anne Kandra is a contributing editor for PC World.

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