by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
June 7, 2008
BEST BUY, WHERE USERNAMES GO TO DIE
BRADENTON, Fla., June 7, 2008 -- The electronics store Best Buy is surely the worst buy when it comes to support for online bill payers, who may soon become a majority of those Americans who still manage to pay their bills.
We wrote about this problem several years ago, and Best Buy in its backward fashion tried to address it. They hooked up with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and created an online payment site that, giving them the benefit of the doubt, was meant to make online bill-paying easier.
That move was a virtual necessity because, alone among all the many retail credit cards I pay, Best Buy does not accept payments in their stores. It apparently is not sophisticated enough to develop a system for that, or perhaps doesn't trust its employees enough to let them handle your money.
Circuit City, even with its outrageous interest rates, scandalous layoffs and exorbitant late payment fees is sophisticated enough to let you pay either in any of its stores or online. ExxonMobil doesn't accept payments in its thousands of gas-station convenience stores, but apparently in response to criticism like mine in a recent column, has developed a very easy-to-use and comprehensive bill-pay Website that works like a charm. The local Exxon stores says the company will also accept in-store payments soon, but I could not confirm that.
Best Buy? No such luck. For the average user, it goes like this: You sign on to the Website, and find the link to credit card services. If you log into your Best Buy Web account, you still have to go to credit card services to pay bills. That will bring up yet another Website associated with the Chinese bank, one of the largest in the world, that is now known as HSBC and headquartered in London; the HSBC Group (China) is probably one of the two or three largest mainland China banking organizations.
The HSBC system is a devourer of usernames, a heedless destroyer of identities, one that must be an artifact of the Chinese communist dogma that identity should be subsumed in the state. What happens is that if you should forget your username or password, they say they have no way of recovering either one. Unlike every major online bill-pay site, if you want a password reminder, you can't get it from the Chinese. Instead, you have to re-enroll, which is clearly something that happens often to their customers.They have messages underneath the username and password lines in the login form saying, "Forget your Username?" and "Forgot your password?" Click on either and you get, "Please return to the Enrollment form to re-enroll."
HSBC says they have forgotten who you are. Should you remember your username, which most people do, it won't help. They won't send you your new password unless you make up a new username, too. The easiest way is to just add a single digit to the end of the old one By the time the next bill-pay cycle arrives, if you've forgotten your familiar username you have to - yup, re-enroll. It is a huge pain. Obviously, HSBC has lost control of the system it uses because the number of forgotten usernames and passwords has to be snowballing. People forget new usernames, re-enroll, forget those names, re-enroll, and on and on.
And it's all your fault, of course, for failing to write down your username and password where thieves and burglars can find them, like on your desk or in your wallet. To call technical support for the site, you first have to call their customer service number (800-365-0292) to get the support number (800-298-4240) or 800-537-9698), but tech support and "speak to a living person" are not among the menu options.
When you call the number - and I was given two different ones when I had to call back - you get a menu that also doesn't list technical support. Only when you ask the person who finally answers - there's no option to speak to a live person, so you have to hit "0" two or three times and wait - they don't identify themselves as tech support people unless you ask. The one I contacted gave me the wrong information the first time, telling me that usernames are kept and that you can simply get a password and change it back to the old one. After a lengthy chat with a supervisor (while I went and got coffee), she learned that was not the case. The woman I spoke to was nice, but Best Buy and ther bank seem to have a "Chinese firewall" around their tech-support desk.
Meanwhile, the old usernames and passwords are sent to a databank that is shared with Chinese intelligence agencies (did you think that a Chinese bank is exempt from Chinese custom?) and to bank-owned collection agencies who can use them to access information from the accounts where your usernames and passwords remain your familiar ones. Courtesy of Best Buy, we become fair game in the economic war that China is waging against the United States. They tell you they erased them, but that lie won't wash in the era of teraflop data storage that cannot be erased. We hear there's even a plan to redistribute them to new Chinese users, and to sell people "abandoned" usernames. Isn't that exciting? (Reality alert: I think I'm kidding about everything in the foregoing paragraph, but I'm not really sure.)
Once you get to a bill-pay field at www.hrsassociates.com, the inconveniently named Best Buy site run by the Chinese bank, remember that their no-payment, no-interest deals have a huge catch: If you haven't paid off the entire balance by the end of the promotional rate, you have to pay the entire interest - $1,500 worth.
US Bank, which I have written about before, recently loaned me several thousand dollars on a similar promotion, interest-free for six months. I have used up a lot of it in these tough economic times, since my wife and I have very little income. At the end of the six months, however, I won't be slapped with a charge for the accrued interest; instead, I'll start paying at their normal rate from the day the promotion ends. You're going to be a lot happier at Circuit City and US Bank.
Say that you have foolishly spent $1,500 at Best Buy for that snazzy HP laptop at a reduced price, as I did recently, not realizing that Circuit City has a policy requiring them to matach any price offered at Best Buy on electronics goods. Let's say that after six months you have paid off all but $200 of that. Well, the day after the promotion ends, usually in three or six months, you then get a bill for the interest on $1,500, which will be about $285 at the 19% interest rate.
If you can still take that laptop back, do it and go to Circuit City with your receipt. Their site is managed by Chase Bank, the old Rockefeller institution, which unfortunately will not accept number-less usernames, but when you save the username with as part of your bookmark it's simple to use.