Thursday, May 26, 2011

America's Best Scam

Anyone who jumps through the annual hoop to get an eye exam and a prescription for glasses or contacts probably knows what a scam it is. It had been a few years for me, so maybe I just forgot.

I ended up at America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, where they advertise a free eye exam with 2 pairs of complete glasses for $69.95 with single vision plastic lenses. That sounds like a great deal, but magically, my actual cost would have been over $200!!! How is that possible?

Well, first off, if you want an eye exam for both glasses and contacts, it's not free. By itself, an eye exam for glasses is $45. An eye exam for contacts is $69. You might expect that they'd just add the difference of $24 if you're buying glasses and also getting a contact exam, but you'd be wrong. You also might expect that "complete glasses with single vision plastic lenses" would actually include single vision plastic lenses, but you'd be wrong again. That's just for the frames.

I decided to take my eyeglass purchase elsewhere, and to just pay for the $69 contact exam. Except, they tried to charge me $99!!! What the hell? Well, the optometrist recommended that I have my eyes dilated. She failed to mention that this was an additional $30. I protested, and they agreed to charge me only $15, the cost of the visual field exam. I had already declined the visual field exam.

Like a car salesman pushing a rust protection package, the technician rattled off a bunch of fine print before the visual field exam. When I asker her to repeat everything, I realized it was an extra $15. After declining, she presented me with a refusal form. The form described the benefits of the visual field exam, but it also indicated that I was not in the demographic that really needs the visual field exam. Furthermore, there was no reason this form couldn't have been included with all the other forms I filled out in advance, except they were trying to scam me.

When I went back for the follow up for my contacts, the optometrist sent me to the front desk to "order my contacts". When I told the clerk that I wasn't going to order contacts, but wanted my prescription, she had to go back to the optometrist to get it. The optometrist was going to keep it on file at their office without giving me a copy of my prescription. I know this is standard procedure at these places, but it still disappoints me that so-called medical professionals are willing to whore themselves out for the big-box eyeglass pimps.

The upside of this whole experience was that I got online and started searching for alternatives. That's how I found glassyeyes and Zenni optical. It turns out that most of the big players in the eyeglass business are owned by the same monopoly. If you're tired of getting screwed over by them, try ordering eyeglasses online. I ended up getting a pair of prescription sunglasses and a pair of prescription glasses with polycarbonate lenses shipped to my door for a total of $51!!! I had my doubts, but they provided excellent communication, including a tracking number when the glasses shipped. I couldn't be happier. Stick it to the man.

Good Government in Action: IRS Edition

People like to complain about the government, especially the IRS, so I want to share our recent experience.

Several months ago, the IRS notified us that we failed to report a stock sale in 2009. They were right. Living in Australia, we didn't get the form, so we didn't report it. The IRS proposed a tax increase of $8000 plus a $1500 penalty.

Acknowledging our mistake, we quickly sent in the $8000, begging for mercy on the penalty. Later, the IRS represenative pointed out that their proposed increase assumed a zero cost basis--hint, hint.

Sure enough, in our haste to rectify our mistake, we missed their not-so-fine-print assuming a zero cost basis. We had obviously overpaid. No problem. Just send the cost basis information.

That was easier said than done. Our employee stock purchase plan changed agents 3 times. Over two months passed before we could establish the cost basis. We sent it in just before the IRS deadline.

A week later, we got a notice of deficiency and instructions for petitioning our case to the US Tax Court. Doh! Figuring that our cost basis information was lost in the mail or sitting in queue, we called the IRS.

No problem. We gave them our cost basis and capital gains information over the phone. They recalculated our taxes, determined that we owed nothing, and said they'd be sending out a check to refund our $8000.

Four weeks later, we got a check for $8000 + interest. The whole ordeal was our fault, yet they didn't even charge a penalty! In a world where everyone seems to be trying to screw you out of your money--more on that later--it's nice to know the IRS is not.