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About Me

A resident of Glendale, California, I founded and ran for over 30 years The Los Angeles Skills Pool, which enabled folks to obtain quality services from each other at no charge beyond the membership fee.

How I Can Help

I've been giving advice and help on consumer matters for many years. A good part of each of my member newsletters was always devoted to these concerns.


consumer issues, ethics, single-payer healthcare, peace

59 Reviews by Richard

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magicJack offers virtually no customer support, and no phone contact except a line for billing matters. I answer questions about a great many websites and companies for a help site, and magicJack engenders by far the most complaints. Many of those complaints have to do with not being able to get the device to work (perhaps after it has worked just fine for a while). Others concern renewal nags *after* the renewal has been purchased, or paid renewals that did not renew serviceor, most troubling of all, charges for calls whose cost should according to the company's promotions be covered by the purchase price.

magicJack's justification for these unexpected charges is this provision in the middle of magicJack's extensive hard-to-read Terms of Service:

"We may require prepaid purchase and/or we may charge you for calls to conference lines, platforms and certain high cost calls, or any call wherein we incur a cost from another carrier."

The average consumer, even if he or she were to look over the Terms of Service, will not grasp the import of this nearly-hidden provision.

Some magicJack customers are happy with the product. I don't advise however taking that chance.




This review is of the (central) customer service, not the markets.

Customer service either by phone or their Web form is incredibly useless. Why they encourage such communication is a mystery, as I've found on each of several occasions that it's just about impossible to get any information or help in that manner. You will lose your time and gain nothing but frustration.




I volunteer at (under the name Odin) to assist folks with a broad range of products including the widely used Canon products. For many years Canon's online support was comprehensive and top-notch, maybe the best in the business. For an inexplicable reason Canon has removed entirely that support site and substituted this new one, which is rarely helpful. I've tried by both email and phone to find out what's behind the change, but cannot. Of course you could always phone Canon but after 90 days phone support will probably cost you.




1. Like too many other websites, this one sneakily makes you await the results of a lengthy search and provide your own information before it reveals what you must pay for a deeper search--seemingly an opt-out monthly fee. (If you decide to pay it, be sure to opt out immediately.)

2. Before committing any money, read Brian's SiteJabber review at and rep Carla's response. It's perplexing why Carla submitted any response, as it completely ignores Brian's primary objection, which is the absence of the paid reports' important information.

Angie's List

Angie's List


Angie's List charges users for what other review sites provide free, with the suggestion that its reviews are thereby more reliable. I've found however that there's no reason to believe that its reviews are superior in any way. Furthermore, to participate you have to accept a membership agreement that can have huge negative consequences for you (see below). And unless you're really careful you'll find you're signed up in perpetuity, paying a new membership fee each year.

Before writing this critique I purchased a membership, studied its materials, and also as a journalist interviewed spokesperson Cheryl Reid by phone.

Angie seeks to minimize ringer listings (reviews by the reviewees) by "proprietary" means which may include cross-checking reviewers' phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, etc. Angie also restricts the number of reviews of a single provider coming from one userbut I couldn't discern much if any protection against a merchant's attempting to buy off bad reviews by offering incentives to the reviewers to withdraw them.

Particularly worrisome is the fact that Angie will without prompting reveal to each service provider the identity of every reviewer of that provider's service. After I discovered this practice I asked a rep about it. The rep boasted that no lawsuit against a reviewer had prevailed. The rep would not say how many lawsuits had been filed. Of course, defending even against lawsuits that fail can be extremely costly, stressful, and time-consuming. "Reputation protection" services have of late become quite popular, and there is a dismaying probability of lawsuits from negative reviews. There's also the fact that a consumer may continue with a problematic provider (like a physician specialist for example) rather than take a chance with a competitor. In such instances the consumer may be reluctant to write a review even partially negative, knowing that the provider will be reading the review.

The likely result of Angie's notification policy is all but the most positive reviews will be self-suppressed or at least toned down, affecting seriously the reliability of Angie's List assessments.

Angie's List does accept advertising from listed providers who wish to offer discounts, and it reportedly solicits that advertising aggressively. Members may choose to search for providers offering these discounts, which purportedly don't otherwise affect the listings or their placement. They're available only from A- and B-rated providers.

***Membership agreements***

You must agree to Angie's privacy policy before joining. This document takes up an excruciatingly long page of tiny text, essentially impossible to get through and harder yet to comprehend. However: the super-diligent will note that buried in the interminable fine print is permission for Angie to disclose *any* information "permitted by relevant law." (So why all the fine print? Guess.)

The general membership agreement makes you liable for "liquidated damages" of up to $10,000.00yes, ten thousand dollarsfor a single violation of its terms, which cover such issues as how you use the reviews. These terms are about as easy to understand as those of the privacy policy. Moreover, you incredibly must agree in advance to any changes in the agreement made without notice to you.

(On the other hand, Angie is not at all strict about fulfilling its own membership obligations. The same membership agreement states without qualification that "Monthly and annual memberships include a subscription to the Angie's List monthly magazine." Yet in over a year I never received a single issue. When I inquired, I was told that magazines aren't sent to those with my class of membershipbut that I was free to upgrade.)

Many members will be surprised to learn that they've signed up for membership in perpetuity. Angie's memberships are opt-out, that is, automatically renewed and re-charged, until the member affirmatively resigns. You can opt out of the opt-out when signing upbut if you do, get confirmation in writing!

***Site navigation and customer service***

Site navigation is quirky and sometimes frustrating. Customer service is highly accessible and friendly but too often clueless, and simple inquiries can consume half an hour or more.

***Bottom line***

I don't advise joining unless (a) you realize that Angie's reviews are skewed to the positive, (b) you're unconcerned about your privacy, (c) you're willing to wade through the extensive and opaque general membership agreement, (d) you're prepared to re-read the changeable agreement before taking any action related to the service, and (e) before joining you've opted out from automatic renewal, and have written confirmation in hand.




Brother International sent me a replacement printer that proved unnecessary almost immediately, but as UPS had left the package when I wasn't home I couldn't follow Brother's instructions to refuse delivery. I followed UPS's instructions to call after delivery. Over a span of many days multiple reps--including 2 supervisors (!)--solemnly promised a pickup the next day or (when my follow-up was on that day) the same day.

No one ever came.

I received no excuses--just further unkept promises. The closest UPS office is inconvenient and UPS told me that the nearby "UPS Store" [a different operation] would not accept my return. Fortunately, I called the UPS Store, which did accept my package and provided a receipt.

Screamin Daily Deals

Screamin Daily Deals


This is a warning not to purchase deals from this site, also known as Spreebird.

This is one of the many copycats of Groupon. The other such sites I've dealt with, and especially Groupon itself, are very responsible with respect to any untoward experiences. Not so here.

I purchased a voucher for a restaurant meal, and a few days ago proceeded to the restaurant. I knew the restaurant was not really close, but I at least expected to be able to find it from the street address. In fact the street number provided was nowhere to be seen from the street. After driving around and then walking back and forth and about, I finally located the place deep inside an (unnumbered) shopping mall. All this hunting consumed an extra half an hour or more, and then I saw the business, shut down.

It turns out that Spreebird knew it was folded, but deliberately chose not to notify purchasers like me. Its entire reason seems to be that it didn't want to bother customers who'd already used the voucher!

When I asked for recompense, they amazingly wanted me to accept "spreebucks" in the amount of my purchase, toward another voucher. They did agree to refund my purchase price, but nothing at all for my time and trouble.

There are too many deal-of-the-day sites out there to go with a loser like this.




As one of its earliest customers, I've been using Roboform's paid version for a great many years, and have been completely satisfied--until now.

Roboform works by storing the user's sign-information in a database to whose entries the user (at the user's advance option) has either immediate access or access via a private master password. In either case Roboform will fill in sign-in information upon the user's request via the browser's context menu. For those who (unaccountably) don't want to use the context menu, Roboform will do the same via the Roboform toolbar. Like most computer users, I've chosen not to burden my computer screen with an unnecessary toolbar, and have used the context menu.

Except that a few days ago, in my Firefox browser, Roboform no longer worked! Clicking any of Roboform's context menu entries now does nothing.

With very great difficulty I finally reached a support technician, who told me that without removing the context menu entries and without any notice to users, Roboform had discontinued support for Firefox's context menu. For some reason Roboform's own separate menu (available from its taskbar icon) also would not work unless its toolbar was continuously displayed.

So my only option was either to display the Roboform toolbar continuously or switch browsers.

Neither of these is acceptable to me, so I'll be installing a different password manager. One free one recommended by Firefox and others is KeePass.




This is primarily a collection of patient ratings for a narrow range of listed practitioners. Amazingly, these ratings may not appear as submitted, and, even more amazingly, the company shows no interest in correcting such errors.




(Fifth update.) I've been purchasing from Amazon fairly heavily for years, not because I think it's the best source for merchandise (although it often is) but because its gift cards are the reward of choice for my participation answering queries for [which I've also reviewed for SiteJabber].


1. Price. Prices are generally excellent, and some purchases are tax-free. Many items are "eligible for free shipping," meaning that Amazon will not charge for shipping such items if their total price in one order is $25 or more.

2. Return policy. Return policies are easy and quite generous, and with items shipped by Amazon the company pays for return shipping, or may even waive the need to return the item at all.

3. Promptness. Shipping is always prompt, even when free.


1. Support. I've now downgraded my star rating because of the increasingly terrible customer service. The good news is that phone support is usually, perhaps always, available. The bad news is the quality of that support:
(a) Thick accents by agents apparently based in other countries--even supervisors--make their advice largely unintelligible.
(b) Even when one can understand them, too many of the support personnel seem entirely clueless, taking the customer's time to no good end. Escalating to a supervisor sometimes works but often does not; and written support, usually provided as boilerplate, is usually still worse.
(c) Inquiries to Amazon's sellers must almost always be made via Amazon's online form; and, incredibly, Amazon cannot track such inquiries or follow up unless the purchase has already been made.

2. Product descriptions. These are wrong much too often.

3. Product search. The variety of products available is overwhelming, and Amazon's product search engine is awful. For example, a search for a "queen-size single fitted sheet" yielded many hundreds of results (as I recall, about 1,400!), pointing to sheets of various sizes, nearly all sheets sets. Of all those results I found only 1 that matched my search criteria. One suspects that Amazon deliberately fudges search results to offer more choices, with the goal of increasing sales.

4. Merchant reviews. As of last check Amazon allows reviewers without significant limitation to withdraw their reviews. This policy encourages merchants -- many of whom depend on Amazon for patronage -- to go after reviewers whose reviews are not favorable in order to buy them off. This has happened to me.

The consequence of these minuses is that you could easily spend hours trying to meet your need, which may in the end be unfulfilled or, even worse, fulfilled badly.





PayPal is convenient but problematic.

1. PayPal goes to great lengths to avoid paying the tiny bank charges it incurs when you use your credit card. I guess it figures a penny saved is a penny earned. You have to be exceedingly diligent to avoid being shifted to a different funds source (like your bank account).

2. PayPal will not tell you the address or phone number of any merchant that might want to conceal that information. This of course facilitates shady or even fraudulent actions on the part of those merchants, since it discourages or prevents complaints and lawsuits. (For example, the Better Business Bureau will not process a complaint without a mailing address.)

3. PayPal touts its "PayPal Purchase Protection." What you won't read in PayPal's glowing words is that PayPal will apply it only for "tangible" purchases -- meaning purchases that are sent to a physical address. So problems with purchases of any kind of services, including links to downloadable software or special Web pages, or promises of support, are of no interest to PayPal. PayPal may tell you to pursue the question with your credit card provider, which, since the creditor is PayPal and not the merchant, is a dead end. Even worse, should a merchant's fraudulent actions come to light, you can expect PayPal to continue processing payments as for any other merchant.

- - - -

PayPal does have toll-free phone support. That support has markedly improved in recent years, but it's still far from perfect.




Pluses: Value is good. Stores are attractive. Pharmacists (at one store, in my experience) are quite helpful--though their assistants, not so much.


1. The product search engine on the Web site is essentially useless, so off the mark that using it is a complete waste of time.

2. Customer service by phone in my experience is almost as useless, for any except the simplest of questions.

3. To look in the store for a type of merchandise not a major category (mens' clothes, furniture) can best be described as a fool's errand. This has happened to me 4 out of 4 times [never again!], of which a description of my most recent experience may be instructive. I entered the Eagle Rock, California store at the upper level, seeking alarm clocks. The greeter had no doubt exactly where they were, on the first level. Except that they weren't. After searching in vain I proceeded to Customer Service, where a representative (also confidently) directed me to a section on the second level. With some difficulty I found clocks: wall clocks. I went back to the same customer service rep, who called another employee on the phone. When the other employee arrived, she wanted to give me more instructions, but agreed to escort me. She took me to a place on the second level, nowhere near where I'd been directed previously. Nobody apologized. The last person explained that the merchandise used to be somewhere else.




Only after your service is completed will TaskRabbit notify you of a 7.5% "Trust & Safety" fee that is separate from the service fee. (The service fee is deducted from the take of the "tasker," but the T&S fee is simply added on and kept by the company.) My inquiry about this duplicitous practice has gone unanswered.

Another problem with TaskRabbit is one of communication. After arranging a service, I needed to provide additional details to the tasker. The only way to do that was through TaskRabbit--but TaskRabbit never conveyed the message (or even got back to me!).




Avvo publishes consumer reviews that paint an excessively rosy picture of the respective practitioners. That's because Avvo will arbitrarily reject reviews on the basis of what it deems to be "personal attacks, insulting comments, or accusations."




I'm giving this site more than the lowest rating because it's a way to meet a lot of folks with similar interests fast (and maybe the only way on the Web). Be warned however that signing up will bring tons of spam. The site offers settings that lead one to believe the spam can be controlled, but without creating your own independent filters that's really impossible.

For example, the site will send you solicitations to join additional meetup groups based on what Meetup deems to be your interests. It also invites you to check those interests on a provided list. One would think that the solicitations would be sent according to the interests you've listed--but not so. For example, even though as an atheist I have listed "atheist" and "humanism" and nothing relating to meditation or acting, I've received today a solicitation for a Prayer and Meditation group, and another for The Actors Alliance. In response to my complaints I get double-talk ("...we try to strike a balance between recommendations based on each member's current interests and suggestions for Meetups they might not have thought to seek out themselves").

The above is just one of the many many kinds of spam Meetup will send to members. Some of these can be controlled by settings, but these settings are a challenge to find. For others there are no settings at all, such as the repeated pleas to take over from a group leader who has resigned.

Epson America

Epson America


Steve C's review here doesn't belong--he's reviewing the product, not the site. Moreover, his assertion that "Nobody really can compete" is ridiculous unless he's made a thorough investigation of all competing products, which is not credible.

My review is of the site, as used for support. The written support is pretty good. But think hard before you phone for support. The level 1 support personnel (the ones who take your call) are almost universally clueless, and will take an unbelievable amount of your time, which may or may not solve your issue. The level 2 personnel (to which level 1 can connect you) may be better, but don't depend on it.

I speak from sad experience with my XP-420 printer, which although I rarely need to use it has necessitated a dozen support calls in just a few months. Every time I call I'm kept on the phone for close to an hour or more.




Update: Yelp now designates its filtered reviews as "not currently recommended."

Review site Yelp touts its impartiality. The problem is, it filters out some reviews as "untrustworthy," and will not say why. Indeed, the filtering operates without any apparent rhyme or reason. Filtered reviews are accessible via a hard-to-find link but will not affect Yelp's overall rating for that business. Companies have repeatedly accused Yelp of extorting them for ads, promising better review placement.

A good case in point is Yelp's page for UPS (Los Angeles office). You'll see 25 reviews, and will not see 13 more that have been filtered outall extremely negative, many detailed and specific, each assigning the lowest possible rating to the company. (Those numbers will likely have changed by the time you read this.)

I still recommend Yelp for the multitudinous reviews, but suggest you seek out the "filtered" links and, especially, take Yelp's star ratings with a grain of salt.



Chase's website is well designed and easy to use, for bill pay and other purposes. This is the best part of the Chase customer experience.

Chase has taken over several banks, in my case Washington Mutual. The level of customer service I've encountered has deteriorated markedly. For example, Chase now makes it *really* hard to talk with a human on the phone. When you finally get to a human, you're likely as not to reach someone who'll waste your time, and may steer you wrong. You're also likely to receive wrong information in person. The company has also tightened severely Wamu's criteria for free checking accounts.


Update: Alice now charges for shipping of any order of less than $49, so I've downgraded my rating.

Offers a huge selection of household items (incl. nutritional supplements) shipped free at a surprisingly low cost that's often reduced further by manufacturers' coupon offers. The minimum order of 6 items is easily achieved. Tip: For the best deals when searching for a particular item, sort by Price Per Unit or filter by Bargain Hunter.





AllExperts is a useful service that's unfortunately badly compromised by poor administration. I speak as both a user (asking questions) and an expert (providing answers).

Well organized by nearly every conceivable subject area, the site facilitates users' inquiries to individual experts selected by those users on the basis of displayed qualifications as submitted by the experts. The experts' answers are rated by the users receiving them, according to knowledgeability, clarity, and politeness. The expert base is considerable, allowing users in many cases to choose from multiple experts. New experts are linked to a complex set of rules (not ordinarily seen by the users) and encouraged to email questions to site administration.

There are serious problems for both experts and users. The first two points relate to customer service:

1. Despite the encouragement alluded to above, questions by experts seem uniformly to be ignored. Using the special experts' channel, I've emailed many successive questions to the site (and reminders), all without response.

2. The same appears largely to be true of users' questions to the site (not to the experts). My correspondence to the site as a user--before I was registered as an expert--got one reply, but other questions were entirely ignored.

3. The system allows experts to easily pass over questions they don't want to bother with. An expert can choose a canned non-answer to be sent to the user, and even if the expert does nothing there is almost always no penalty. It is theoretically possible for an expert to be eventually dismissed for repeatedly ignoring questions, but the expert would probably have to be dead before that would happen.

4. When a user does not choose to rate, the expert's rating on each attribute defaults to 10 (the highest). Successive ratings for each expert are averaged and those averages are prominently displayed--but unbeknown to users and probably many experts, there is as buried in the material sent to new experts a practice that outlier ratings are ignored. These facts, together with those in point #3 above, result in average ratings that are essentially meaningless.

* * * *

In sum, AllExperts can be a good resource for finding answers--certainly better than the undeservedly popular Yahoo Answers--and many experts supply excellent responses. Don't expect too much, however, from any particular expert, high rating notwithstanding.

(Feel free to ask me a question. I'm Richard Johnson in the General Writing and Grammar sub-category.)


Richard Has Earned 227 Votes

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