Consumer Watchdog: Store card hard sell

By Chloe Johnson, Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

A store credit card is just as hard to pay off as any other credit card. Photo / Doug Sherring
A store credit card is just as hard to pay off as any other credit card. Photo / Doug Sherring

Store credit cards are the easiest thing in the world to get but the hardest to get rid of, as one shopper has discovered.

Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan is calling for elderly people who feel trapped by retail credit cards to report their problems, after a 74-year-old woman told how a department store refused to cancel her card.

Store cards lure shoppers in with card-holder only sale days and card-holder promotions.

At Farmers, shoppers can get up to $1000 credit immediately the day they apply and are invited to sign up in-store so they do not miss out on the exclusive deals.

The terms include no annual fees and 55 days interest-free, but the 24.95 per cent interest rate is much steeper than bank-issued credit cards (12.7 to 19.95 per cent interest a year).

One Farmers Card customer, who racked up a $5000 debt, says she was horrified Farmers refused to cancel her card after she cut it into pieces.

The pensioner, who asked that her name not be printed, says making even the minimum repayment was a struggle. Saddled with interest and missed-payment fees, the debt was barely reducing.

Wanting to remove temptation, she called to cancel the card, but encountered a call centre clerk unwilling to deactivate her account.

"She told me that there were some good 'card-holder only' sales coming up and I wouldn't want to miss out. I told her, 'I don't ever want to see that card. I want it cancelled and I want to pay it off as soon as I can. That's the end of it'.

"This lady was trying to tell me I needed my card. We went back and forth. Honestly, it was like something out of a pantomine. It was really high pressure.

"In the end, she told me she had put it on hold, and to call if I wanted to reactivate it."

Diana Crossan says the case is "disturbing" and urges people who've had similar experiences to come forward. "It's worrying and if it's happening too often, I'd be extremely worried," she says.

The customer's experience mirrors reports in Australia, where finance workers are given specific training in "customer retention" on credit cards. Hard-sell tactics, such as incentives, are offered to tempt customers to change their minds about cancelling, including lower interest rates, wiping fees and upgrading card status.

Consumer NZ deputy chief executive David Naulls says money lenders, including retailers that offer store cards, have a right to reiterate the benefits of the product if a customer indicates they want to cancel but this should not be done in a high-pressure way.

"If a customer says, 'That's very well, but I still wish to cancel', that should be the end of it. I would be very unhappy to be left in limbo, where the temptation to spend might return."

Fisher and Paykel Finance managing director Alastair MacFarlane, who oversees Farmers Cards, says the woman could have "cancelled" the card herself by cutting it up.

"It's common sense," he says.

A credit check would be conducted before a new card was reissued, MacFarlane adds.

He cites the Privacy Act as the reason he could not discuss what staff had told the customer. He says it would be against company policy to make the alleged comments and staff do not receive incentives for retaining customers.

Cough syrup relieves tickle but as a cure it's useless

It is time to cough up the evidence.

That's what medical professionals are saying about over-the-counter cough medicines that claim to loosen congestion, control coughs and clear Nasal passages.

Dr Kate Baddock, chairwoman of the New Zealand Medical Association, says there is no medical evidence that cough medicines help fight infection.

"Cough medicines are a hugely significant cash cow for companies," Baddock says.

Cough medicines often are soothing but they do not help the infection behind acute coughs, she says.

Minor coughs could be soothed just as easily with a simple lemon and honey drink but more severe coughs may require cough suppressants or antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

"A lot of people enjoy them because they are soothing but they have no impact on the severity of an upper respiratory illness, the cause or the reduction of symptoms."

A Consumer NZ study reveals cough medicines work as a placebo and honey was better at reducing symptoms in children than medicines which contain the cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

Sir Graeme Douglas, a pharmaceuticals distributor, says cough medicines are not a cure but he is confident they help relieve coughs.

"The public are not silly," he says. "They are not going to buy cough mixture if it does not give them relief."

- Herald on Sunday

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