The Weirdest Scam I've Ever Come Across - Live Like a Mensch
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The Weirdest Scam I've Ever Come Across


Image courtesy of Paul Keller


One of the benefits of being 9 months pregnant is the nesting. My house has never been cleaner or more organized than it is right now--and I'm still finding myself drooling over drawer organizers, closet solutions, and organization pin boards on Pinterest.

Nesting is also a good opportunity to take care of all those little chores you've been meaning to do when you get around to it. (Which is one of the many reasons why I wish I could bottle the nesting instinct for use when not enormously pregnant). For instance, sometime in the last year or so, I collected up all of our burnt out CFL lightbulbs into a plastic bag, and placed said bag on the top shelf of our coat rack so that I could recycle them when I got the chance. That chance didn't arrive until last week, when, in a fit of nesting-induced decluttering, I decided I no longer wanted dead light bulbs to live on top of my coat rack.

Like a good little environmentalist, I looked online to see where I could recycle these bulbs. According to the internets, the only local retailer that seemed to offer recycling was Batteries Plus, so I put the bag o' bulbs in the car, and planned to make a recycling run the next time I was running errands.

However, when I arrived at Batteries Plus yesterday, the helpful gentleman behind the counter shook his head and told me the bad news: the store charged $66 per bulb for recycling.

At this moment, I should take the time to admit to something a little embarrassing:

I'm ridiculously naive.

I have a tendency to take people at their word, and it simply doesn't occur to me that someone might lie when talking to me. So instead of telling this gentleman that he was full of horse feathers (particularly considering the fact that I have successfully recycled CFL bulbs in the past for FREE), I simply let my jaw drop and asked why on earth it was so dang expensive.

"We're not trying to make any money off of it," he explained, sadly. "That's just how much it costs to recoup the materials from the bulbs. That's why it's better to buy the LED bulbs--you can just throw them away."

He went on to tell me that the local municipality offers "free" recycling of CFLs--although he made sure to state more than once that our tax dollars were actually paying for the recycling.

I thanked the mendacious gentleman for his time, and high-tailed it out of there, wondering why on earth anyone would incentivize throwing away something that contains mercury--a substance that has a cumulative negative effect on the environment if it is not disposed of properly.

When I mentioned the conversation to J, he laughed and assured me that the guy must have been scamming me. He probably didn't want to do anything (after all, there was absolutely NOTHING else going on at the store, and I'm sure the guy had some vitally important cat videos to watch in the back room), and he figured he could either be left in peace or score some sweet unnecessary cash from a naive but committed environmentalist.

J also reminded me of the fact that Home Depot offers CFL recycling in handy-dandy bins right inside the store. (Which clearly shows that J trumps Google in some--but certainly not all--information gathering).

Part of me is still questioning whether this truly was a lie/scam, since the Batteries Plus employee was able to state it so effortlessly. Perhaps it's just me, but I tend to stumble over any untruths that come out of my mouth. Unless this was a line he had used many more times than just the once, I have trouble believing he could come up with the oddly specific amount of $66 off the top of his head.

In any case, I will be stopping by Home Depot today to drop off my burnt out CFL bulbs. I do not anticipate having to pay upwards of $70 per bulb.

I hope the gentleman I encountered yesterday enjoys his completely empty store.


Have any of you ever encountered a "cost" like this from a store that recycles CFL bulbs? Have you ever had a customer service representative lie to you for no good reason?



haverwench said:

You may have to hunt around a little bit for the recycling bin (they don't put it in the same place in every store), but I assure you, it's absolutely free. No one has ever tried to charge me money to recycle a CFL--not since the very first ones I ever bought, for something like $25 each, back in the 90s. If this is a scam this guy was trying to pull, I'm surprised it works on anyone these days.

As for lying customer service reps, however, I have definitely encountered those. Like the one at Bank of America who told me that it was "still my responsibility" to pay my credit card bill on time, even though they'd never actually sent it to me. Unfortunately, I didn't look up the law before talking to the customer service rep, so I couldn't tell her off the top of my head that actually, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, any bill not sent to the correct address is considered a "billing error" and *not* the responsibility of the person being billed. I had to file a complaint through the Better Business Bureau to recover the month's interest and $39 late fee they charged me.

September 3, 2013 9:11 AM

frugal_fun said:

I was thinking about this post today. This may not be a scam directly, at least not on the part of the clerk.

As a freelancer (was web design /now taxes), I've discovered that there's a huge overlap between clients looking for bargain basement prices for help and their pain in the rear factor. Good clients generally understand the value of good help and are willing to pay at least market rates, if not more, in my experience.

The most "graceful" way, if you can call it that, I've ever encountered of firing clients was simply to raise their rates to something ridiculous. It was a win-win for me -- if they went away without a big hassle, great. Otherwise, I was being paid to put up with the BS. The very few (2 to be exact) times I did it, the clients I didn't want disappeared into the night with no painful discussions.

Given that, it's quite possible that Batteries Plus wants foot traffic but does not want the actual hassle of bring the mercury bulbs to the dump. Thus, if you actually paid the $66 per bulb price, they would be well rewarded for the job. And either way, while you were there, you might have picked up a battery or two.

That's not exactly an honest business practice, but it does let our clerk off without having either tried to scam you or lied about the price.

@haverwench - I'm not sure I would call that lieing, so much as it was an unhelpful and unknowledgable rep. Since I'm the stay at homer, I have the privilege of calling up corporate America when issues come up. It amazes me how often customer service just wants to get you off the phone, rather than solve the problem. My guess is she's never read the Fair Credit Billing Act and has no intention of doing so. She's just there to answer the phone. :(

September 5, 2013 1:50 PM

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