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Fred Koschara

disturbing

Holy smokes that’s bogus! Do people really sign these things?

Jan. 30, 2019, under bad business, disturbing, opinions, really???

I just started a new job, and the employee benefits program is administered through an outfit called Employee Navigator from Bethesda, Maryland.  The first thing I noticed is their site is seriously broken if Javascript isn’t enabled, and they don’t bother to say anything about it.  When creating an account in their system, they’ve got a ludicrious requirement that usernames must be at least 8 characters long – so I can’t use “wfredk” as I do everywhere else – and they don’t bother to announce the limitation until after you’ve submitted the form with your username and password selection (which resets your password entry).  Oh, by the way, they don’t have a password confirmation field, either – they have a button to show what you’ve entered in the password field – which only works if Javascript is enabled.

Once you’ve logged in, the sheer incomptence of this bunch of amateurs starts to reveal itself:  Instead of having pages formatted using HTML, the documents a new employee are supposed to sign have the HTML code embedded into them – and much of the HTML is actually defective.  It looks to me as if someone pasted HTML into a text-only field of a CMS and didn’t bother to check if the result was correct.  (I’ve included the actual contents of the pages in question below.)  Since I’ve got extensive experience as a Web developer, I was able to sift through the HTML and figure out what I was supposed to be signing up for.

The first page, Electronic Signature and Consent, wasn’t too bad:


I agree that by using the e-signature feature on this website I am applying my electronic signature which is the legally binding equivalent to my handwritten signature. Whenever I execute an electronic signature, it has the same validity and meaning as my handwritten signature. [That seems fairly innocuous and standard.] I also agree that no certification authority or other third party verification is necessary to validate my e-signature.  This is starting to look pretty sketchy: Without a certification authority, where is the proof that I applied “my” signature to a document?
I understand that:
1. The following documents and/or notices may be provided to me electronically:

  • Summary Plan Descriptions;
  • Summaries of Material Modifications;
  • Summary Annual Reports and/or;
  • Summary of Benefit and Coverages;
  • All health and welfare benefits Notices and any Notice a similarly situated employee would consider to be related to employee benefits.

For the purpose of this agreement, a Notice is any document, disclosure, policy, procedure, form or other written material required to comply with federal, state, or a governmental safety or regulatory body and any disclosure provided by my company to comply with any of the aforementioned requirements or to communicate company or employment specific information to me.
2.  I may revoke my consent to receive notices electronically at any time without charge by sending an email or written request to Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center (mybenefits@bks-partners.com).  how do I contact “Human Resources”?

3.  I am entitled to request and obtain a paper copy of any electronically furnished document free of charge by sending an email or written request to Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center (mybenefits@bks-partners.com).  how do I contact “Human Resources”?

4.  In order to access information provided electronically, I must have:

  • A computer with internet access;
  • An email account that allows me to send and receive emails; and
  • Microsoft Word and/or Adobe Acrobat Reader Program.  not just any program that can read PDF documents? really?

I authorize my employer to send notices electronically and agree to accept the delivery of notices via email as well as the requirements to view notices on this portal. Contact Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center with any questions.


In spite of my reservations, I “signed” the Electronic Signature and Consent page, and continued on to the Premium Only Plan page – which, again, was obfuscated with inline HTML code.  Here is where I was really horrified, and decided I couldn’t continue the process:


Under the Section 125 Plan, my benefit deductions for Medical, Dental, Vision, and/or H.S.A. contributions during the plan year will be taken on a pre-tax basis. I elect to receive the following coverage under the Cafeteria Plan:

  • In lieu of specific dollar amounts, I hereby elect the specified insurance coverage’s and authorize salary redirection in the amounts of current premiums being charged.  i.e., I have no idea how much money I’m agreeing to let you take out of my paycheck.
  • If my required contributions to pay premiums for the elected benefits are increased or decreased while this agreement remains in effect, my compensation redirection will automatically be adjusted to reflect the increase or decrease.  i.e., I’m giving you permission to change the amount of money you take out of my pacheck whenever you want to, without my consent.
  • I cannot change or revoke any of my elections or this compensation redirection agreement at any time during the plan year [emphasis mine] unless I have a “change in status” and the election change is consistent with the “change in status”, (including marriage, divorce, death of a spouse or child, birth or adoption of a child, termination or commencement of employment of a spouse, change in my or my spouse’s employment status from full-time to part-time or from part-time to full-time, my spouse or I taking an unpaid leave of absence, a substantial change in my family’s health coverage due to a change in my spouse’s employer-sponsored health coverage, obtaining coverage on the Marketplace, reduction in hours where I voluntarily elect to seek coverage on the Marketplace, or such other events as the Plan Administrator determines will permit a change or revocation of an election).  i.e., I’m locked in to this commitment for a year unless there’s a major upset in my life or you decide to let me do something different.
  • The Plan Administrator may redirect or cancel my compensation redirection or otherwise modify this agreement in the event he/she believes it advisable in order to satisfy certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.  i.e., I’m giving you permission to change this agreement, at whim and without my consent, as long as you are working in collusion with the IRS.
  • The redirection in my cash compensation under this agreement shall be in addition to any reductions under other agreements or benefit programs maintained by my Employer.
  • Any amounts not used during a Plan Year to provide benefits will be forfeited and may not be paid to me in cash or used to provide benefits specifically for me in a later Plan Year.  i.e., if you take more from my paycheck than you use to pay for my insurance coverage, that’s “too bad” for me, you get to keep the money for your own benefit.
  • Prior to the first day of each Plan Year, I will be offered the opportunity to change my benefit elections for the following Plan Year. If I do not make a new election at that time, I will be treated as having not elected to continue my benefit elections for the new Plan Year.
  • If disability insurance is paid for on a pre-tax basis, any benefits I receive may be taxable. may” be taxable?
  • Upon retirement, my Social Security benefits may be slightly reduced.  i.e., “may” really means “will” because by taking the money from my paycheck before taxes, you are reducing my “taxable income” (which is what Social Security benefits are based on).

At the bottom of the page, I found this paragraph prompting me to “sign” the document.


Please click the “Sign Document” button to confirm that you have reviewed and completed this task.

The problem here is that this does NOT say that it’s NOT an agreement to the terms and conditions described on the page.  Because that clause is missing, a “signature” here (again, without any real proof of who signed the page because of the previous document) could be interpreted as acceptance of the terms and conditions as described.  That would be rather like signing a blank check and passing it to someone you really don’t know.  To me, it looks like they’re asking for a license to commit fraud.  There is no way I would voluntarily and consciously do such a thing.

Furthermore, because of second thoughts, and of observation of other business practices of this company, I am revoking the authority and consent I hesitantly made on the first page, by sending an email notification to mybenefits@bks-partners.com and several people at the agency I’m working through, with CC’s to a couple of my own email addresses as supporting documentation.

Take another look at the problems I marked in red on the Premium Only Plan page.  It’s precisely this sort of behaviour that got the credit industry slapped on the wrist with a sledge hammer.  If the “employee benefits” companies don’t clean up their act pretty quickly, perhaps it’s time for a Congressional inspection of their practices as well…



As promised, here are the “as presented” contents of the pages mentioned in this post:


I agree that&nbsp;by using the e-signature feature on this website I am applying my electronic signature which is the legally binding equivalent to my handwritten signature. Whenever I execute an electronic signature, it has the same validity and meaning as my handwritten signature. I also agree that no certification authority or other third party verification is necessary to validate my e-signature.< span><br> I understand that: </span>< span><br> 1. The following documents and/or notices may be provided to me electronically:</span>< ul> <li>Summary Plan Descriptions;</li> <li>Summaries of Material Modifications;</li> <li>Summary Annual Reports and/or;</li> <li>Summary of Benefit and Coverages;</li> <li>All health and welfare benefits Notices and any Notice a similarly situated employee would consider to be related to employee benefits.</li>< /ul> For the purpose of this agreement, a Notice is any document, disclosure, policy, procedure, form or other written material required to comply with federal, state, or a governmental safety or regulatory body and any disclosure provided by my company to comply with any of the aforementioned requirements or to communicate company or employment specific information to me.< span>&nbsp;&nbsp;<br> 2. &nbsp;I may revoke my consent to receive notices electronically at any time without charge by sending an email or written request to Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center (mybenefits@bks-partners.com). &nbsp; <br>< br> 3. &nbsp;I am entitled to request and obtain a paper copy of any electronically furnished document free of charge by sending an email or written request to Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center (mybenefits@bks-partners.com).<br>< br> 4. &nbsp;In order to access information provided electronically, I must have:</span>< ul> <li>A computer with internet access;</li> <li>An email account that allows me to send and receive emails; and</li> <li>Microsoft Word and/or Adobe Acrobat Reader Program. &nbsp; &nbsp;</li>< /ul> I authorize my employer to send notices electronically and agree&nbsp;to accept the delivery of notices via email as well as the requirements to view notices on this portal. < span>Contact Human Resources or the BKS Employee Care Center with any questions.</span>


Premium Only Plan

Under the Section 125 Plan, my benefit deductions for Medical, Dental, Vision, and/or H.S.A. contributions during the plan year will be taken on a pre-tax basis. I elect to receive the following coverage under the Cafeteria Plan:< ul> <li>In lieu of specific dollar amounts, I hereby elect the specified insurance coverage’s and authorize salary redirection in the amounts of current premiums being charged.&nbsp;</li> <li>If my required contributions to pay premiums for the elected benefits are increased or decreased while this agreement remains in effect, my compensation redirection will automatically be adjusted to reflect the increase or decrease.&nbsp;</li> <li>I cannot change or revoke any of my elections or this compensation redirection agreement at any time during the plan year unless I have a “change in status” and the election change is consistent with the “change in status”, (including marriage, divorce, death of a spouse or child, birth or adoption of a child, termination or commencement of employment of a spouse, change in my or my spouse’s employment status from full-time to part-time or from part-time to full-time, my spouse or I taking an unpaid leave of absence, a substantial change in my family’s health coverage due to a change in my spouse’s employer-sponsored health coverage, obtaining coverage on the Marketplace, reduction in hours where I voluntarily elect to seek coverage on the Marketplace,&nbsp;or such other events as the Plan Administrator determines will permit a change or revocation of an election).&nbsp;</li> <li>The Plan Administrator may redirect or cancel my compensation redirection or otherwise modify this agreement in the event he/she believes it advisable in order to satisfy certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.&nbsp;</li> <li>The redirection in my cash compensation under this agreement shall be in addition to any reductions under other agreements or benefit programs maintained by my Employer.&nbsp;</li> <li>Any amounts not used during a Plan Year to provide benefits will be forfeited and may not be paid to me in cash or used to provide benefits specifically for me in a later Plan Year.&nbsp;</li> <li>Prior to the first day of each Plan Year, I will be offered the opportunity to change my benefit elections for the following Plan Year. If I do not make a new election at that time, I will be treated as having not elected to continue my benefit elections for the new Plan Year.&nbsp;</li> <li>If disability insurance is paid for on a pre-tax basis, any benefits I receive may be taxable.&nbsp;</li> <li>Upon retirement, my Social Security benefits may be slightly reduced. &nbsp;&nbsp;</li>< /ul>< span>I will complete an Election NOT to Participate form that is under the Human Resources – Benefits section under the Documents tab and send it to Human Resources if I decline to have my Medical, Dental, Vision and/or H.S.A.&nbsp;plan taken out on a pre-tax basis. This agreement is subject to the terms of the Employer’s Premium Only Plan, as amended from time to time in effect, shall be governed by and construed in accordance with applicable laws, shall take effect as a sealed instrument under applicable laws, and revokes any prior election and compensation redirection agreement relating to such Plan.</span>

Please click the “Sign Document” button to confirm that you have reviewed and completed this task.


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3DMagix, 3DMagixPro and IllusionMage are scams

Nov. 05, 2018, under 3D, bad business, call to action, disturbing, opinions

These “products” are simply rebranded copies of Blender – a free and open source 3D creation suite that you can download and use for free.  3DMagix, 3DMagixPro and IllusionMage are scams because they are selling you software that don’t have to pay for.  They advertise heavily via email, and get away with their scam only because people don’t know any better.

If you want to do 3D animation, do yourself a favor – go to Blender.org and download the software for free and help put the scammers out of business.

For more information, see the page about the 3DMagix, 3DMagixPro and IllusionMage scam on the Blender Web site.

 


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We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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I’ve stopped selling on eBay

Jul. 03, 2018, under bad business, bootstrap finance, disturbing, really???

Purple turtle figurine, previously for sale on eBay

Purple turtle figurine

I recently sold a small item on eBay:  I bought a 10-piece lot of small turtle figurines a few years ago for $40, so the cost for each item is $4.00.  I had them listed for $4.95 each, plus shipping, so my gross margin on each sale would be $0.95 – not a lot, but at least it looked like a profit.

At that price, I couldn’t offer free shipping.  I listed the shipping and handling as $1.00 for handling (to cover the cost of a box, packing material, tape, etc.) plus the actual cost of shipping via the customer’s selected method.

The customer paid $16.36 to buy this $4.95 item – eBay added $11.41 for shipping and handling to the bill, which astounded me.  As it turns out, though, that wasn’t out of line, considering the actual cost of sending the package from Wellsville to Tulsa, Oklahoma via FedEx Home Delivery was $10.39 (after eBay’s bulk discount):  The assessed shipping and handling charges left me with $1.02 to cover the cost of materials.

Adding the gross margin from the sale, plus the handling fee, it would appear I gained $1.97 from the transaction.  The problem, though, is that there are fees involved:  eBay charges a 10% “final value” fee for sales at this level, so I had to pay them a commission of $0.50 to make the sale.  Fair enough, but now my gross margin is $0.45.  Then, PayPal charges 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction to process the payment – so PayPal collected $0.77.  Now my gross margin has disappeared, and I’ve already lost $0.32 on the deal – and that’s assuming my time has zero value, and there were no costs in packing the figurine to send it.  Using those assumptions, I’ve still had a net income of $0.70 because of the handling charges that the customer paid.

However, today the last nail in the coffin arrived:  eBay’s invoice for the month of June shows they have assessed a $1.14 “final value” fee on the SHIPPING CHARGES!  Ignoring everything else, that means they charged $0.12 more for their profit on my mailing the package to the customer than I received as a handling charge.

Together with the gross loss from the transaction, the loss from the shipping charges means I had a net LOSS on the $4.95 sale of $0.44.  No business can survive with a 10% loss on every deal.  That plan is fundamentally flawed, and is the reason I will no longer be trying to sell things on eBay.

I tried sending them an email about the situation, but I expect it will bounce…

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What people will pay for …

Sep. 29, 2017, under disturbing, opinions

One of the SPAM messages I looked at today claimed to be from Fairfax Finance Limited, offering business loans and startup capital.  I was suspicious if for no other reason than because the “fairfax.finance.limited@europe.com” email address looked bogus.  (It turns out europe.com is a parked domain, so how would legitimate mail go through it?)

In my research to see if Fairfax Finance Limited is a real company (which it apparently is, but not related to the email), one of the links Google provided led to a page on ZoomInfo.com that appeared to have some information in an expanded view.  I enabled Javascript for the page, and clicked the “more…” link to see what they had – and got a pop-up window that was trying to get me to install an executable program!  Of course, I shut the window and did NOT install the program, but instead started doing some research on ZoomInfo.com itself, especially after reading the terms and conditions in the popup window that included “… in exchange for downloading and installing the ZoomInfo Contact Contributor utility which, among other features, involves sharing my business contacts as well as headers and signature blocks from emails that I receive.” (emphasis mine)

There’s a Wikipedia page about the company, saying it’s a subscription-based SaaS site that “sells access to its database of information about business people and companies to sales, marketing and recruiting professionals.”  The Wikipedia page also says “Part of the company’s business model involves copying contents of web pages and storing them on its servers, and according to patent attorney Gene Quinn who runs the IPwatchdog intellectual property blog, this activity violates copyright law.”

So, from what I can see, this company builds its database by scraping public info off the Web, and by reading emails its users receive to collect contact information through software the user is expected to install and run on their system – for the sole benefit of ZoomInfo.com!  Then, ZoomInfo turns around and sells that information back to those same users, and to anybody else they can get to buy it – and people pay for this??!??!??  Apparently so, since the company has been in business since 2000 and has 100-200 employees.

… and we wonder why we have so much SPAM …


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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