Undercover investigation of Y2K lies told by PC sales reps

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Appliance stores may fib to shoppers, report says MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Shoppers who buy computer equipment may be deceived by sales personnel who insist the appliances will survive the Y2K millennium change, state inspectors say. "Consumers are not only not told of any problems, they're not told of the solutions," Bill Oemichen, head of the consumer protection office, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The term "Y2K" refers to the year 2000 when, on Jan. 1, an undetermined number of computers worldwide may falter because their databanks have not been programmed to shift from dates in the 1900s to those in the 2000s.

Governments and businesses are spending millions of dollars on reprogramming in hope of avoiding the "millennium bug."

In what is called the first undercover investigation of its type by any state, Oemichen's Division of Trade and Consumer Protection had employees pose as shoppers to learn what advice customers are hearing at electronics stores.

In every store, investigators were assured that personal computers on the shelves this holiday shopping season would have no problem adapting to Y2K but no store put the assurances in writing.

"The consumer is completely at the mercy of these sales representatives," Oemichen said.

Sales clerks probably were not misleading customers intentionally, he said. They may be misrepresenting the products because they do not know as much as they think they do, he said.

The result of a personal-computer operator failing to make the adjustment will not necessarily cause the machine to shut down but could mean incorrect date-related information and less of the convenience that the customer anticipated.

For instance, e-mail messages may not be sorted in chronological order or financial programs that use dates to calculate payments might misfunction.

Inspectors visited stores last week in Waukesha, Appleton, Madison, Green Bay, Brookfield, La Crosse, Janesville, Onalaska and Eau Claire.

Using audio and video surveillance equipment, the newspaper says, investigators heard various opinions about the Y2K phenomenon from sales representatives, many of them dismissing the issue as just media hype.

Manufacturer warranties are typically good for only one year and could expire before Jan. 1, 2000, the division says. It advises shoppers to look for contract language that excludes a Y2K problem from the coverage.

Warranties often cover parts and labor but not the software, it said.

In one instance, inspectors found a 1998 warranty that acknowledges Y2K but excludes coverage for "any malfunction, defect, breakdown or disruption" involving software and stemming from "the incidence of the year 2000."

"Our investigators told us that the store clerks in many cases were condescending and attempted to make the consumers think they didn't understand what they were talking about. They did everything to make the consumer rely on what they had to say," Oemichen said.

Investigators talked with sales clerks about personal computers with Windows 98, a widely used system.

No sales representative said Windows 98 needed a year-2000 adjustment called a patch.

When Oemichen's office contacted Microsoft, the Windows producer, it said it was told Windows 98 requires a year-2000 upgrade.

The company also said the Microsoft Works 4.5 program needs a patch, the office reported. No sales clerk said it was needed, inspectors said.

[end of story]

Finally, a little investigative journalism?

I'm not at all surprised at the attitude taken by sales reps... The public is totally ignorant about computers, aren't they? The sales reps are the "experts", aren't they? They make commissions, don't they? Are computer sales reps sleazier than car salesman? Lawyers?

-- Steve Hartsman (hartsman@ticon.net), November 27, 1998



Pardon the thread drift/swap but send Ray a copy of your presentation. I think he'll find you have more quotes than he foound!


(Raymond Kwong "Best compilation of quotes...")

-- Chuck the night driver (rienzoo@en.com), November 27, 1998.

Good info, thanks for the update Steve.

So these "techno saleweasels" at the PC stores are the "1st line of defense"against public misinformation. Not!

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 29, 1998.

"e-mail messages may not be sorted in chronological order"

UH-OH! I guess this Y2K thing really is a big deal...

(tongue planted firmly in cheek...)


-- scott (scojo@yahoo.com), November 30, 1998.

The 10PM TV news here in Atlanta carried an investigative piece on a curious coincidence involving procurement of Y2K remediation software by the State of Georgia. State law requires firms doing business with the state to report to the state all gifts over $100 in value made to any state official, and all gifts of any size totaling over $250 annually.

Turns out Peoplesoft, a producer of Y2K remedial software, had made several reportable, but unreported gifts, to the person in charge of procuring software. for State offices. A few months later a large state contract for such software was awarded to Peoplesoft. The state Ethics Board is said to be looking into the situation.

Judging from the modest size of the gifts mentioned, this state official is not very hard to get. Sigh. In the bad old days it cost real money to get things done in Chicago. What's the world coming to, by golly?

Definition of an honest judge in Chicago (old style): A judge who stays bought.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), November 30, 1998.

if you want to test a new computer at these electronics emporiums, go to http://www.intelliquis.com and download their free hardware and software checkers and take them to the store with you. first do the hardware test. if that passes reasonably well, do the software test. that should be an eye-opener. what you will find is that the cheaper computers will flunk miserably.

-- Jocelyne Slough (jonslough@tln.net), December 02, 1998.

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