Judge Puts the Kibosh on Dodgy Dell Deals

Just about everyone who has shopped for a computer online knows that Dell will promise the sun, moon, stars, and a free kidney to snare shoppers for their made -to-mass-measure systems. What a sizable number in New York, and we suspect just about everywhere else, have learned is that Dell is just as good at finding a reason to dodge their doubtful deals — and now the courts have discovered it as well.

The computer giant has been at war with New York for the last year, after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a consumer protection suit on behalf of 700 New Yorkers who complained of being bilked by Dell's bait-and-switch practices — since joined by an additional 1,000. The state alleged that Dell advertised deals, including low interest rates and deferred interest plans along with free equipment and upgrades, with the knowledge that as many as 93% of customers would not qualify. Additionally, the suit claimed that the company charged customers for service plans, then failed to provide adequate telephone lines and staff to process calls in a timely manner, as well as denying service to customers who managed to get through without even fully diagnosing the issue. Others had valid rebates rejected, and accounts reported as delinquent after the systems were returned for refund.

The court hearing the case has finally ruled, determining that Dell's promotions were false and deceptive, and speculating that far more customers than have come forward are due restitution from the megaseller. He ordered the company to properly disclose the chance of qualifying for special promotions, to tell customers if they've been denied a promotion but approved for high-rate financing, to stop misrepresenting service as on-site and next-day unless they actually provide it, and to clean up its credit reporting act. Dell representatives are quoted as "disagreeing" with the decision, and that "when the proceedings are finally completed" — wasn't that yesterday? — that the court would find "a relatively small number of customers have been affected." Perhaps so, in the grand scheme of millions of systems sold, but just one is enough to land you in hot water.

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