In My Experience - Laws, coffee offset lapse in judgment

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So I answered the phone. On the other end I heard a super-friendly voice of someone who spoke like we have been buddies our whole lives.

He was pitching a product and service that I had already been thinking a lot about for my part-time business. The voice had a name and was infinitely reassuring that we could work everything and anything out … we are a very friendly accommodating company … nothing to worry about … yada, yada, yada … all for a mere $97.

His offer was unsolicited, and I was hooked.

I signed the contract - with several pages and several signatures - and faxed it along with a voided check to authorize Mr. Friendly's company to make an electronic withdrawal from my bank account.

Then I reread the contract, closer. The $97, as it turned out, was to be withdrawn not once but for each month for 48 months. I had not noticed the number 48 at first in the contract - and the oh-so-Mr. Friendly did not, of course, emphasize that fact before I faxed all my signed documents.

By the time I woke up to what I had done, it was Saturday morning - one day past the three-day limit allowed to cancel a contract under Washington state's RCW 19.158, a law that protects consumers who buy merchandise through unsolicited phone offers.

Frantically, I called the company and was informed that this was a non-cancellable contract. I was told all the banks had signed on already and there was no way to get out of this contract. Somehow I had also missed the language saying the contract could not be canceled and that the company had the right to bill the entire remaining amount of the contract if cancellation were attempted.

In short, if I tried to back out, they would bill me for the four-year total of almost $5,000.

Whoops! I had inadvertently sold the farm in a moment that I have yet to understand about myself; that is, why would I do such a thing?

But what could I do now?

I began a frantic Internet search of consumer protection laws specifically for unfortunates like myself. Fortunately, after digging around for a while, I found Washington's RCW 19.110, which allows a business seven days to cancel such contracts by sending a letter of intent by certified letter within that time period, excluding Saturdays.

I called Mr. Friendly back and mentioned what I had done. This time I was told by the upbeat voice that I would be eligible for a slight reduction in monthly rates but still had to satisfy the contract's requirements -for 48 months. Then, suddenly, his voice went dead when another voice in the background said, "We have to let him go ..." or something like that.

And with that, and with a bit more talking, my new-found commercial friend - the boss of the friendly-turned-not-so-friendly-Mr. Friendly - and I left on good terms with well wishings.

So here's my thinking to date:

I still don't know why I did this really dumb thing. That will require some more looking inward to the level where my drivers - the ones that make me do really dumb things - are stored … all this under the title "self-discovery," or "things I don't yet know about myself."

I could not blame the company. I was offered great products and services and had discovered after a pretty extensive Google search that this company has an almost perfect Better Business Bureau reputation.

My advice: Don't sign and send stuff by fax unconsciously and while under the influence of some force, the variations of which are yet to be discovered and are probably resident in us all.

The life lesson: Remedies are available if we wake up and smell the coffee soon enough to take advantage of them. In this case arabica beans, lightly roasted, and RCW 19.158 and RCW 19.110.

Yours,

Dr. John, still dumb but newly humbled and grateful for aromatic coffee and RCWs.

M. John Roberts, Ph.D., is a semi-retired psychotherapist in Walla Walla who holds a doctorate in education and counseling from Kent State University, Ohio. Got a question you'd like him to write about? Email it to mjroberts@q.com.

Solicitation laws

Details on Washington's RCW 19.158 RCW regarding telephone solicitation of consumers is online at

apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=19.158.

For details on RCW 19.110, which applies to solicitation of businesses, see pps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=19.110.

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