Dude, you’re getting a lawsuit! That’s New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s message to Web and phone-order computer maker Michael Dell and his firm. Cuomo alleges a long list of anti-consumer offenses, including service contracts that lead to a run-around and few or no repairs, using refurbished parts or machines for repairs and replacements, and offering phantom discounts.
While Dell, based in Round Rock, Texas, frequently advertises zero percent financing plans for computer purchases, Cuomo said that as many of 85 percent of those who applied did not receive that rate. The suit claims that some sales representatives misled customers, allowing them to believe they had qualified for the promotion.
Cuomo also said that customers who called Dell’s technical support line often experienced lengthy waits, were shuttled from representative to representative and had their calls disconnected.
“We want fairness,” said Cuomo. “Either provide the customer service package you sell, or don’t sell the package. Either provide the zero percent interest rate that you offer, or don’t offer the interest rate.”
Dell’s initial response is a rather lame statement that customer service is its top priority. In going after big businesses in other states, Andrew Cuomo is following the take-no-prisoners template established by Eliot Spitzer: Be sure of your ground, get something back for consumers, and use those results to raise your personal profile on the national level. It may get Spitzer to the White House one day; Cuomo, much less likely.
But for a man whose political career was in ruins just a couple of years ago, Spitzer’s support and methods have brought Andrew Cuomo a comeback that is nothing short of a miracle. Ahead, he surely knows, there are reasons for caution. Crusading public officials need to guard against exaggerated charges, sensationalism, and public displays of ego: investigations that are “all about them.” (The case of over-the-top former attorney general Dennis Vacco comes to mind.) So far, Cuomo seems to know exactly how to do the job.