Dell: Dirty deeds dunned dirt cheap

Dell has agreed to pay consumers back for shady financing, rebate, and warranty service. But it amounts to little more than chump change.

Dell Computer has settled with the attorneys general of 46 states and agreed to pay $3.85 million to make up for some shady bait-and-switch business practices, as IDG News' Agam Shah reports. (Other sources have the numbers at 34 states and $3.35 million, but Agam assures me his figures are the most up to date.)

Dell got dinged for allegedly promising "zero percent" financing and then conveniently forgetting what "zero" means, and for allegedly reneging on promised rebates and warranty service.

As a result of its alleged transgressions Dell is kicking back a grand total of $1.5 million to consumers (plus another $2.3 million to the states' lawyers) [PDF]. Yes, I said Million. Shades of Dr. Evil here.

Not only did Dell get off dirt cheap, it didn't even have to admit it did anything wrong.

Actually, that's not quite correct. Dirt is more expensive than that.

Take Michael Dell's net worth of $16.4 billion (at least, that's what it was before the stock market went into the toilet) and put it in a money market fund, it would earn that much in interest in about the time it takes to eat a ham sandwich.

Consumers who feel they were jobbed by Dell in financing or rebates after April 1, 2005, must contact their state attorney general's office for a claim form and apply for a sliver of that pie by April 13.

Dell sold roughly 40 million computers in 2007 and probably three times that many over the four-year period covered by the settlement. Let's call it an even 100 million for easier math. Let's also say that 1/10th of 1 percent of Dell customers apply for restitution. That's 100,000 customers who'll get $15 a piece -- or just about enough to buy that ham sandwich, some chips and maybe a soda.

No wonder Dell spokesdude David Frink says the company was "pleased with the prompt and reasonable response from the state attorneys general."

in its defense, Dell says it has already privately dealt with similar consumer complaints over the past four years, though naturally it didn't say how many customers were affected.

Having purchased Dell computers over the phone in my lifetime, I can attest to how aggressively Dell financing plans are pushed by its internal sales. I've also been less than impressed with Dell tech support (though it has plenty of company in that regard).

I've never been offered zero percent interest or screwed over on a rebate, though. Have you?

What's your Dell experience been like? Post your thoughts below or email me direct: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

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