By John Anderson

Like many Americans, I get a ton of email. Leaving out personal and business correspondence, I get many “great deal” offers daily. Most that get through my spam filter are just trashed, but occasionally one grabs my eye.

On November 12th, I got an email from H&R Block to reserve my 2013 tax software at a 25% discount. On the 19th, a second email announced “It’s here!” and I could still purchase with a 25% discount. I had better things to do that day.

On Cyber Monday, I noticed the second email since I had marked it “unread.” I took a quick look and the offer expires 12/2, no time given. “25% off, and expiring today” I thought. I went to order. Understand this is a $19.95 purchase, basic tax software for the IRS. I also pay my credit card bill in full every month, so buying now adds no cost. I figured I’d save myself the 5 bucks.

On the purchase page, the price was $19.95, not the $14.95 I expected. There was also a $5.99 charge for “extended download service,” and the price was suddenly $25.94 before tax.

Planning to back up the software to an external drive, I saw no reason for extended service and unchecked the box. I could find no promo code or other way to reduce the sale price, and I replied to the email hoping to avoid a telephone conversation. No such luck!

I dialed the 1-800 number and pushed the “0” key until I got a human on the other end. Nice guy, but I had to explain this several times and he repeatedly put me on hold to get answers. He really couldn’t explain the $5.99 charge, and, rather than venting on him, I asked for his supervisor.

The supervisor tried to explain things again, and we agreed that I would make the purchase while we talked. She would then manually credit me the $5. Because she could not explain why the order form defaulted to an extra $5.99, she started a case file and was sending it to the “escalation department.” I was really nice to her. Trust me.

On Tuesday I got a call from G (No names since all three people I talked to were great, and I don’t want anyone getting fired) in the escalation department. G didn’t know how much software H&R Block sold on the internet with a $5.99 extra charge. If we speculate half a million units, that’s $3 million in sales revenue derived through deception.

See, if I lost my software after the next 60 days, I could get it anew. I would, however, have to pay $5.99, not $19.95 again. That’s an acceptable risk. Paying for it up front is stupid and unnecessary. It’s like paying an insurance deductible when there hasn’t been a claim.

G did suggest that I backup before installation so the unmodified software is protected. That’s a great tip, and I appreciate it. I’ve used the H&R Block software for years, and I have no intention of changing. I just wish their business practices didn’t force me to consider it. Cyber Monday’s phone call made me late for a meeting at Town Hall, and I’ll never get those 40 minutes back.