(KTVI) - A Missouri company that sells vehicle protection plans is facing criticism from customers who say they have waited up to nine months for refunds that were promised in eight to 10 weeks. Chris Thetford discusses the case with Elliot Weiler.
In several cases, customers received their money only after filing complaints with Better Business Bureau (BBB). In other cases, they still have not received refunds.
BBB is advising caution to consumers dealing with Naviss, Naviss Direct, or VSC Administration Center at 10176 Corporate Square Drive, Creve Coeur. Owners of the company said that Naviss is the largest marketer of vehicle service contracts in the St. Louis region and one of the largest in the nation.
A consumer from Austin, Texas, says she waited more than nine months for a prorated refund on the unused portion of her service contract after she cancelled her agreement with Naviss on Jan. 2. The woman said that beginning in April she documented at least nine phone calls to the company asking about the status of the refund, but received no satisfaction. In her most recent call, she said she told a Naviss representative she could not understand the delays and excuses. “It is very frustrating,” she said.
“I don’t know what is going on,” said a consumer from Spartanburg, S.C., who recently filed a BBB complaint after waiting nearly six months for a refund that was due after he canceled his plan on April 15.
The customer said Naviss told him that his case had fallen through the cracks. “To me, that is just a sham,” he said.
Naviss has an “F” Rating with the BBB, the lowest possible. It has been named in more than 90 BBB complaints since Jan. 1, most of those in the past three-and-a-half months. Consumers filed more than 160 complaints in the past 36 months.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the complaints involve a variety of concerns, including allegations of misleading mail solicitations, poor customer service and an unwillingness on the part of Naviss and its service contract partners to pay for repairs consumers believed should have been covered. But most of the recent complaints are from customers who say they are frustrated by lengthy delays in getting refunds from the company.
“These consumers were diligent in paying for vehicle coverage and paying on time,” Corey said. “And Naviss was only too willing to take their money. But now that Naviss owes them money, the company has been slow to provide refunds to customers.”
Company officials said they take customer service seriously. David Simpson, company CEO and one of Naviss’ owners, said the company’s call center has “the best reputation of any call center in the country. We have a pristine image with people we do business with.”
In a Sept. 26 interview with BBB representatives, Naviss officials said the refund delays were the result of problems with customer relations software that had been corrected. Another owner, Clayton Logomasini, described the BBB refund complaints as isolated cases that had fallen “through the cracks.” Naviss’ third owner is Jason Chrisco.
Since the meeting, consumers filed nine complaints involving Naviss, seven of those addressing refund delays.
In February, Georgia’s Office of Consumer Protection, announced a settlement agreement with Naviss over allegations that Naviss distributed misleading direct mail solicitations and misrepresented terms of its vehicle service contracts.
The state alleged that Naviss falsely represented that the company was affiliated with vehicle manufacturers, created a false sense of urgency among consumers and claimed that a consumer’s vehicle protection plan had expired or is expiring when those statements could not be substantiated.
The company said it has made changes to its mailings to reflect Georgia’s concerns.
Naviss’ owners said they believe the BBB’s low grade is unfair. They said the number of complaints is very small based on the huge numbers of consumers who receive their mailings and buy the protection plans. “We are sending out millions of pieces of mail, talking to hundreds of thousands of customers,” said Simpson. The company markets repair contracts across much of the nation, but does not sell to Missouri residents, the company said.
The daughter of a 96-year-old Naviss customer in Center Line, Mich., said she has been trying to obtain a refund of about $500 for her father since March. She said she has called the company multiple times. She said a representative told her in May that the company was trying to expedite the refund process.
In July, another representative told her that her father’s case had been put on “high priority.” In late August, another representative told her it was uncertain when the refund would be mailed. “It has been awful; they don’t seem to know what is going on,” the daughter said. She said her father recently suffered a stroke and the money is needed to help purchase medications.
A woman from Biddeford, Maine, said she paid Naviss nearly $2,900 in July 2012 for a repair contract she canceled in February 2013 after learning she already had coverage. She said it was only after she filed a complaint with BBB – eight months after canceling the contract – that the company agreed to issue a $2,500 refund.
A consumer from Corpus Christi, Texas, said she filed a BBB complaint when she did not receive her refund for four months. A month after filing the complaint, she finally received a refund check. “Horrible, horrible, horrible,” she said of the experience. “I even asked them, ‘how can you sleep at night?’ “
BBB offers the following advice to consumers looking to buy a vehicle service contract:
- Find out if you already are insured. Some companies that market vehicle repair contracts commonly send notices that a consumer’s factory or dealer warranty has expired or is about to expire. Call your dealer to find out if you are still covered and how long the coverage will last.
- Determine whether you need a service contract. Senior citizens and others whose driving is limited, or whose vehicles have very low mileage, may decide that coverage for mechanical breakdowns is unnecessary.
- Do your homework. If you speak with someone representing a vehicle protection program, ask for the official name of the company and where it is registered. Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300. If there is a separate service administrator or finance company, research that business too.
- Inspect the contract closely before agreeing to anything. Some consumers say they were promised “bumper to bumper” coverage by a phone salesperson, only to learn later that some breakdowns or problems were not covered.
- If you sell the covered vehicle or simply decide to cancel your protection plan, you may be entitled to a prorated refund for any unused portion of your contract.