Last July, I spent about $7,000 on computer equipment at Best Buy. As I explained in the March editorial, this is in addition to many other major purchases made there over the years. In fact, I probably have close to $1,000 in extended warranties alone, or what Best Buy calls Performance Service Plans. These costly policies, as I am learning, are mainly in place to protect Best Buy and its suppliers, not its customers.

Within weeks of my $7,000 outlay, one of the Best Buy computers, a Sony Vaio laptop, stopped working. I was promptly given a new one, when in fact, I should have switched to something else a little more well built. This is where the sly snake who came up with Performance Service Plans was exceedingly clever. According to the plan, a product must fail not once, not twice, but three times before the purchase can be negated. And the poor, unsuspecting customer, like me, actually pays money to get tangled up like this.

Months after I started using the new (replacement) laptop, it too broke. This time it was a fracture running through one of the inner layers of the LCD screen, with no other visible damage anywhere, not even a scratch. This is when I found out the Performance Service Plan is actually more limiting than the original manufacturer's warranty. According to Best Buy, “cracks” are not covered under any laptop plan. It doesn't matter how they form; if a guy in a blue shirt calls it a crack, it's not covered. Again, I paid extra for this.

After pleading with several people at Best Buy, corporate as well as local, I gave up and authorized the repair. Three days later, someone called and said the computer was done. During this time, however, I was given different estimates, and I had no idea what to expect when I got to the store.

Apparently, the clerk was just as confused as I was. At first, he couldn't find the computer. Then he took an unusually long time to do the paperwork. He kept shuffling through invoices, reading and rereading them. Finally, he asked me to sign an authorization having to do with the estimate (though the work was already done), and told me I could take the computer and leave. At no point in the process did he ask me to pay.

At home, I was beginning to think Best Buy had a change of heart and decided to honor the warranty. I also figured out why the paperwork took so long. There were two invoices, one from Sony (where the laptop was actually fixed) and another from Best Buy that added about $150 to the bill for no apparent reason. Then the phone rang. It was the clerk. He wanted me to come back to pay, and was impatient, as if I did something wrong. I told him I couldn't make it that evening, and that I thought it was strange there were two invoices. He became tongue tied at that point, and I think I know why.

Many years ago, I had an 8-mm Minolta camcorder that broke. I sent it to the dealer where I bought it, a place in Cincinnati, who sent it to the manufacturer for repair. Like the laptop, it came back with two invoices. The one from Minolta indicated there was no charge because the camcorder was under warranty. The greedy little dealer, however, forgot to remove it when he mailed me the camera along with his invoice for something like $160. When I mentioned it to him on the phone, his voice escalated a few octaves and he said it was just a mix-up — there would be no charge. There's a name for that sort of thing, and it's called warranty fraud. And this is now the second time I've been a victim to it — potentially anyway.

Hopefully, my blue-shirted friends at Best Buy are as smart as my buddy in Cincinnati and realize they've taken more than enough from this customer. I haven't been back to the store and, as far as I know, I haven't been billed. If they push the issue, I'm going to fight it. Besides, the new monitor isn't even right — it has two bad pixels. I'll have to check the fine print, though. Maybe not every one of the pixels are covered.