Monday, March 2, 2015

To dispute or not to dispute?

     If you've been living here for a while, you may have noticed some differences between your county and US. Depending on your case, you may admire many of these differences like pride to be independent, free speech rights, a reassuring justice system. All conquests of a democratic country. It is great to live in such a country. But do these rights apply to you?
Definitely so if you are lucky to have citizenship or green card. But if you are in a situation like mine, here legally but only on a working visa status? How do you know if you're entitled to dispute in case of an unjust situation? Here not only citizens have rights, but consumers as well. Figuring it out, as an outsider and as a foreigner, it comes with tons of bumps. But I can tell, per my experience, that you can dispute successfully. And understand me, these are very little victories, but they help me feel more confident in myself. Each time they make me feel how great is this country and how it welcomes people of all nationalities.
     One of the most obvious things to dispute is fraudulent or incorrect bank charges on your card. I had to dispute a small one. We had lunch the girls and the waitress was probably confused on how to allocate tips, so she charged me some additional dollars. It was not a big amount, but I decided to ask my bank. Finally they debited this amount back to my account right away. Of course if the amount is greater and/or somebody committed fraud using your card it can take more time and a longer conversation on the phone. But knowing that your bank cares about you and it's very responsive to your troubles makes me sleep calmer at night. 
      Parking ticket. You may see how Americans try to dispute almost everything. Instead, as a guest, you may feel like being a good citizen means to always pay all bills on time, all taxes and all fines included. But one day it can happen that, even you paid the parking ticket, you put it upside down on the dashboard or that, without paying attention, while closing the door the ticket flies away. No panic, you can be super mad with yourself, but the procedure to dispute is indeed very easy. You can call on the phone to the number written on the back of the ticket or go directly to, write an explanation and upload the scanned ticket and the paid receipt. If you really did pay your parking according with the signs, a letter will be sent saying that you don't need to pay this fine.
      This kind of situations happen all the time. The difference now is in my perspective. If I am not sure of something, I will not be shy to ask, I will not think that probably I don't know how things work here, therefore assuming I'm wrong. Once I got a bill from the doctor's office I visited when I was sick. And when I say doctor's office, I mean one of the biggest practices in Philadelphia. The bill stated that I owed some money from my last visit. I did have a copay, but I paid it before the visit, the rest is always taken care by my insurance, which has great coverage. So after talking with insurance and the doctor's office I was said that the doctor with whom I took appointment was from a special practice, so my bill was higher and my insurance didn't take care of it. What?!? I was super confused. I had gone to this office already twice for the flu and I had just been assigned randomly to the first available doctor. I could have just paid, but I didn't. Yes, I was annoyed and ultimately spent a lot of time being forwarded to numerous people. But, hey, some English practice, right? Finally they took out this charge and I enjoyed my little victory.
      One of my proudest disputes so far was a TOEFL rescheduling. If you ever took the TOEFL or GMAT exam you know that ETS is very strict about the documents you need to have to be able to take the test. As you pay ahead, a fairly big amount of money for the exam, you are doomed if you fail to provide the required documents. And if you miss your scheduled date, you are not allowed to retake the test on a different date. But what if you had the right to take the test but you weren't allowed to? I was unlucky to have my passport stuck in a foreign consulate (a non related travel issue). So instead of rescheduling the exam, I had conversation over the phone with the info line, and I asked if there were other documents I could use instead of the passport. Apparently, you need 2 American documents with your picture. I had my driving license and my work permit. But the lady at the test the day of the exam did not allow me to take it without my passport. Luckily, I watched many legal shows, so I requested a hand-written letter from this representative proving that I was physically there, on time for my appointment and I attached it to my appeal. Again, it took some time and several email exchanges, but I did it, I rescheduled without losing money and without any additional fees. Though in the end I scored only 96 out of 120...
      My point is that I'm not advising you to start fighting everything and everybody with anger trying prove that you are right. But we are all humans and we deserve to be threaten with justice and respect. But if you are not, you don't need to be shy or scared.