On Your Side: Know Thy Computer Vendor

Kyle Davis, a minister in Compton, California, had never heard of PC vendor Crossline. But when he saw one of the company's ads, he thought its offer of a 350MHz K6 computer for US$850 would be a good deal for his church. Davis arranged to pick up the PC in person to avoid shipping charges and paid for it in cash -- which Crossline said would expedite his order. Told that his system would be ready in ten days, Davis got worried when that time passed without a word from Crossline. Despite countless attempts, he's been unable to contact the company since.

Sadly, Davis is one of dozens of disgruntled Crossline customers I've heard from. As of October 1999, the company's phones had been disconnected, its Web site had disappeared and its Cerritos, California, offices were reportedly empty. At press time, the company had still not filed for bankruptcy.

If you're considering buying a PC from a company you're not familiar with, how can you avoid getting a raw deal? First, never base a purchase decision solely on ads. Research the company before buying. Not every start-up is a risky venture, but you might be safer going with a company that's been around for at least three years. You can find facts on companies' financial situations at sites such as http://www.companysleuth.com and http://www.companiesonline.com.

Ask the PC vendor for customer references -- or better still, find them yourself at forums such as those at Deja.com (http://www.deja.com). And check out the Better Business Bureau Web site (http://www.bbb.org) to see if any complaints have been filed against the company.

When ordering, pay with a credit card, and make sure the company won't bill the card until the order ships. If there's a dispute with the vendor, your credit card company may be able to mediate -- a solution that Davis can't take advantage of, since he paid Crossline in cold, hard cash.

Rebate Refund?

For Jeff Rice of Denver, a $20 rebate offered by Vancouver, British Columbia-based PhotoChannel Networks wasn't such a great deal. When Rice tried to cash the rebate check, he found that most U.S. banks charge a $25 processing fee for checks that originate outside the United States. PhotoChannel has offered to honor the rebate if customers return the original checks ... Cerplex Takes Hostages: Owners of NEC Ready laptops were victims of a recent billing dispute between NEC Packard Bell and Cerplex Group, a firm under contract to repair the laptop systems. When the two companies failed to resolve their differences, Cerplex refused to release systems that had been sent in for repairs, forcing NEC Packard Bell to provide some customers with replacement systems. At press time, NEC Packard Bell said that all repaired systems were being returned to their owners. The company no longer plans to use Cerplex for notebook repairs ... Hercules Reborn: Peripheral vendor Guillemot has acquired Hercules Graphics Technology, the veteran graphics card manufacturer that declared bankruptcy in 1999. Guillemot will introduce its new cards under the Hercules name and will provide technical support and repairs for existing owners. Check out http://www.guillemot.com for details.

"I bought an IBM Aptiva computer shortly before moving to Japan. Two months after I arrived overseas, the PC's monitor died. IBM told me to send it back to the United States for repair. I told IBM that I knew of two nearby authorized IBM dealers in Japan, but they said that I needed an international warranty to have my monitor fixed at one of those shops. Finally, I broke down and bought a new monitor."

Robert Griffith, Okinawa, Japan

On Your Side responds: I spoke with IBM public relations program manager Lisa Kaslyn, who says, "Because of technical and logistical differences, such as languages, electrical requirements, and modem and power specifications ... IBM does not offer an international warranty on its consumer PCs. Consumers who purchase an IBM Aptiva PC are covered by a one-year warranty only in the country in which they purchased the system." IBM is working with Griffith to resolve his problem.

(Or a great one? E-mail the details to onyourside@pcworld.com. We'll investigate complaints and publish items of the broadest interest. Anne Kandra is a contributing editor for PC World.)

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