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HomeServe

I posted about Exterior Electrical Insurance just over a year ago.

Briefly, a firm called HomeServe – which has been fined for misrepresentation in the UK – was trying to convince us to pay a small monthly fee to cover repairs to electrical power components that virtually never need repair.

We just got another pitch on behalf of HomeServe from Penelec. The fee is a bit larger, six dollars per month, but the covered components are still weatherhead, insulator, riser, meter base and service entrance conductor. The upper limit of coverage is $3,000, which would require several repeat visits of replacing everything. They don’t cover storm damage, accidents or negligence.

We’ve had our house for over a decade, so the $720 we’ve saved by not making these payments would be more enough to replace all those components ourselves.

The Ripoff Report has a recent entry on HomeServe’s failure to honor their water and sewer insurance:

My husband has spent hours on the phone having each HS person he has talked to tell him that they would not cover the problem. Evidently, the next time we get sewage backing up into our house, they might pay for it however.

 

Lending Club falters

Almost three years ago, I wrote about taking on a debt consolidation loan with Lending Club. I’ve been keeping a sufficient balance so that they can withdraw payments on schedule, and I should be able to payoff on schedule, then retire. But Lending Club has been sending me an increasing stream of email and paper mail offers to take on even more non-collateral debt. I figured these were mostly computer-generated, but some of them bothered me because they used the Open Immediately! style of mailer, with no identification on the outside. That sort of marketing tends to associate Lending Club in my mind with dicey outfits like Embrace and American Debt Mediators.

Today I ran across a disquieting CNBC article, Lending Club shares tumble after CEO resigns:

Shares of Lending Club plummeted 25 percent at the open Monday morning after the company said co-founder Renaud Laplanche had resigned as chairman and CEO.

Laplanche’s departure comes as Lending Club acknowledged it conducted an internal review of its business practices. The investigation also led to the firing or resignation of three senior managers.

The company’s executive leadership said the review of loans discovered staff knowingly sold $22 million in loans in March and April 2016 that did not meet the buyer’s requirements. It came after an unnamed staffer made a change executives described as “minor” to internal loan paperwork. …

The company said it would bolster internal controls after the sale of what it called $22 million in “near-prime” loans, and also revealed it would suspend providing the market guidance.

I don’t suppose this will affect me or my microloan investors, but now I have to wonder if I am near-prime, or just past-my-prime.

 

Exterior Electrical Insurance

As Penelec/First Energy customers, last year we received a mailer, “Important Information Regarding Your Exterior Electrical System,” informing us that HomeServe USA Repair Management Corp, of Norwalk CT, offers an Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan. We threw it away, but recently got a second one:

Without this plan, repairs to your exterior electrical system components, including the weatherhead, insulator, riser, meter base and service entrance conductor, can be expensive, costing you hundreds of dollars in unexpected expenses.

To get an idea of what these components look like, here’s a five minute This Old House youtube clip where they install new service.

Weatherhead: $5 to $10 at Home Depot, also called the periscope, it is the rounded cap just above where the overhead service drop lines attach that stops rain or snow melt from dribbling into the conduits.
Riser: the 120V and neutral electrical cables that run from the weatherhead to the meter.
Meter Base, or Meter Socket: $40 to $200, the grey or beige metal meter enclosure. The electrical utility owns the meter itself.
Service Entrance Conductor: the 120V and neutral cables that run between the meter and your main interior electrical panel.

The protection amount is $3,000 Annual Benefit, and the rate is $5.49 per month.

Have you ever had these components serviced? We never have, even when installing a larger panel inside..

Are they worth $3,000? Probably a few hundred dollars in materials.

What could damage them? Perhaps a tree or branch falling on the service drop, or a powerful storm. But HomeServe’s fine print makes it clear that they do not cover damage due to accidents or negligence, only normal wear-and-tear.

The Ripoff Report carries this report about the UK and US arms of HomeServe.

The home emergencies and repairs group HomeServe has been handed a record £30.6m fine for mis-selling insurance policies and mishandling customer complaints.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said staff at the firm had focused on the “quantity not quality” of sales to the detriment of customers, many of whom were vulnerable older people.

HomeServe, which insures more than 2 million people in Britain against burst pipes, broken gas boilers and electrical problems, has been punished for “serious, systemic and long-running failings, extending across many key aspects of its business”. The fine is the largest ever for mis-selling to retail customers in Britain, beating a £28m penalty imposed on Lloyds Banking Group last December.

Con + Fusion

Opening Science Blogs, my eye jumped to, Go away, cold fusion, by PZ Myers, who writes his Pharyngula blog in the Life Science section. Myers is no physicist, but on basic scientific caution questioned the latest E-Cat demonstration reported in Extreme Tech:

Again with my childlike understanding of these kinds of processes – if I were in a room with something burning with a million times the intensity of gasoline, even if it was a tiny quantity, I’d be worried about containment. Why aren’t these guys? They all seem to be assuming that there is 100% efficiency in the conversion of hydrogen plus nickel into electricity – but where does that happen in the real world?

Despite an earlier article in which Extreme Tech’s Sebastian Anthony claimed to want to finally see results for either hot or cold fusion, he nevertheless dutifully publicized the latest E-Cat claims, though he equivocates:

The researchers are very careful about not actually saying that cold fusion/LENR is the source of the E-Cat’s energy, instead merely saying that an “unknown reaction” is at work. In serious scientific circles, LENR is still a bit of a joke/taboo topic. The paper is actually somewhat comical in this regard: The researchers really try to work out how the E-Cat produces so much darn energy – and they conclude that fusion is the only answer – but then they reel it all back in by adding: “The reaction speculation above should only be considered as an example of reasoning and not a serious conjecture.”

Anthony fails to note that the “unknown reaction” might be a heavy electrical cord that is never unplugged. Also even cold fusion believer Stephen Krivit observed that the experiment was flawed because Rossi himself inserted and removed the reactant samples.

Following up the Myers post, impressively-bearded Ethan Siegel at Starts With a Bang recalled his smackdown of the E-Cat test from a few years ago .. and then some:

The E-cat: cold fusion or scientific fraud? (Synopsis)

Throwback Thursday: The Foolish Fallacy of Cold Fusion (Synopsis)

Comments of the Week #32: From black hole death to cold fusion crackpots

Among his commenter/tormenters is Alain, who probably hasn’t forgiven me for deleting the magnum opus of links he attempted to insert in my comments section.

Writing about hot fusion, Siegel notes that we have managed Inertial Confinement, Magnetic Confinement and Magnetized Target Fusion here on Earth. Though none of them have produced more energy than they consume, he urges us to invest in nuclear fusion and in traveling to Mars – presumably by means other than John Carter’s astral projection.

We need to invest in the long-term future like it’s our only hope, while simultaneously stepping forward in the present to bring that future to reality. Whether we invest in nuclear fusion or not, we should be sending human beings to Mars. Whether we send human beings to Mars or not, we should be investing in nuclear fusion. And if-and-when we do develop and control nuclear fusion, it won’t be a quicker trip to Mars that we set our sights on, but ever farther and more remote targets. There’s a whole Universe out there, and shame on us if we choose not to explore it.

I do wonder, though, if hot fusion will ever yield dividends. Lockheed-Martin’s vaunted Skunk Works shop supposedly claimed that they would have a truck-sized fusion reactor in three to ten years. MIT Technology Review asks, Does Lockheed Martin Really Have a Breakthrough Fusion Machine?

… many scientists are unconvinced. Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and one of the principal investigators at the MIT fusion research reactor, says the type of confinement described by Lockheed had long been studied without much success.

Hutchinson says he was only able to comment on what Lockheed has released—some pictures, diagrams, and commentary, which can be found here. “Based on that, as far as I can tell, they aren’t paying attention to the basic physics of magnetic-confinement fusion energy. And so I’m highly skeptical that they have anything interesting to offer,” he says. “It seems purely speculative, as if someone has drawn a cartoon and said they are going to fly to Mars with it.”

Others wonder where they will get the tritium required, and Business Insider pours some cold heavy water on any claim that Skunk Works’ ideas are more than theoretical.

Courtesy Call

I’ve gotten this phone message twice:

This message is being left as a courtesy. We are in the process of doing an asset and liability search and your number has come up in our records. Press ‘1’ now to speak to our pre-legal department or call today at 855-396-2263. Once again, call 855-396-2263. Failure to respond will be documented as being non-cooperative.

According to 800Notes, someone answers that number with, “Thomas King & Associates” and tries to obtain your social security number.

I can live with being non-cooperative.

Tricks for Large and Small Parlors

In response to my last article, Alain, one of LENR’s more rabid supporters, sent me a comment chock full of bad spelling and links that purport to prove LENR. I run a respectable joint here, so not just anyone can comment, but it seems that Andrea Rossi’s buddy, Hanno Essen, submitted an article on Rossi’s questionable demonstration from 2011 to Cornell’s arXiv.org. Even though that test was thoroughly debunked by insanely-bearded Ethan Siegel at ScienceBlogs, just publishing something – anything – with a respected institution is the sort of event that passes for proof in the LENR community. A few years ago they were claiming that Underwriter’s Laboratories had certified the E-Cat as functional. But the UL’s mandate is to certify devices and assemblies for public safety – not to determine whether they will save humanity.

I did my own article search and found that Sebastian Anthony just posted, The UK will be the first to break even with fusion power, leading us towards a future of clean, infinite energy, on Extreme Tech:

The world’s best fusion reactor, situated in the heart of the merry, Hobbit-inspiring motherland of Oxfordshire in England, will soon attempt to become the first fusion power experiment to surpass the mythical “break-even” point. This experiment, known as the Joint European Torus (JET), has held the world record for fusion reactor efficiency since 1997 despite the USA’s recent laser-based fusion experiments at the National Ignition Facility. If JET can reach break-even point, there’s a very good chance that the massive ITER reactor currently being built in France will be able to obtain the holy grail of everlasting green power generation: self-sustaining fusion.

I’ve had my doubts about whether fusion will ever make economic sense, but what do hot fusion experiments like JET and ITER have to do with tabletop LENR? Well, in his closing paragraph Anthony links to another holy grail from his 2013, Nov 26th article:

I sure would like it if fusion became a reality, rather than continuing to hope that cold fusion isn’t some kind of parlor trick.

1-megawatt cold fusion power plant now available – yours for just $1.5 million

Believe it or not, the first cold fusion power plant is now available to pre-order. The E-Cat 1MW Plant, which comes in a standard shipping container, can produce one megawatt of thermal energy, using low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) — a process, often known as cold fusion, that fuses nickel and hydrogen into copper, producing energy 100,000 times more efficiently than combustion. It sounds like E-Cat is now taking orders for delivery in early 2014, priced fairly reasonably at $1.5 million. Has cold fusion — the answer to all our energy needs — finally made its way to market?

So far no one is reporting how great their ECat is working.

Debt Reduction Trifecta

I’ve posted three pieces about what seems to be a debt mediation scam by a variously-named company. Last week I got yet another unsolicited Final Notice from American Debt Mediators, also known as CRV and Debt Arbitrators. I’ve also written about the Credit Card Hardship Programs that are available from most lenders. Anyway there’s nothing new about this latest piece of mail. It looks like an overdraft notice, has some official-looking warnings about obstructing the mail on the front, and claims I am late in sending them $366.67 for a debt mediation plan that promises to satisfy my debt for less than the balance owed. How much less? Good question. Probably not enough to recoup the payments they’ll collect.

I also got another Loan Pak from Embrace Home Loans. With the words ExpressPlus checked, the Loan Pak must be intended to look like a special delivery mailer. The Shipper is one D Noyce from 25 Enterprise Center Newport RI 02842. According to the mailer, I am pre-qualified for up to $417,000. And presumably down to zero. When I first got Embrace mailings, I wondered where they got that number. Turns out it is the maximum Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac FHA guaranteed mortgage amount in my area.

On LinkedIn under Kurt (David) Noyce, we find that Embrace was formerly Advanced Financial Services. Complaints appear in Ripoff Reports and ConsumerMotion. I gather the Embrace routine is to collect $375 for a spurious real estate appraisal.

I got a third mailer – first contact – from The Lending Club, a peer-to-peer lending agency which is profiled positively on Wikipedia. To the borrowers they promise lower rates. To the investors they promise higher returns. Can both be true? The rationale is that people are paying so much above the prime rates on credit card and other debt that there is plenty of room for a careful investor to make essentially microloans to people that are perfectly capable of paying back a loan. IOW, they claim to remove the middlemen, the banksters, and pass the savings to both investors and borrowers:

When initially founded, Lending Club positioned itself as a social networking service and set up opportunities for members to identify group affinities, based on a theory that borrowers would be less likely to default to lenders with whom they had affinities and social relationships. …

After registering with the SEC, Lending Club stopped presenting itself as a social network … To reduce default risk, Lending Club focuses on high-credit-worthy borrowers, declining approximately 90% of the loan applications it receives and assigning higher interest rates to riskier and borrowers within its credit criteria.

But soon I ran across a site called Lending Club Scam, which seems designed to catch the eye of people like me that want to check up on Lending Club, and provides a positive and reassuring review by Jonathan. “You can relax now, because you’ve made it to a truthful review about Lending Club, whether you intend to be an investor or a borrower. Let me please share with you some thoughts which better helped me understand and evaluate their service.”

Call me cynical, but I got suspicious after reading that and other preemptively-named sites including the terms Lending Club and Review.

The Economist has a laudatory article from January of 2013:

… Lending Club brings that spread down by using technology to match up borrowers and investors without incurring the costs of legacy IT systems and branch networks that weigh down the banks. The firm concentrates on creditworthy, “prime” consumer borrowers, and the average rate that they pay on loans is 14%, well inside credit-card charges. Allowing for a default rate of 4%, and Lending Club’s fees, the returns to investors are 9-10%, which isn’t too shabby given where interest rates are.

14% is a lot higher than the 6.78% APR touted on the Lending Club flyer, but still a a lot lower than the 18% to 21% some credit cards charge.  From the investor’s viewpoint, Oblivious Investor compares Lending Club risks with junk bonds:

As it stands right now, I’d categorize Lending Club notes as short-term, high-risk debt that’s difficult to diversify and that carries somewhat higher expenses than I’d like. Entertainment/feel-good value aside, I don’t see much purpose for Lending Club notes in most portfolios.

So I’m not sure what to think of Lending Club. It isn’t obviously disreputable like ADM or Embrace. I would hesitate to invest in such a propped-up economy, but it might be a good deal for the borrower that can qualify.