Beware of Financial Predators
Nurtured, fed and defended since hatching, there comes the time for every fledgling bird to leave the safety of its mother's nest and fly off on unsteady wings into the dangers of the hostile world. Directly upon departure from the nest, it is beset on all sides by vicious predators lying in wait to take advantage of the vulnerable and inexperienced. Preying upon the weak and innocent begets an easy meal and, after all, there are no morals in the animal world.
Human society, on the other hand, takes pride in the moral scruples that come with being sapiens. Yet very often, morals are tossed aside in search of loot; therefore, there is no shortage of predatory beasts seeking to satiate their greed with the money of college kids freshly departed from the protection of their parents. We are surrounded by these chimerae of leech and jackal: the businesses whose modi operandi are to take advantage of our navete and inexperience, catch us alone and bleed us dry of money. I want to survey and condemn the businesses that I feel enjoy a little surreptitious nibbling of the hand that feeds them; which hawk their services to college students, yet at every opportunity available snatch the food from our tables like treacherous dogs. The businesses most involved in such robbery are those which we depend on most: our colleges, our landlords and our banks.
The entity most intimately associated with college students is obviously their college, yet its benevolent task of educating us for a prosperous future evidently does not preclude its attempting to rob us in the meanwhile. The broadest avenues through which Dartmouth pilfers our money are administrative fines as well as fees and parking.
It seems like for any transgression made or deadline forgotten, a student is charged $50. Forget to check in -- $50; get caught by Safety and Security and earn a reprimand -- $50. And when you accumulate enough of these $50 fines, a check-in hold prevents you from checking in on time. Guess what? Fifty dollars. Dartmouth's policy of punishing students with financial consequences puts students with limited means at an unfair disadvantage and is akin to allowing wealthy criminals to pay away their crimes while the poor rot in jail.
The student parking situation at Dartmouth is dismal. There are possibilities for student parking on campus in Dartmouth-owned lots. A- Lot is far away and is not an option for those who have to drive to class, especially in the winter. Partially because of Dartmouth's chronic on-campus housing shortage, the number of students forced to live off-campus and drive to class is tremendously high. Especially in the winter, students are forced to take their cars to campus and frantically search for a parking spot. Street-side metered parking is sparse and only allowed for two hours, so often the only alternative a student has to missing class is to park in the Dartmouth lots. By the time the class is over, there is a little green envelope under the wiper with a ticket for $50. Yes, the school that charges more than forty grand a year for tuition somehow sees a need to issue its students parking tickets for five times the amount of those issued by the town of Hanover. Many students accumulate these tickets until their car is booted and there is no choice but to pay up, usually in the range of $1,000. And if that car happens to be unregistered, it is an extra hundred bucks. It is a sweet situation for Dartmouth. Not only has it failed to provide adequate student housing, it has also profited from its irresponsibility.
Thus, many students are forced to venture into the wilderness of off-campus housing, a wilderness roamed by predatory landlords. Because they are dealing with students, many feel that they can get away with unfair or outright illegal business practices. Many of the off-campus houses are dilapidated, poorly heated and crawling with rodents. Landlords take advantage of students' lack of experience with living on their own and dealing with frauds and cheats by providing substandard housing and often violating New Hampshire laws. Having been lucky enough to rent from Jolin Kish, a strict but fair, honest and thorough businesswoman, I have not experienced the curse of a treacherous landlord and must rely on friends' experiences. Though, due to its ubiquity in the Hanover real estate market, most students complain about J&R's cut-throat tactics, the company does not actually seem to break any laws. However, qualitatively the second most complained-about landlord, Fred Salvatoriello, seems to be the most egregious violator of laws and ethics. Many of his properties are in a decrepit state. Peeling paint, torn wallpaper and shoddy building materials are the status quo. The man provides washers and driers, a seemingly good gesture until one notices the coin slots on the machines; there are no free favors with this guy.
Salvatoriello's current iniquity is apparently a long-running tradition. In April 2002, The Dartmouth wrote an expos about his business practices ("Students: Hanover landlord is a fraud," April 10, 2002). He was implicated for defrauding students of their security deposits by falsifying damage and cleaning bills. In addition, he was alleged to have violated state law by taking too long to exterminate a mouse infestation, fix a heater during the winter and to return a security deposit after the end of the lease. After reading the article, I felt surprise at the fact that is still in business, as well as pity for those among our friends and fellow students who rent from him.
The easiest way to rob someone is when you are already holding their money. Consequently, the temptation to prey upon the poor and the inexperienced has proven too irresistible for some banks. Instead of just denying purchase, most banks will allow a debit card transaction to occur, even with insufficient funds, and charge an overdraft fee. Yet according to my personal experience with three different banks, one has gone beyond the rest in its attempts to rob blind those like ourselves who have not yet learned to manage their money. Not content with one fee for a single overdraft, Bank of America tries to maximize their take with underhanded and questionable practices. Once a debit card purchase is made, even after it is registered with the bank and the resulting adjustment to the account balance appears at the ATM or on the online record, the debit is apparently not officially registered for a while. This allows the accumulation of as many as six transactions that misleadingly look like they registered. When the bank does come around to registering them, it does not do so in chronological order. It picks the largest transaction and registers it first, even if it was the last one you made. This method maximizes the likelihood that this first and largest transaction will overdraw your account and consequently all the subsequent transactions, even if they were made on a positive balance two days before the balance was finally overdrawn, will earn overdraft fees. This trick allows Bank of America to reap multiple fees for a single mistake. Over the summer one of my friends was thus robbed of $140 for one overdraft -- a hard hit for a student, but a sweet little piece of loot for Bank of America executives.
Although all of the above business entities share in the immorality of stealing money from college students, I feel that the bulk of responsibility lies with Dartmouth. Dartmouth is meant to be a benevolent institution. Its mission is to educate its students and it should be far more responsive to our concerns, financial and otherwise, than for-profit entities. Yet the College itself engages in practices that aim to rob us of our money at every turn, treating us more as customers to be exploited than as the students who are the very heart of this institution.