After numerous reports about Video Professor's sales tactics, ConsumerAffairs.com decided to try the lessons ourselves.
What we discovered is that although it appears impossible to actually receive a "free" disc, the lessons themselves could potentially be helpful for absolute beginners.
For 20 years, John Scherer, otherwise known as the Video Professor, has advertised on cable TV the wonders of his educational software.
I am so confident that I'm going to give you one free disc, he says on his limited time offer advertisements.
But in actuality, it appears impossible to just get one free disc. Instead, it is a packaged bundle of three discs that cost $6.95 for shipping and handling. If the customer doesn't return one of the discs, at their expense, within 10 days, they will be enrolled in an automatic renewal service which sends new three-disc bundles every month for $79.95.
I ordered a free lesson through an "introductory offer" in which I only had to pay $6.95 for shipping, Jacquelyn of Honolulu, Hawaii, wrote to ConsumerAffairs.com.
A few weeks later, I received a second lesson (without placing an order) and my credit card was charged $77.95. A week later, my card was charged for another $5.95; the next day it was charged for $2 and the following day, another charge appeared for $1.
I returned the second lesson and wrote a note asking Video Professor to stop sending lessons, Jacquelyn continued. Although I did not receive any further CDs, my card was charged twice more for $77.95, as well as multiple charges of $5.95 and $1.
This "implied consent" automatic renewal subscription is similar to other mail-order companies that advertise a low first-time offer on late-night cable TV but then charge the individual's credit card for more expensive, and often unwanted, products on a regular basis.
Scherer told ConsumerAffairs.com in a phone interview that he believes many of the consumer criticisms on the Internet are false. He said that his company does not make billing mistakes and that any time someone wants a refund, he gives it to them, even years after the original purchase.
When ConsumerAffairs.com asked Scherer why he uses the implied-consent subscription model, he said: Now I'm supposed to conduct my business the way a lot of people ... want me to? Why don't you call Ford or General Motors and ask them why they do a certain sales program the way they do it.
"You're not a marketing guy, I know that," Scherer continued. "I'll make a note that I should run my business according to you."
You haven't done your homework. I'm a little disappointed. Do your homework and I'll set up another interview with you. How's that? Scherer said at one point.
With the renewal service, it's likely a consumer will receive discs that teach them how to use specific software they don't own.
Scherer didn't see any problem with that and said if the customer doesn't like it, they can call and cancel any time.
One of Scherer's TV trademarks is I am so confident in my product, I am going to give you one disc free. But when ConsumerAffairs.com called to order our one free disc, we were told by two representatives that that's not how the deal works, that in actuality, you have to get the three-disc bundle.
Scherer said he was shocked when we told him that two times we asked for a free disc and two times we were told it doesn't work that way.
That's not so, he said. If you call and the person says you can't have one free ... that's just a lie.
He asked to listen to the recording of that conversation and we later played back one of the recordings to his public affairs officer, Brian Olsen, and customer service manager Anne Deeb, who said they were shocked when they heard the recording:
CA.com: So I get one free disc?
CSR: Yes you do.
CA.com: That's all I want is just that one disc. I don't want anything else. Is that OK?
CSR: Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.
CA.com: Oh, it doesn't?
CSR: Here, let me get you the catch. ... Basically what it does is it gives you the beginning, intermediate and advanced.
CA.com: There's no way I can just get the one free disc?
CSR: Unfortunately, No.
Deeb said the representative who said that would be reprimanded. Olsen said the rep's statements were mistakes and that Video Professor even has special packaging for people who just want the one disc.
Although none of Scherer's ads mention anything about the subscription service, when ConsumerAffairs.com ordered a Windows XP lesson, the representative did fully explain the terms and that we would have to return a disc within 10 days if we didn't want more charges.
During the order process, the representatives tried five times to get ConsumerAffairs.com, which was identified as Joe Enoch, to purchase other software and subscription programs. We declined all of those special offers. When we canceled our trial, the representative was courteous and gave the shipping information without a fight.
We returned the disc and -- so far at least -- have only been charged the $6.95 shipping and handling.
As for the product itself, it is a video that shows step-by-step, with visuals, how to work the Windows XP operating system. It was easy to use and simple to follow. There were three discs: for beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Although the product could legitimately teach a rookie many of the simple nuances of Windows, even the advanced disc barely touched many of the truly advanced settings and operations of Microsoft's operating system.
If consumers are not pleased with their Video Professor product, they should take up Scherer's promise to give any possible refund, no matter the date of the order.
Video Professor's customer service number is: 1-800-525-7763.