If you've ever sat around a classroom waiting for the professor to show up, you know how some of the Video Professor's customers are feeling about now. But chances are you hadn't coughed up $400 or more for a single session with your learned instructor.
That's the fix many Video Professor customers are in right now. Take Pete of Reading, Pa. He ordered one of the Professor's CD-based lessons on a "free trial" offer, paid a delivery fee of $6.95, looked it over and decided it wasn't for him. So Pete sent the CD back but learned a valuable lesson when the Professor slapped a $399.95 charge on his credit card.
Now Pete and other consumers are finding the Professor's vanishing act may be more profound that it at first appeared.
"It seems as though Video Professor is now out of business," Joanne, of Vineland, N.J., told ConsumerAffairs.com.
Joanne came to that conclusion, she said, because she tried to return some merchandise to the company in late April but was told by UPS that it was unable to deliver it.
The Professor's Web site has been changing frequently over the last few weeks, offering various explanations. The latest version says that the Professor is "transitioning to a new business model," replacing CDs with online lessons -- and, not surprisingly, offering "free" online lessons for a limited time.
But as for those who already paid their money and took their chances on the CD, the Web site's Contact Information page has this bleak message:
Video Professor is currently transitioning to an automated online customer response system. If you are contacting Video Professor with a refund request, please be aware that we are not processing any credit card transactions at this time and therefore are unable to process refunds. Please contact your banking institution directly for more information on how to receive a refund. Please be assured that you will receive your refund.
At this time our Customer Service Department is no longer available. Again, if you are requesting a refund you must contact your banking institution.
In the meantime, if you have a product for which you are seeking a refund, please keep the product as our gift. Also, check out all of our online lessons (all 65 titles) available at www.videoprofessor.com. For the time being, they are completely free - no credit card is required to access the lessons and there is no obligation.
So what does this sound like to you? Businesses whose customers complain of unauthorized charges at an unusually high rate can soon find themselves without a credit card payment processor, which one consumer advocate said may be what precipitated the Video's Professor's truancy.
For its part, the Better Business Bureau has suspended Video Professor. A statement on the organization's Web site said the company "was suspended on 6/7/10 due to not meeting our BBB Standards for Trust."
"The company is going through a reorganization that involves temporary furloughs," the BBB added.
Other than its cryptic Web statements, the company has been tight-lipped. Bettye Harrison, who has been the company's president for years, lists her occupation as "Former President & COO at Video Professor" on her Linked-In page.
John W. Scherer, the founder, CEO and ebullient star of late-night infomercials, is also strangely silent, a change from the days back in 2007 when he vigorously pursued consumers who dared post critical reviews of his products on Internet sites.
Calls to the company's main number, 800 525-7763, get a "fast busy" response, which sometimes indicates a number is out of service.
The Denver Post reported earlier this month that the company had slashed its operations and was giving away its products. It said the parking lot was nearly empty and the building lobby was closed and dark.
When a reporter called the offices, she heard a recording that said Video Professor "is currently transitioning to a new business plan."
The old business plan drew plenty of complaints. Video Professor commercials promised a free CD, with company CEO Scherer explaining, "We're so sure you'll like this product you'll turn to us for all your computer learning needs."
But consumers who got the free CD's often found they were enrolled in a negative option subscription plan unless they cancelled it within a very short time. The additional CDs were anything but free.
"I ordered Video Professor with the impression that I was only to try it for the shipping and handling charges," Caroline, of Sacramento, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com "I changed my mind about it. I called to cancel but it was too late. I sent it back at the post office. In a few days a large amount of $189.95 appeared on my credit card. Thirty days later new charge appeared on my card for another video professor that I did not order of $389.95."
Joanne from New Jersey advises those who paid by credit card to report it as an unauthorized charge and demand a charge-back.
"Do not take no for an answer," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I just got off the phone with my credit card company and had no trouble whatsoever."
As recently as four years ago, the company was one of Colorado's success stories, with 300 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.