A Most Profitable Coding Error

A Most Profitable Coding Error

Sprint has been overcounting low-income users for years in the U.S., banking tens of millions of dollars in government subsidies, in what my legal department says I can’t legally call a grift. (But it’s was a pretty good grift.)

According to documents uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, the wireless carrier overcounted the number of customers using its federally subsidised Lifeline program by a teency, eency, barely noticeable 885,000 people.

Lifeline is a federal program started in the 1980s designed to give low income households better access to phones, which are vital for accessing ambulances, pizza, and other vital services.

The government typically pays out a $9.25-a-month subsidy per user to provide phone or internet service. (But not both. You can either have SpongeBob memes or a phone.)

Sprint is facing a potential settlement with the FTC for improperly collecting tens of millions of dollars due to what the internet provider is calling, a “coding error.”

(The best thing about 2019 is you can blame all your crimes on computers. For example, a “computer” keeps stealing garden gnomes from my cousin Rick and will continue to do so until he pays back that $8,000 he owes me.)

To be eligible for the Lifeline program, customers must use their service at least once every 30 days by making a call, buying minutes for their plan, sending a text message, or answering a call from their cousin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and giving him the wrong answer. (Just google it Rick! No one expected you to know if Gibraltar is a territory or administrative region!)

If a Lifeline customer doesn’t use their phone for 30 days, the provider must give them 15 days’ notice to order a pizza or call their estranged sister or they will lose service.

Sprint found its way around this with a nice little “coding error.” The company’s system falsely recognises incoming messages from spam texts (mostly from robocallers trying to steal your money) as account activity.

Sprint claims that this whoospy was due to a coding error made in 2017. But the Journal found records of the wireless company overcounting its Lifeline users as far back as 2013.

In one case, Sprint kept the account of an Oregon woman active long after that woman herself was deactivated. (She was dead. I don’t know if that was clear.)

When Sprint was forced to review its records and correct the mistake, the company lost more than 4,600 Lifeline subscribers in Oregon alone.

According to a then-senior counsel at Sprint, the “failure was systemic and not confined to Oregon.” After this incident, the wireless carrier immediately reformed its system and never made that mistake again and, no wait, that was in 2014 and its been falsely claiming for inactive subscribers ever since.

Sprint faces a potential settlement with the FTC for improperly collecting tens of millions of dollars. But the case also provides a legal challenge to the company as it struggles to move ahead with its planned merger to T-Mobile.

Shares of Sprint fell about 1.4% this morning but the whole stock market is in the toilet today following some comments a certain president made at a NATO gathering this morning.

Speaking of which…

Stocks Plunge After President Trump’s NATO Comments

Stocks took a dip this morning after President Trump sparked fears that a trade deal with China may not be reached in my lifetime.

Speaking with reporters at the NATO summit in London, the president splashed muddy brown water on investor optimism that a phase-one deal could be reached before the holiday season.

When asked if an agreement might be brokered before the crucial Dec. 15 deadline — when the next round of tariffs is scheduled to kick in — the president said we might need to wait until after next year’s election (or whenever the entire planet explodes, whichever comes first).

“In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” said the president, who is waiting to consummate his relationship with China until after the election. “But they want to make a deal now and we will see whether or not the deal is going to be right.”

When asked if he had a deadline for the deal, President Trump responded, “I have no deadline, no.”

Investors, desperate for Trump to “define the relationship” and inject some certainty into the markets, balked at Trump’s comments and stocks plunged across the board.

At time of writing, the Dow has dropped almost 400 points, declining 1.43%. The S&P 500 lost 1.06% and the Nasdaq Composite gave up 1.12%.

While most stocks took a dip in the aforementioned creek, trade-sensitive shares slapped on a pair of flippers and went snorkeling. Apple (AAPL) lost 2.5%, Caterpillar (CAT) slipped 2.6%, and semiconductor company Micron Technologies (MU) fell almost 3%.

Cyber Monday is Very Much a Thing Now

Cyber Monday sales hit a record high yesterday, as Americans forked over $9.4 billion for truckloads of stuff they didn’t need on a holiday invented to line Jeff Bezos’s pockets.

(I, however, was very selective with what I put in my shopping cart. I snapped up a state-of-the-art avocado harasser, lemon agitator, and banana bedeviler for less than $80.)

At first, it looked like sales of ding dongs and doodads were lagging behind analysts’ predictions. But between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., FOMOOCC (Fear Of Missing Out On Cheap Crappola) set in, driving a last-minute surge of online buying.

Between those hours, you and I (and your neighbor who treats the Roomba like a dog) spent $2.9 billion, accounting for almost a third of the day’s total sales.

It’s worth noting we didn’t just buy more stuff this year. We bought more expensive stuff (confirming scientists’ predictions that the averageAmerican’s swag is growing).

According to Adobe (which tracks the online sales of the top 80 U.S. online retailers) and my wife (who tracks the online purchases of me) the average shopping cart was 6% bigger at checkout than last year.

The top-selling products yesterday were a predictable seasonal cocktail of Frozen 2 toys, L.O.L. Surprise dolls, Nintendo crappola, Samsung TVs, and Apple laptops.

Adobe (who I was pretty sure exclusively manufactured popups that stopped my computer from working) successfully predicted that yesterday’s sales would hit the $9.4 billion mark. And they’re forecasting that online sales for the entire holiday season will hit a staggering $143.8 billion.

In Other News

“The Last Chance to Make the Money of Your Dreams”

The stock market is looking a little soggy today but it’s been on an absolute tear this year.

Despite investor anxiety and analyst predictions of doom and gloom, the markets have been breaking records left and right.

However, according to Graham Summers, this isn’t just any bull market.

It’s potentially the last great bull market, and the last chance to make proper money, for the next two decades.

This obviously wasn’t something I was expecting to hear at the coffee machine on a Tuesday morning. So I asked Graham to swing by the OLT office and tell you folks all about.

Take it away, Graham:

Well, Shane. Like I said, this is your LAST chance to use the stock market to achieve your dreams.

Allow me to explain.

First, take a look at this chart. It shows the last 100 years of the S&P 500 stock market index.

As you can see, there have been THREE bull markets in the last 100 years (identified with green arrows):

  1. From 1945-1967
  2. Another from 1983-2000
  3. The one that began in 2014.

Yes, we only JUST entered a new bull market in 2014. Prior to that, stocks had gone NOWHERE for 15 years.

Which brings me to my next point.

EVERY bull market has ended with a bear market/consolidation period during which stocks went nowhere for DECADES (minimum 15 years).

So again, I am telling you…

The current bull market is your LAST chance to use the stock market to achieve your dreams. When it ends, as all bull markets do, we will enter a bear market that will last at least 15 if not 20 years.

Meaning if this bull market ends next year… stocks won’t enter a new bull market until 2035 if not 2040.

If you are not taking advantage of this bull market now, you WILL most definitely regret it.


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