Tag Archives | Irish News of the World

What garages are doing to get customers in the door

Talking to a colleague of mine during the week, he had a story that made him pretty angry the previous weekend.  He’s in the market for a “people carrier” to cater for his expanding family so had been doing some internet searches around Dublin garages.

He found one in Sandyford, but since he lives on the north side, he rang first to make sure he wouldn’t be making a wasted trip. The salesman confirmed the asking price for the people carrier, as well as giving a provisional valuation on the car to be traded in – to be confirmed when he saw the car.

So, the trip was made, but when my colleague arrived, the salesman increased the cost of the people carrier by €3,000 saying that he’d made a mistake on the phone (and by extension on the internet).

On top of that, he dropped the trade-in price my colleagues own car by €3000 as well – saying that now that he saw the car, he would have to drop the offer.

The salesman tried to say that at least it wasn’t a wasted trip, but on seeing a €6,000 turnaound in expected costs my colleague obviously wasn’t convinced.

From the salesman perspective, I suppose he was somewhat happy to at least have had someone in the door given how tough their business is at the moment. You never know, someone less determined in their requirements could have been convinced to have made the purchase.

A similar scenario was covered by Dermott Jewell in his weekly article in the Irish News of the World recently as well. Mr. Jewell claimed that the salesman had done nothing wrong in this situation.

With regards to the trade-in price, that’s definitely the case. Whether or not my colleague was happy with the trade-in price, the salesman is entitled to offer whatever he wants when he sees it. It’s common practice for garages to offer derisory money for the trade-in of cars if they’re cars that they don’t want to have on their hands to resell.

However, with regards to the increase in the asking price for the people carrier, I think that the salesman is guilty of an offence under the Consumer Protection Act, 2007. Obviously, that would imply that the National Consumer Agency (NCA) would actually follow up on a complaint – but none the less, the complaint should be made.

This act prohibits misleading practices – as per the NCA website:

Misleading Practices prohibited by the Act
A misleading practice involves providing false misleading and deceptive information. Misleading advertising, misleading information and withholding material information are considered misleading practices. The main characteristics of a misleading action are false or inaccurate information on:

  • the existence or nature of the product/service,
  • the main characteristics, including its availability at a particular time, place, or at a particular price,
  • usage and prior history,
  • the price of the product/service, the manner in which the price was calculated or the existence and nature of a specific price advantage, and the legal right of a consumer (whether contractual or otherwise) or matters relating to when and how or in what circumstances those rights may be exercised.

In the example of my colleague, the price was advertised over the internet, and subsequently confirmed over the phone, so the salesman was clearly misleading my colleague with the intention of enticing hime into the garage on false pretences.

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B&B – I didn’t use my room, should I have to pay?

Irish News of the World

Sunday May 31st, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Question:

I booked a B&B in Kilkenny last weekend for three of us to share a triple room. I booked over the phone and gave my Laser card details to secure the booking.

I checked in on the Friday and was given the keys. I went to meet my friends, but one of them fell ill and we had to bring them to hospital and we didn’t end up staying in the room.

The B&B still wants me to pay the full €117 for the room for the three of us, even though we didn’t stay there.

I think this is unfair. What are my rights?

Answer:

Based on the information you’ve provided, unfortunately for you, the B&B are completely within their rights to charge you for the room.

As far as they’d have known, you took the keys and would be staying in the room. You don’t indicate whether you contacted them to let them know that you wouldn’t be back that night.

In fact, even if you did, most reservations and bookings will allow you to be charged the full fee if you cancel at such short notice. Depending on the time of year, they might not be able to rent out the room again.

In this particular case, the best you could hope for is that you explain the situation you experienced that weekend and hope for a little good will from the owner of the B&B – maybe they’ll give you a discount if you go back for another weekend sometime soon.

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Another readers question about Ryanair website advertising

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Question:

I was on the Ryanair website recently where I saw flights advertised to Poland for €22.79, but when I went through the process to book, the final price was €54.99, plus taxes of €22.79. I couldn’t find any flights at the €22.79. Is there something I can do about this because I’m sick of Ryanair misleading people.

Answer:

The standard response to queries such as this is that when originally offered, there were some flights available at the special offer price, and then depending on demand, the prices went up.

Normally, complaints about misleading advertising can be sent to the statutory Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC), or as is most common at the moment, to the self-regulating Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI).

Both these organisations can do little once an advert is broadcast apart from giving a slap on the wrist and maybe in the case of the BCC, requesting that the advertiser provide a clarification or correction.

In this particular example however, as the information you read was on the companies own website, neither the BCC nor the ASAI have any jurisdiction.

The EU are trying to enforce airline pricing regulations for websites at the moment but this focus on how prices are structured as you’re buying your flight, rather than on advertising on the sites themselves.

So, while you would hope that companies would provide accurate information about their products and prices on their website, there’s actually nothing that we can do if they don’t – apart from highlighting it to others and avoiding using them if we feel strongly about what they’re doing.

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Make your cash work harder for that rainy day

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Working Cash Hard for Rainy Day

Sometimes these days it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. As jobs are lost nearly every day, yet with the end of the Celtic Tiger comes cheaper shopping – prices fell by 3.5% on average in April alone.

Falling interest rates means some of us have cheaper mortgages while others are stuck paying fixed amounts every month. And falling rates are causing headaches for those of us who are trying to save a little nest egg for a rainy day.

Saving Ireland

In 2007 we were saving 3% of our disposable income, while now we’re saving over 3 times that at 10%. According to the NIB who releases those figures, “Irish households are saving by buying less”.

Do what mother says!

Growing up, we were always told that we should have a little savings in reserve in case of a rainy day. Some of us, unfortunately, may experience that rainy day sooner rather than later, and not just because our summer hasn’t started yet.

A rainy day fund should probably contain enough money to allow you cover your monthly expenses until you find a new job. To avoid having to wait to get access to your money, it should also be easily accessible in an emergency. Depending on your line of work, your rainy day fund could be anything from 4 weeks to 6 months or even more in the current job market.

Getting any Interest?

Even though keeping large amounts of money in your current account means that it’s the most accessible possible, apart from Halifax who pay 7% up to a balance of €2000, current accounts pay the worst interest of all – generally less than 1% for most banks.

But beware the small print

When picking an appropriate savings product, you should first check a couple of things. How long will the bank pay that rate for – many accounts are limited to some time in 2010? Is there a maximum or minimum balances? How often will they allow you get access to your money – is it days, weeks, months or years? Do you have to make regular minimum deposits – some let you save €1 per month, others want €100? Are there interest bonus’ or penalties  – either extra interest to leave your savings there, or penalties if you stop saving early?

Show me the regular money!

I think that the best way to build up the rainy day nest egg is to save a little amount regularly – and preferably to have the money taken straight from your account as soon as your salary is put in. That way, you don’t get the chance to spend it on something else.

Therefore, a Regular Saver account is the account to go for. If you had an SSIA, it’s almost the exact same concept, except this time there’s no free money from the government.

The best rate available at the moment is the Family Saver Account from the EBS that pays 5.1%. Next best is the Regular Saver account from the AIB that pays 5%. The worst accounts just pay 1%. If you’re saving €100 per month, that’s almost an extra €50 in your pocket (before DIRT tax).

More interesting

If you’ve got a bit of money put away already, and you want to try to earn a bit more money, you could lock away the money for a bit longer – but remember, the longer the term, the less easy to get at it in case of an emergency.

The best rate for a 6 month deposit is 4.07% with Investec. They also provide the best 1 year rate at 4.5%.

And try as we might, even when it comes to earning interest on our savings, the government will still take their chunk. For most of us, DIRT tax means they’ll take 25% of our interest as tax. This was only 20% back in November before the budgets kicked in.

More Interest, less Tax
There are ways to avoid paying this DIRT tax. You don’t pay DIRT on the money you make on your savings with the Credit Unions. But, the money you earn from a credit union isn’t treated as interest – instead it’s considered a dividend – or income. So, instead of paying DIRT, you must declare the income and be taxed on it.

For most of us, the main way to avoid DIRT means investing with the An Post through their Savings Certificates or Savings Bonds. These are longer term savings of 3 or 5.5 years so you’d need to be sure you won’t need the cash in the short term. The interest paid is equivalent to 4.3% and 4.7% respectively.

If you’re over 65 and meet certain criteria, you’re not liable to pay any DIRT on your savings interest. Also, if you’re a person with certain disabilities, you don’t have to pay DIRT tax either. The Revenue.ie website will provide further details on whether you have to pay or not, and how to go about getting refunds if you are paying but shouldn’t be.

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Mobile Broadband – Options and prices examined

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Broadband on the Move

In doing some research recently, I came across the mind boggling fact that there are 117million mobile broadband users in China – about 40% of all interest users. Even more extraordinary is that these Chinese surfers are doing so without the benefit of the superfast 3G mobile broadband technology.

By contrast, there are about 9million mobile broadband users in the whole of Europe, with 250,000 in Ireland.

Ireland has one of the biggest take ups of 3g mobile broadband of all European countries with almost 25% of all Irish broadband users now accessing the internet using their mobile phones according to ComReg.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband is sold in two ways – directly on your phone through a data “add-on” package, or a separate broadband modem with a SIM card that you can use to connect your laptop or netbook to the internet no matter where you are.

All 4 main mobile providers in Ireland will sell you a mobile broadband package, but like their other products, there are loads of choices which can confuse you into picking a package that isn’t really suitable for you.

Unfortunately, the CallCosts.ie website doesn’t yet provide a mobile broadband comparison functionality in the same way that they allow you compare phone call or text costs.

While mobile broadband can be brilliantly useful and convenient where it’s available and reliable, there are some pitfalls with mobile broadband that you should watch out for as otherwise you could end up costing yourself hundreds, if not thousands of euros.

Add On Data Packages

As I’ve highlighted before, mobile phone companies seem to specialise in providing product options designed to confuse the consumer. They do this with phone calls and text messages, and broadband data packages are no different.

So, the first thing to ensure you save your hard earned cash is to make sure you pick the right package.

If you’re a pay as you go customer and you just want a data bundle on your phone to access broadband internet data, then you’ll get the best value for money by using one of the daily packages provided by Meteor, O2 or Vodafone if you’re only going to have a small amount of usage every day. These will cost you €360 per year.

If you’ve larger usage, you could go for the Three monthly package which gives you 10gb of data usage for €300 per year.

You should avoid the Three weekly and daily packages as these could cost you between €200 and €1500 more than the other packages.

As a pay monthly customer, the data packages on your mobile are far poorer value across all 4 mobile companies. The problem with these packages is that they charge you per month, but they provide you with very small amounts of data per month.

The worst value is the Meteor €9.99 per month package which will cost you €120 per year, but for only 3GB of data – O2 provide the same package for a saving of €30 per month – but it’s still poor value for money.

If you need more data per month, then either Meteor or O2 provide 10gb data bundles for €360 per year. The best value is the Three €19.99 package for 10gb per month – which at €240 for the year is a saving of €120.

Broadband Modem Packages

The biggest focus for the mobile companies at the moment appears to be the mobile broadband modem market where you must buy a standalone “dongle” (or broadband modem) that will allow laptop users connect to the internet while on the move. This broadband modem has it’s own SIM card for connecting to the network and you then pay a monthly contract to connect to the internet.

As a pay monthly customer, you’ll get the best value for money when it comes to getting broadband from the mobile companies. The best value for money out there is the O2 basic modem package where you’ll get 120gb of data for the year for €379.

Vodafone and Meteor provide cheaper deals, around €235 per year, but you only get half the amount of data – 60gb.

Downloading abroad

The simple piece of advice here is to not use your data package when you’re abroad. The European Commission is addressing the high costs that mobile phone companies charge their customers for data when they’re roaming, but until then, it’s best to completely avoid this.

As a comparison, in Ireland you can get 50mb of data for 99c as a pay as you go customer. If you’re roaming abroad, that same 50mb will cost you €14.58 in Europe and €30.28 in the rest of the world if you’re a Vodafone pay monthly customer. 50mb of data is the equivalent of about 2 albums of music

Out of Bundle Usage

The worst scare story of someone getting caught out using their mobile phone for data while abroad was one person in the UK who came home to a bill for over £22,000.

Going over the top

The third key thing to watch out for when you’re using your mobile broadband – on your phone or through a modem – is to make very sure that you don’t go over your data limits.

If you have a package that gives you 500mb or 10gb, it will prove very expensive for you to go over those limits.

ValueIreland.com has been told horror stories by readers of getting nasty surprises from their mobile bills from going over their data package limits. Sometimes, if you’re very early on in your usage, the companies might let you off if you tell them you didn’t understand the pricing, but most times, you’ll end up paying. Some people have ended up paying from €200 extra to €1200 extra for one month because of this mistake.

Most companies charge an extra 2c for each kb that you use over and above your limit – that’s the equivalent of an extra an extra €60 just to download one extra music track to your phone, or nearly €500 for one album.

This just shows the importance of picking your correct tariff when you sign up in the first place.

Don’t pay at all

If you’re keen to have your internet and e-mails with you on your mobile phone, then the final tip for you is how to not pay at all.

Many phones these days provide a connection will allow you connect to a WIFI internet connection. If you’re smart, you can now find places all around the country that provide free WIFI which therefore get your broadband internet on the move, but at zero cost.

Click here for a link that will provide you with information and links to a map of Ireland that shows where the free WIFI hotspots are around the country.

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Haggling for a Discount – save yourself a few quid

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Haggling for a Discount

In boxing terms, you should never hit a man when he’s down, yet when you’re adversary is struggling; it is the perfect time to take advantage.

The same could be said when it comes to getting value for money when you’re out shopping – particularly if you’re buying bigger and more expensive items.

We’ve heard that shops are struggling with a reduction in the number of customers as a result of the recession, and that even what customers there are  spend less.

So if you’re in the market for a “big ticket” items for whatever reason, it’s worth bearing this in mind when trying to get yourself a good deal, and maybe even a few extra quid off the price.

With all the sales that are happening at the moment, despite it being a cliché of “rip off Ireland” it’s definitely worth shopping around to see what’s on offer.

If you find a shop offering the product that you like, and a price that’s competitive, then talk to them about doing business. Ask what their best offer is – is there any extra discount for cash? Will they throw anything extra in it for free? Maybe free delivery?

It costs you nothing to ask, but could save you a few extra quid if you do.

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Can I do anything about my management charges being increased?

Irish News of the World
May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Question:

I live in an apartment block where last year I was charged €765 in management charges. This year, the management company have told me that I now need to pay €965.

I wasn’t even happy with the service I was getting last year – the management agents are rubbish – so this new charge is definitely a rip off.

Do I have to pay this or is there anything I can do?

Answer:

It’s more than likely that when you bought your property that you signed a contract that obliges you to pay the management fee every year. Technically then, if you withhold payment, your management company could take legal action against you.

You’re only course of action is to follow up with your management company to see if they can have the management agents improve their services in the coming year.

Maybe if you specifically detail what your issues are, it might make it easier for them to follow up and fix things.

The National Property Services Regulatory Authority (NPSRA) will eventually regulate this area, but it doesn’t yet have any powers.

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Plastic fantastic? Being smart when using your credit cards

Irish News of the World

Sunday May 31st, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Plastic fantastic? Being smart when using your credit cards

Do you remember the advertising for your “flexible friend”? That was how Access (now Mastercard) credit cards were advertised in the 1980’s. Credit cards are fantastic in making it easy to spend our money – ore more particularly other peoples money – they can also be a severe danger to our personal financial health if we let our use of them get out of control.

The Central Bank said that in February new spending on credit cards was only €766m which was the lowest in 3 years. However, year-on-year spending still increased, but by only 3.3% – a value that was normally about 10%.

On the other hand, MABS (the Money Advice and Budgeting Service) said that consumer debt in Ireland is a growing problem. They have reported that already this year, more than half of those calling their advice lines where having problems with repaying credit card debt, as well as personal loans and overdrafts. This was a 25% jump in just 12 months.

So, playing your cards right by following the top tips below will mean that you can get all the benefits with none of the troubles when using your credit card.

Don’t break the rules

The key thing to remember about using a credit card is that any time you use your card outside the basic rules of your credit agreement you’re going to be charged extra by your provider.

If you go over your credit card limit, you’ll be charged between €6.25 and €12.70 each time.

Make sure you pay your bills on time or else you’ll be hit with the late payment charges that can range from €6.35 to €15.24.

And if you make a payment and it bounces (you don’t have enough cash in your bank account to pay the credit card debt), then you’ll be charged an “unpaid item fee” ranging from €3 to €19.05.

It’s worth remembering that if you end up in difficulties, these charges could end up being charged to you each month until you get things under control again.

Looking after your flexible friend

There are some simple things that you can do to make sure you don’t get hit with any of these fees – in a worst case scenario fees that could cost you over €500 per year.

The first simplest trick is to pay your bill by direct debit. This will mean that you’re always going to get your payment in to the credit card company on time.

To make sure that you always have enough money to pay your bill, you could avail of the text message service provided by some banks that lets you know when you bank balance drops to a certain level.

Lack of interest

Obviously the best way to save yourself cash on credit card interest is to make sure you pay your credit card bill in full when it’s due ever month.

If you can’t, then the next best thing is to be on the credit card with the lowest interest rate. The AIB Click card has the best rate in the market at the moment at 8.5%. This compares to the worst in the market of 17.9% on the Ulster Bank Classic card.

Wherever possible you should avoid withdrawing cash from your credit card. Interest on cash advances is anything from 5% to 7% higher, with the highest rate being the AIB Platinum card charging 23.4%.

And that doesn’t include the 1.5% that each credit card provider will charge you on each cash amount that you withdraw. Which they’ll charge you interest on as well.

Minimum Repayments

Unless you’re “snowballing” your debts which I wrote about in the past, you should never just restrict yourself to paying the minimum repayments on your credit card.

Martin Lewis, the UK Money Saving Expert, has a minimum repayments calculator on his website to show just how long you’ll be stuck in debt if do.

As an example, say you have €5000 on your credit card at 14.5% with a 2% (or €10) minimum repayment amount. If you only pay the minimum amount, it would take you 28 years and over €6000 in interest to clear the debt.

If you pay the minimum amount in the first month – about €100 – but then pay that amount every month, rather than the 2% minimum, you could save yourself nearly €3000 in interest.

Pay per use

Of course, one of the most frustrating aspects of using a credit card in Ireland these days is that it actually costs us to use one. The most infamous companies credit card surcharges are found when buying tickets for travel.

One trick that does work to avoid these surcharges is to buy vouchers from the same companies, and then using the vouchers to pay for your travel tickets – this works particularly well on the Ryanair website.

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Shopping up north – watch out when withdrawing cash

Update: Check out the 2016 listing of Special Offers from the various Northern Ireland grocery chains.

Irish News of the World

May 31st, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Shopping up north – watch out when withdrawing cash

A ValueIreland.com reader e-mailed us a top tip for anyone withdrawing sterling cash when up north for their shopping.

The reader notices that when using an Ulster Bank ATM in Newry, they weren’t charged charged a foreign currency withdrawal fee by their bank.

However, when using using an Alliance & Leicester ATM when in Belfast, they were charged €3.17 in fees.

What the reader found most bizarre was that the foreign currency withdrawl fee wasn’t charged by Alliance & Leicester, but by their own bank, Permanent TSB.

So that you know exactly what to expect if you’re travelling north, give your bank a call before you ring and find out what they will charge you if you withdraw sterling while there.

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Value for Money complaints

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Value for Money complaints

Historically, we Irish haven’t been all that keen on complaining. We normally wouldn’t like to draw attention to ourselves. For that reason, if we get poor service or a dodgy meal in a restaurant for example, we’re more likely to keep quiet rather than make our feelings known.

But I think that’s changing. More and more people are following up on dodgy quality products, bad service, and poor value for money. With money getting tighter and tighter these days, we’re starting to realise that if we don’t let business know that there’s a problem that we’ll end up wasting our hard earned cash.

Just in the last week, a large number of people sent in complaints to restaurants, garages, hotels, and shops and included ValueIreland.com on their complaint. As well allowing me share these complaints with you, it also puts a little extra pressure on the business through knowing that the complaint will be made public.

But there are a few things that people should always be doing when making their complaints to make sure they’re effective. In fact, if done properly, you can either save your money, or possibly even make some money.

Rules of Complaining

There are a couple of key rules you should follow when making a complaint that will help you be successful.

As soon as you have a problem, make your complaint. If you can, make your complaint in person straight away. It is also important that you complain in writing also – sent by registered post to make sure the business can’t deny receiving the complaint.

It is essential that you’re clear in what you’re complaining about. Provide as much detail as you can about what went wrong, when it happens and who was involved. Don’t be shy to ask for names of staff for example.

And finally, when you make your complaint, make sure that you explain what you want the business to do in order to make everything right for you.

In explaining to a business how they can fix things that you’ll be able to either save your money, or potentially make something for the future. If you’ve explained your problem clearly, genuinely and politely, and the business wants to keep your business, then they should be open to doing something to keep you happy.

Wherever you have a problem with a company you should complain to them to either get your money back or to get a discount or voucher for the future. Whether it be your bank, your credit card company, your mobile phone company or your management company, if you’re not happy, let them know. Here’s a few examples of how you can make a few quid from complaining.

Restaurants

Say you got a poor meal in a restaurant. Instead of meekly paying for it and saying nothing, ask to speak to a manager. Let them know that the meal wasn’t good value for money. You could ask for the meal to be taken off your bill, or maybe get a free meal or bottle of wine to the next time you visit. You could even ask for a voucher.

Supermarkets

What happens if you buy a product you’re not happy with from your local supermarket? Do you bring it back and ask for a refund, or just throw it out and forget about it.

Bring the item back to the supermarket the next time you’re there and ask for a refund, or replacement. Explain how unhappy you are and maybe they might even throw in a few vouchers.

If the local store doesn’t help you out, write to the head office explaining the situation and letting them know that their local store wasn’t very helpful and that if they don’t follow up that you’ll be taking your business elsewhere. You might find that you’ll get some vouchers or a gift card worth more than the original product, just to keep you happy.

North – South multiples

I’m not advising that everyone do this, but it’s a money maker none the less. A ValueIreland.com reader bought several items of clothing in a store in Northern Ireland significantly cheaper than they were in Dublin.

When she discovered some problems, she went to the version of the store in Dublin and demanded a refund. She got her refund, but at the more expensive Dublin prices rather than the cheaper Northern Ireland price. A nice little earner to get away with.

Holidays

If you’ve been away on a holiday but you weren’t happy, you should immediately make your complaint as soon as you get home. Many tour operators and holiday companies will hope that you put up and shut up long before they think about giving you any compensation.

Don’t let them away with it – fight for your due compensation by writing to head office. Persistence is the key to success with holiday complaints particularly if you’re case is legitimate, well put and politely argues. So keep at it. At the very least, you could get a voucher or a discount on your next years holidays.

Complain to the ESB

Something that a not a lot of people know, but if you complain to the ESB and for various reasons, if they don’t reply, they’ll give you €40. If they don’t respond to your complaint within 10 working days, they’ll pay you €40. If they promise you a refund for something, and they don’t within 10 days, they’ll give you an extra €40. Worth bearing in mind if you do have a problem with your electricity supplier.

Stick with it

With all these complaints, at some point, the companies will have to do something for you if you keep at them. If you have a legitimate complaint, you’d hope they’d do something sooner rather than later.

Remember though, it’s your money that you’re trying to get back, so stick with your complaints until you get what you’re looking for.

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