In the era of online retail, stories about mix-ups leading to customers’ posting bad reviews online are pretty easy to come by. But not a whole lot of them lead to customers’ being slapped with $3,500 fines and having to resort to a lawsuit.
In late 2008, John Palmer ordered some gadgets from online retail site KlearGear.com, but the order never arrived. His wife, Jen, contacted the company to ask why, and she had considerable difficulty finding someone to talk to on the phone. Eventually, someone told her by email that the order that John Palmer had never paid. (Reporting on this matter doesn’t offer a definitive yes or no about the non-payment claim.)
Frustrated, Jen Palmer went to the site RipoffReport.com and posted a review
of KlearGear that read, in part, “There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being.”
The review remained there, untouched, for more than three years. In May 2012, KlearGear must have gotten word of the review, because it sent John Palmer an email that demanded he take down the review within three days or pay a fine.
"If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation,” it read.
The retailer claimed the review was a breach of its terms of sale.
When Jen Palmer contacted RipoffReport about taking down the review, the site informed her it would cost $2,000 to take it down, though Salt Lake City news station KUTV reported
that the site later clarified that it never takes reviews down
. The $2,000 is the price for its VIP arbitration program.
Whatever the Palmers did, it was going to cost them thousands of dollars, so they simply didn’t pay the fine. The failure to pay has apparently damaged their credit, so they’re suing KlearGear for $75,000 for inflicting emotional distress and for violating the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, according to Business Insider
The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is filing the suit on behalf of the Palmers. Attorney Scott Michelman says the suit is intended to deter “abusive consumer practices.”
[RELATED: Ragan's new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]
KlearGear has remained largely quiet during the whole ordeal. No one there commented to Business Insider
, and TechCrunch reports
the company has locked down its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The lesson here seems pretty simple: If someone leaves a bad review of your brand online, fining them in retaliation is probably going to come back to bite you. There’s this tweet, for example: