Best Buy, Microsoft Accused Of Racketeering

When you think RICO you think Al Capone, or maybe Tony Soprano if you watch too much HBO. You don’t really think of Best Buy and Microsoft, do you? James Odom does. He’s the original plaintiff in a now 4 year old class action lawsuit that just won’t go away for Best Buy and Microsoft, one that now includes racketeering charges.

Are they warranted? Maybe. If what Odom says is true, some seriously shady business was going down between MSN and Best Buy—specifically, Odom accuses the store of taking money from Microsoft to sign customers up for accounts with MSN using their credit or debit card numbers without their consent. Read excerpts from the complaint inside.

Odom alleged that if the customer was paying by debit or credit card the Best Buy employee would scan the Trial CD. If asked why the Trial CD had been scanned, the Best Buy employee would claim it was for “inventory control or otherwise misrepresent[ ] the purpose of the scanning.” Odom alleged that what this scanning actually did was send the information to Microsoft. Microsoft would then, without the customer’s knowledge or permission, activate an MSN account in the customer’s name. If the customer did not cancel the account before the expiration of the free trial period, Microsoft would start billing the debit or credit card number.
Odom further alleged that when customers called to dispute these charges, Microsoft directed some of them to “seek relief from their debit or credit card issuers.”

Katherine Moureaux-Maloney was added as a second plaintiff. Moureaux-Maloney alleges that in September 2001 she purchased a cell phone and a cell phone service plan at a Best Buy store in Reno, Nevada, using a debit card. She alleges that a Best Buy employee scanned a Trial CD and swiped her debit card, thereby sending the information to

Microsoft and establishing a thirty-day trial subscription in her name. The employee did not tell Moureaux-Maloney that this was being done. Moureaux-Maloney did not know she had this service and never used it. After the thirty days elapsed, Microsoft withdrew monthly MSN charges from Moureaux-Maloney’s debit card account for seventeen months without her knowledge or authorization. In November 2003, Moureaux-Maloney received a bill from Microsoft for monthly MSN charges for April, May, and June 2003 after “Microsoft was unable to continue withdrawing the charges from her debit card account.” Upon receiving this bill,

Moureaux-Maloney and her husband immediately contacted Microsoft and discovered that the MSN account had been established in her name through Best Buy. Upon reviewing her bank statements, she discovered the withdrawals Microsoft had made for seventeen months. Finally, Moureaux-Maloney alleges that she “has not received any refund for any of the MSN charges that Microsoft withdrew from her debit card account, and Microsoft continues to seek payment from her of MSN charges for April, May, and June 2003.”

Sounds shady to us…—MEGHANN MARCO

JAMES ODOM vs. MICROSOFT CORPORATION, Washington corporation; BEST BUY OPINION CO., INC., a Minnesota corporation, (PDF)
(Photo: Germano Leite)

Comments

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  1. mikyrok says:

    So it took this woman 17 months to figure out that she was paying a monthly fee to microsoft?

    I feel this isn’t the entire story..

  2. not_seth_brundle says:

    @mikeyrock: I think you might be surprised by how many people do not read their credit card statements line-by-line.

  3. BillyShears says:

    @not_seth_brundle: That’s true, but carelessness is hardly an excuse. It was definitely shady of Best Buy and Microsoft to do this, but the fact that it took the woman over a year to figure it out is definitely her fault.

    I hope the two get more than a hand-slapping for this.

  4. dragon12 says:

    I worked at Best Buy while I was finishing school around the time they devised this ripoff. The store would receive between $80-!50 from Microsoft for each”free trial” subscription that was “given” away. One thing that gets me is the customer had to sign a contract using their little signature pad which laid out pretty plainly what the contract entailed. Even if she used her debit card as credit she would still had to sign her name and check a box that says yes I agree to this contract….then sign for the purchase. It was a ripoff, but she did sign the contract. I saw some dishonest things there but never saw anybody sign a customer’s name.

  5. Seacub says:

    I bought a laptop at Best Buy in 2000 or 2001, they did the MSN cd scan, but the sales guy told me in order to get the discount (few hundred bucks) he had to activate an account, he gave me the number to call, so I went right home and cancelled. I thought it was sleazy, but whatever. If the sales guy hadn’t been bluntly honest that it was just to get me a discount I probably wouldn’t have known for months.

    In other news, MSN sucks balls and they nearly drove me criminally insane when I had their DSL service. It was 9 years ago and the lambs still haven’t stopped crying.

  6. cgmaetc says:

    @BillyShears: Yeah, how dare she assume the store was being honest and forthright with their customers. I mean, it’s not like they were breaking the law or something…

    …wait a minute…

  7. not_seth_brundle says:

    @BillyShears: Excuses have nothing to do with it. She’s not the one on trial.

  8. Lars says:

    Actually, when I think RICO and racketeering, I think of the great Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. But then again, I lived in Rhode Island for several years.

    I avoid Best Buy as much as possible, and the stories I’ve been reading here tell me why that’s such a good policy. Let’s see, a misleading intranet to screw customers out of money, dishonest warranty policies, and now dishonestly signing people up for services they don’t want or need. How long can a business get away with such chicanery and expect to survive?

    Outside of local merchants, has anybody found other electronics retailers to be honest or at least not so slick in their sales policies?

  9. cgmaetc says:

    Fry’s Electronics is usually a good alternative… but it’s best to know what you are looking for before you go.

  10. BillyShears says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Yes, she’s not the one on trial. However, I maintain that if you don’t so much as take five minutes a month to check your credit card statements for things that are out of the ordinary, you’re probably not the sharpest consumer to begin with.

  11. GearheadGeek says:

    It’s worse than not checking your credit-card statement fully every month, it was her DEBIT card. If you don’t watch what’s going in and out of your checking account, you’re an easy mark AND you’re the sort who’s likely to bounce checks because you just don’t know what’s in there. Personally I think you should check both credit and bank accounts line by line every month, if there are too many charges to do that you’re probably spending too much money.

  12. krunk4ever says:

    To me, Microsoft/MSN is also a victim in this whole mess. It sounds to me that Best Buy’s the only shady one here and if you read the other post: Best Buy Employee Confesses To Scams Similar To Ones Outli…, Best Buy does this with a ton of companies: AOL, MSN, NetZero, magazine offers, or whatever other D-SUB (digital subscriptions) we had.

  13. hop says:

    best buy sucketh…………………………..

  14. not_seth_brundle says:

    @GearheadGeek:

    Good grief. Yes, people should be diligent in watching their finances. However, failure to do so does not create a license for companies to steal from you.

    I thought this was a pro-consumer site?

  15. synergy says:

    @not_seth_brundle: I don’t think GearheadGeek is an employee/intern of Consumerist. S/he is entitled to their opinion.

    I also agree the woman should’ve looked at her bank statement. She would never have looked at if it hadn’t been for this, then.

  16. synergy says:

    But, yes, Best Buy is wrong for pulling this crap.

  17. maciejb says:

    (At least in Canada), signatures on a contract mean nothing if the signer was misled into signing it. Particularly with the inclusion of non-standard clauses. It is the duty of Best Buy (in this case) to explain what it is the customer is signing, otherwise the “reasonable person test” would indicate that the customer believes he is signing a standard sales contract. Since monthly payments to Microsoft are NOT standard on computer sales contracts anywhere else, the person signing needs to be explicitly made aware of it to create a valid contract.

  18. Seth_Went_to_the_Bank says:

    This is interesting. I went through something similar.

    I started getting billed for some MSN crap I never ordered. I called MSN. The rep said “we get these calls all the time.” They had: an account listed for “me” but with a phony address. An address which clearly and absolutely never would have allowed a successful credit card charge.

    As my credit card company later explained to me, if a merchant “wants” to, they can use less stringent fraud protection. In other words, MSN set it up so they CAN process and accept questionable charges.

    It gets better (or worse). Even though MSN acknowledged the account was clearly fraudulent, they made me dispute it, just as the person in the story says. They made go through the hassle of initiating a dispute with my credit card company, a dispute they knew they could NOT win.

    Then… they fought my credit card company and claimed the charge was legitimate, because I hadn’t included some bullshit case number in my dispute.

    Let’s review: they know the charge is fraud. They refuse to reverse it. They get a dispute. They know the charge is fraud, but fight it, because I didn’t give them back a case number they already had.

    Anyone think they might just wanna keep all the millions of dollars from these charges?

  19. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Sue their heads off. And Best Buy AND Microsoft (they had a part in this too) should get fined out of business. Fine them up to $100 MILLION PER PERSON they defrauded.

  20. XianZhuXuande says:

    I don’t see what’s wrong with Microsoft’s role in this. These trial discs are common to all sorts of companies. What isn’t common is activating the demo without the customer’s knowledge. You see, you can use those free discs at electronic retail stores to sign up for programs like AOL or MSN. The representative ties your card to the disc through activation, thus making you a subscriber. Microsoft’s only role would be honoring the account.

    I haven’t seen this happen, but I can see it happening from time to time. Selling those AOL and MSN subscriptions is a huge initiative for register representatives at BestBuy (and probably other stores too). The store gets a hefty bonus for signing a customer up (last I heard a new AOL customer earned the store $75). Consequently, managers push employees hard to sell them. An employee eager to please their manager, or fearful of losing their job, might just resort to this…

  21. higginsrj says:

    @mikeyrock: Wow, this is some kind of record for the first blame-the-victim response. Nice work!

  22. Trackback says:

    You may have heard recently about the racketeering case against Microsoft and Best Buy, where Best Buy would sign up customers for an MSN subscription without letting the subscriber know. A former Best Buy employee has explained how the whole scam worked.