Customer Writes Negative Review After Never Receiving Order, Site Fines Her $3.5K

UPDATE 11/18: We’ve been in touch with Jen after numerous readers reached out to Consumerist saying they wanted to help with her case. She’s going to keep us in the loop about her situation, but wanted share a message with those who’ve been supporting her and her husband. “If you could just convey to everyone how much we deeply appreciate all the support the internet has generated, that would be wonderful,” Jen writes. Our readers are the best.

We’ve all seen the social media meltdowns that can ensue when customers write negative things about a company online, which always result in the company looking like the bad guy whether it is or not. But one online retailer has taken that revenge into the real world, slapping an unsatisfied customer with a $3,500 fine and dinging her credit score after she didn’t pay up.

A few years ago, Jen’s husband ordered a bunch of trinkets from a website that appears to deal in the sort of odds and ends one might find at a Spencer’s Gifts. But 30 days after he ordered it, the products hadn’t arrived and PayPal canceled the transaction, she tells KUTV.com.

She wanted to know why the items never showed up, so she did what any logical customer would do and called up the company to get some information. Unfortunately she couldn’t reach anyone, so she channeled her frustration into a negative review on RipoffReport.com.

“There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being,” it says, accusing the company of having “horrible customer service practices.”

Done and done, right? Wrong. Fast forward three years later when her husband got an email from the company (which means someone works there after all, eh?) demanding that the post be taken down or they would be fined.

The company cited a “non-disparagement contract” within its terms of sale with a clause that it says gives it the right to demand such a fine:

“In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts [our company], its reputation, products, services, management or employees.”

If you violate that contract, the clause says a consumer has 72 hours to remove the post or face the $3,500 fine. If it’s not paid, the delinquency is then reported to credit bureaus.

“This is fraud,” the woman says. “They’re blackmailing us for telling the truth.”

She and her husband attempted to get RipoffReport.com to pull the review but were told that wasn’t going to happen, and the credit bureaus say that because the company claims the charge is valid, the credit dent will remain.

When KUTV.com dug a little deeper, the news team found that the company had an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau in 2010 (two years after the order was placed) for “not delivering products purchased online in a timely manner.”

The company also claimed in an email to KUTV.com via an unidentified person that the $3,500 fine and the alleged threat of removing the post or facing the fine wasn’t blackmail, just a “diligent effort to help them avoid [the fine].”

The news station spoke to a First Amendment attorney who pretty much said exactly what we’re thinking — this is unheard of.

“I think this is outrageous that a company like this would force a consumer to relinquish their first amendment rights to speak about their product as a condition of sale,” Hunt said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He says, and we agree that there’s a pretty darn good chance any judge facing this issue in court would throw out a non-disparagement clause as unconstitutional.

“I have a serious question about whether a court would enforce that kind of covenant because it’s massively over broad and against public policy,” he explains.

In the meantime, the couple can’t afford an attorney to fight the clause on the grounds of its likely unconstitutionality but are working with Experian to try and fix the damage done to their credit.

How about this for a sales contract? You sell me something, you deliver it. You don’t, well then your contract is null and void, sir. Harrumph.

Previously in vengeful companies: Criticize Dentist On Yelp, Get Threatened With Felony ‘Internet Business Defamation’; Shoe Store Allegedly Bans Mom Over Son’s Negative Yelp Review; Restaurant Owner Gets 90 Days In Jail For Creating Fake Sex Site Profile For Unsatisfied Customer; Restaurant Owner Gets Revenge On A Customer With A Fake Sex Site Profile, Hooks Up With Libel Conviction

Fined For Posting A Negative Review Online [KUTV.com]

Read Comments7

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  1. mjd74 says:

    I’m guessing this is actually their business model. They can make way more money than by selling “trinkets”, and they don’t have to maintain any physical stock!

  2. APK1080 says:

    How can there be a sales contract when no sale took place?

    • econobikerredux says:

      My thoughts also:
      “But 30 days after he ordered it, the products hadn’t arrived and PayPal canceled the transaction.”

      Given that there should be some sort of Paypal record of the cancelled transaction, the couple perhaps could rely on the lack of receiving the goods and cancelled transaction as proof that they are not bound by any sales contract fine print.

  3. JustPassingBy says:

    Agree with APK1080.

    I looked at their Terms of Sale and Use, Policies and there’s nothing that refers to negative comments. There’s nothing that mention comments of any kind. Their site map has no link to a sales contract. How can they get away with this?

  4. Terryc says:

    I have to agree if no product was received & no payment was received then what was the “sale” the sales contract was attached to? since there was no valid sale there is no valid sales contract. Sue the site for treble damages.

  5. DaddyBee says:

    Agreed with APK and the other commenters – no sale means no sale contract, therefore they are completely outside the law and any agreement when charging this penalty fee. (Not to mention the illegality of the actual fee itself.)

    Surely some lawyer will take this on for a fee to be charged later since this is so clear cut. If not, then what else can they do?

  6. StevenPierce says:

    These guys are a well known spam and huckster house. Their address is legendary as it really belongs to Mailbox Forwarding Inc.. They have at various times been involved in a diploma mills, selling hand rolled cigars and any of a number of late night schemes and scams.

    File a complaint with the Attorney General in Michigan.

    http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-17337—,00.html

    Also file a complaint with the FTC

    http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports

    – Steve