Category Archives: The Case Against Amazon.com, Inc.

Amazon Keeps Stealing: Social Media Influencer Loses $11,000 in Gift Card Balance; Commentary on the Parasitic Gift Card Industry

Here’s a story from mid-January 2020 from another customer that Amazon stole money from (purportedly a social media influencer and/or YouTuber with a large following). Amazon encourages customers to load gift cards onto their account, unlike most corporations that have you input or swipe the gift card at checkout. Their recent profitable quarter was undoubtedly partly funded by straight-up theft from individual customers who build up a large Amazon gift card balance on their Amazon account. This is on top of getting massive subsidies and corporate giveaways at all levels including incentives for their new distribution coming to Deltona, Florida, relief from state and federal income taxes, and highly favorable laws that allow them to treat employees and vendors badly (non-compete and non-disclosure agreements), compete directly with third-party sellers on their marketplace who are already paying Amazon an arm and a leg to be on the platform, and so forth. In Congress, I will not be on Amazon’s side… I will be going after them for their consistent patterns of grand theft and other unlawful, manipulative, and abusive behavior.


Ron on January 15, 2020

Subject: Amazon closed my account , won’t refund 7k gift balance

I found you on google search.

My case is very simple

I have been using amazon as a prime member for many years, I am a social media influencer and have many people sending me amazon gift cards. I have never had an issue and have always had a balance over 3k. I usually buy all my computers and music equipment on amazon as well as photography/ videographer gear. I was recently saving up for the new Mac Pro which is over 12k as the monitor alone is 6k

I didn’t think much of it I was at 7k maybe a few bunch more and woke up to an email saying my account has been closed

I call every day and they say it’s on hold, they make me give my name and billing address and say a specialist will contact me in 24 hours. I have never, not once spoke with a specialist not have a even got a reason for my account to be on hold. They don’t mention anything about gift cards, or fraud or anything like that. They always just say it’s on hold and it’s most likely because of unusual activity. They also shut down my wife’s account which uses the same address and shares the family prime plan. She also had a gift card balance of a little over $4000. So together this is over 11k . This is extremely frustrating, and has to be illegal. We do not break any terms of service, we don’t buy gift cards randomly or at all, anyone who sends us a gift card is intended as a gift only, we have 100’s k followers on all forms of social media and have a large support system with our fans. No one gets anything in return from sending us a gift card ever. Nothing more than a thank you email if that.

My questions are what do I do to get my account opened so I can spend my gift card balance, as I will never keep a balance ever again. This is a horrible mess and left me out a lot of money that I saved for a while to get to the 7k balance that I was planning to use on my new Mac Pro. Now I am lost, and can’t even sign in to amazon to get normal stuff for around the house.

Please respond if you can.

Thanks,
Ron [alias]


This e-mail was sent from a contact form on Thripp.com


Richard Thripp on January 16, 2020

Hi Ron,

I agree 100% that this is illegal and have heard so many stories like yours, including ones for sums as large as $80,000.

The laws at both the federal and state levels are clear… but there is magically no enforcement against Amazon I presume because of their size and influence. Also, most other companies (Walmart, Target, etc.) don’t pull stuff quite like this. Target sometimes refuses to restore a gift card balance but their app is prone to fraud so in that case another person hacks someone and steals their gift card to spend at Target. With Amazon, no one is getting to spend your gift card. Amazon is just pocketing the money they stole from you and from the people who gave you those gift cards.

In this case, I think your best weapon will be your social media presence. You will have to take to social media to get attention about this issue. It is very helpful that you did not have anything else going on such as drop-shipping items, trading gift cards for BitCoin, or receiving gift cards to evade income taxes.

You can also file complaints, typically online, with your state attorney general’s office and your regional Better Business Bureau. It is also possible to sue in small claims court as a last resort.

I would be happy to also write about your case on my website, although I am fairly unknown and don’t get much traffic. Let me know.

Presently, I am running for Congress, and Amazon definitely has something to fear if I get elected, as I will be taking action on their pattern of theft that could even be classified as racketeering and has been ongoing since October 2008.

Best regards,
Richard Thripp, Ph.D.
Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress (FL-06)
Adjunct Faculty, University of Central Florida


Ron on January 16, 2020

Feel free to write about it
Thanks for your help
Ron

Sent from my iPhone


Richard Thripp on January 17, 2020

Can I include your original email in the post? I will remove your name. Sorry. Should have asked this in prior email. It might be a few days as I have a few campaign-related things going on. I think you’ll get your money back. Just have to keep fighting and be patient.

– Richard


Ron on January 17, 2020

Yes that’s fine
Thanks for the help
So far nothing from amazon support
Just the same run around

Sent from my iPhone


Conclusion by Richard Thripp on January 31, 2020
Including Commentary on the Parasitic Gift Card Industry

Amazon particularly enjoys going after customers who are doing something shady such as receiving gift cards as payment to evade income taxes, trading BitCoin for gift cards, or perhaps committing straight-up credit card fraud. However, when Amazon bans customers they give no notice and actually have a fake script with call center employees to pretend an “account specialist” will call them back in 24 hours, which does not occur. Amazon has been following this same unlawful pattern since the 2008 financial crisis. When banned, you can’t even log in to view your Amazon order history, gift card balance, or gift card activity history. They also won’t share any information with you, typically even if you complain to the BBB or attorneys general, citing a blanket boilerplate response about the proprietary nature of their business and their privacy. It’s easy to go after customers on shaky ground because they can’t fight back, and Amazon makes no effort to refund the legitimate portion of gift card balances nor to escheat such funds to customers’ states of residence.

Amazon’s gift card company is a subsidiary, ACI Gift Cards Inc., set up in Washington state to avoid escheatment due to a lack of such laws there, whereas Amazon itself was initially incorporated in Washington state in 1994 but then Bezos had to reincorporate in Delaware in 1996 in order to go public. I have no evidence that Amazon escheats gift card balances to the states based on customers’ state of residence for states that do have escheatment laws, even though they are lawfully obliged to do so. It is funny that Amazon is a public company when it comes to taking advantage of American capital markets and massive corporate welfare, but private, proprietary, and incredibly secretive whenever it benefits them. It’s all part of corporate America’s playbook of privatizing profits while socializing financial burdens and losses, although Amazon takes it to a new extreme.

Another example of the extreme behavior of Amazon is that on their Amazon Mechanical Turk platform (MTurk) on which people complete repetitive tasks or surveys for micropayments, workers in other countries can participate but can only be paid in Amazon gift cards. Is this even legal? Many of these workers then have to arrange with Americans to order goods on their behalf at a 10–15% discount in order to be paid back in U.S. dollars or their preferred currency. A couple months ago a man in Vietnam contacted me about Amazon stealing $3,400 from him, as he had saved up his gift card balance over an entire year from working on the MTurk platform and then got banned when placing drop-shipped orders to U.S. addresses in order to attempt to get actual spendable money for his labors. He did get his accounts restored, but he had to fight with Amazon for quite some time, and for him this was a huge sum—an entire year’s work.

Donald Trump doesn’t like Amazon either, but not for the same reasons as I. He hates that Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post which is harder on him than other journalistic outfits, although in fact still gives him free media coverage that actually benefits him and normalizes his behavior. Just, less so than other newspapers. Even NPR has to clean up Donald Trump’s wild, incoherent rally speeches and convey his message for him, because what Trump actually says does not make a whole lot of sense. I also think there is some jealousy going on here as despite Amazon’s crimes and heavy-handed practices, there is no denying that Bezos is a business mastermind who has been far more successful than Trump and doesn’t have a string of bankruptcies behind him.

When it comes to Amazon, don’t think of them as your friend. Don’t carry a gift card balance unless you are prepared to lose it. The whole gift card industry is like a parasite on our economy and the American people. You are enculturated to believe you can’t give cash because it’s taboo. Says who? Why do we buy into this narrative? I do use gift cards frequently but they are for me and only when I can buy them at a discount. For example, I like to do my Target shopping using gift cards I buy on one day a year in December when Target sells them for 10% off. Another good source is Sam’s Club which offers hefty discounts on many gift cards. With a gift card you are lending a corporation money, and they might try to steal it from you despite that being illegal, or they may go bankrupt such as Circuit City, Borders, Toys ‘R’ Us, and so many others. You should be paid to do so, in the form of a hefty discount compared with the face value of the gift card.

Please donate to my progressive Democratic campaign for Congress in Florida’s 6th district if you can, or contact me to become a volunteer. I will never stop fighting for you.

Statement on Amazon Gift Card New Thefts of $100,000+; Proposal for Federal Escheatment

I am currently in communication with two customers Amazon recently banned and stole $100,000+ of gift card balance from. Yes, these customers may have been receiving kickbacks via Amazon GC to evade income tax, but this money belongs to the IRS, not Amazon. When will it end?

How about FEDERAL ESCHEATMENT of confiscated and stale Internet gift card balances under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution? REMOVE the incentive for Amazon to steal gift cards by requiring they turn the funds over rather than padding their stock price.

Federal escheatment will cut red tape for small businesses on the Internet who don’t have the resources to set up a subsidiary in an escheatment-free state and deal with escheating unclaimed gift cards to each customer’s state of residence for customers with addresses on file.

Some people are confused thinking that I boycott Amazon. I shop on Amazon and even invest in their stock. It’s not like I have access to some magical S&P499 index fund that omits Amazon.

New Theft by Amazon of 12-Year-Old’s Birthday Gift Cards

Update on 2019-11-04: Amazon restored Mr. Bowser’s son’s gift card balance! I have included an update from him at the very end.

I received this from a fellow Central Floridian father whose 12-year-old son was lucky enough to receive $335 in Amazon gift cards from friends and family at his birthday party. Amazon ended up banning his account after he tried to order items for himself and gifts for his family, and then Amazon has been jerking Mr. Bowser around, claiming that they can honor only $125 of the gift card balance.

Of course, if pressed Amazon might end up claiming that some of the gift cards applied to the account were purchased with stolen credit cards, but they never have to prove anything and always blame the recipient of the gift (victim blaming). They also steal the whole gift card balance, rather than just the purported illegitimate gift cards.

When reading accounts like this, keep in mind that Mr. Bowser just happens to be vocal and will not stand for this, whereas many other Amazon victims would not speak up like this. Also, that he is willing to speak up shows that he is not engaged in crime; people who are buying Amazon gift cards with stolen credit cards or laundering drug money are unlikely to be publicizing their situation.

Regarding the legality of Amazon’s actions, what they are doing is definitely illegal and although I am not a lawyer, I have cited several laws and presented a legal argument against their behavior in a typed deposition I gave in 2018 as an expert witness for a customer’s small claims lawsuit against Amazon for having over $3,000 of gift card balance stolen.

I do also want to clarify that I still use Amazon and that when they banned me in 2015, the notice did not include verbiage seen by some about not being allowed to create another Amazon account. Amazon has become a bit like a public utility in the same manner as Google, Facebook, and others; it is difficult to not use it and unfair to tell those that are dissatisfied that they can just go elsewhere. Of course, no one on the Internet can avoid using or connecting to Amazon Web Services, but also I am not one to avoid ordering from them if they have the best price, and Amazon is often losing money on individual orders in order to drive others out of business and maintain a dominant market position. But, I am careful to avoid accumulating an Amazon gift card balance that I am not prepared to lose.


AMAZON.COM STOLE MY 12-YEAR OLD SON’S BIRTHDAY

By Michael Bowser

My son, Morgan just turned 12. As many kids his age, he didn’t want gifts, but instead asked for cash so he could buy whatever he wanted. We recommended Amazon gift cards so he could begin learning about online commerce, patience, comparative shopping, and looking for value. Too often kids his age get excited and fall into impulse buying when a store does not have “exactly” what they want.

He received $335 in Amazon gift cards from his family and friends. This seemed like a financial windfall to him (and us). We set up his own Amazon account, uploaded all the gift cards and even signed him up for “Prime.”

He spent hours shopping, reading reviews and choosing exactly what he wanted. His cart had surprisingly little for himself, but included items like a bag of 60 Hair Scrunchies for his sister and an Ice Cream Maker so our family could make Ice Cream together. He loved the idea that he could now buy things for others with his own money.

On October 23rd, he finally placed his order.

On October 24th, he received the following e-mail from Amazon:

Hello,
 
We have closed your account and canceled all outstanding orders.

We took these actions because you were using Amazon Gift Cards that are in violation of our Terms and Conditions. We cannot reissue the gift cards or reimburse you for these funds.
 
If you believe you received this message in error, please call Customer Service at: . . . .

You can find more information on the Gift Card Terms and Conditions Help page:

My wife and I both contacted Amazon and both got different stories.  My wife was told they would review the situation and get back to us within 24 hours.  They told me that it was a closed case, his account was cancelled and his gift cards were all deactivated with no hope of reissue.  I was told specifically that there was no “next step” and “no one else to talk to.”

In neither case did they offer an explanation of what the violation supposedly was.

I poured over “Terms and Conditions” for Amazon, Gift Cards and Amazon Prime.  I could not find anything that would be considered a “violation.”

I reached out to everyone who had gotten him a gift card to see if any had come from questionable sources. All were purchased from Amazon directly except the ones we, personally got him from Publix (a large, reputable grocery chain in Florida).

After 24 hours, they did reactivate his account, but only reactivated $125 of the gift cards. He was still missing $210. Their response was to offer us $85.

WHAT? We obviously said, “No! We want the full amount back in there.” Amazon said they would have to review it and get back to us. This time, they said 3 to 5 days.

I tried to remain calm, certain that this was some kind of horrible mistake. I scoured the internet for people who may have had a similar problem to get a clue regarding where the problem was.

It did not take long before I was down the rabbit-hole.

I quickly found dozens of similar reports. For years, Amazon has been doing this. The only common denominator seems to be accounts with a large gift card balance. The magic number seems to be $300 but I found reports of people losing over $10,000.

This link: https://thripp.com/2015/09/amazon-steals-gift-cards/ is where I found legal complaints made by Richard Thripp, an Education Ph.D. candidate, to the Attorney General of Washington in 2015. He went through the same thing.

Amazon’s response to him was:

As noted in our Conditions of Use, in the section, “Your Account”: “Amazon reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in its sole discretion.”

“Refusal of Services” not-withstanding, I still fail to see how they can justify the seizure of legitimate gift cards as anything but “theft.” Since when does a company’s “Terms of Service” supersede the law?

I started realizing, this may not just be an “honest mistake.” This seems like systematic theft or, at the very least, gross negligence. These are generally small enough amounts that it may go unnoticed. When a customer pushes back against the behemoth, they are met with gatekeepers armed with scripts and corporate bureaucracy designed to confuse, delay and exhaust. I am sure the vast majority simply give up.

Sadly, I can not simply give up.

This experience was intended to be a lesson for my son in commerce. It has become a lesson on standing up for yourself. If I simply give up, cut Morgan a check for $335 and let him loose in Walmart, what kind of lesson am I sending him? What will he do the next time someone tries to take what is his? What would Captain America do?

I will continue to fight this to set a good example for my son. Even if my efforts do not provide him with a worthy lesson, Amazon has provided him with an equally valuable one: “Cash is King” and “Support your local Retailers.”


Update on 2019-11-04: Amazon restored Mr. Bowser’s son’s gift card balance! Here is an update from him:

November 4, 2019

Thank you for your support. On Saturday, November 2nd, the full amount has been restored to Morgan’s Amazon account. Resolution took 10 days, half a dozen calls, multiple Facebook postings, shares, blog postings, e-mails to news outlets and countless hours of effort.

There was no explanation of why his gift cards had been taken in the first place, where the problem was, or what finally led to the resolution. It may have been our steadfast diligence, the outpouring of support or simply the passage of time necessary for the corporate process to take place. Ultimately, the money simply appeared back on his account with a brief automated e-mail from Amazon stating that his balance has been restored.

We will probably never know the details, as I am sure Amazon feels no compulsion to explain their actions, lest they implicate themselves to some level of culpability. I know that many would feel we are owed “compensation” for our inconvenience. A gesture would be nice, but many in today’s society are excessively greedy. Amazon has no way of knowing we are not looking to take advantage and only want what is right.

I understand that we all make mistakes, but, sadly, this lack of explanation leaves me with a serious lack of trust moving forward. I can’t help but wonder when something like this will happen again to us, or someone else.

Please be careful, diligent and vocal. I doubt that this story is truly over.

Response to commentator on Amazon’s theft of $2,200 gift card balance purchased with cash at Walgreens

I received the following comment on my website from a commentator who purportedly suffered a theft by Amazon of their $2,200 gift card balance purchased with cash at Walgreens:

omg please tell me you can help me. here is quick version of what happened

I buy $2,200 in gift cards with cash at Wal greens to make a purchase on amazon with. I load the giftcardds to my amazon account and then I have AMAZON ask me to verify my account, I verify it then AMAZON asks for the bank to fax them proof of my name address and account. My bank is a prepaid Green Dot card and there terms are not to fax my info to anyone, even amazon.

6 weeks later of me faxing the info to amazon and them playing games saying they need the bank to do it. I call amazon up and tell them the bank doesn’t send out my personal info. and we do this whole circle for 8 weeks or so.

Amazon closes my account now for no reason and stole the gift card balance in my account.
I have receipt where I bought all the giftcards with CASH. and they still tell me I wont get it back

I responded as follows:

Amazon has been unprofitable for many years and only recently has become profitable, so they steal gift card balances as a way of improving profitability. It’s illegal, but no government officials care or do anything about it and even the general public assumes people deserved to have their gift card balance stolen.

With Green Dot as your bank, they probably provide you with statements online or by mail, so I would have faxed them a statement myself (although they asked for the fax to come from the bank rather than you, they might not have noticed the difference). I see that you did this and they claimed they needed it direct from the bank… but the low-level Amazon employees that handle this probably don’t know Green Dot’s fax number.

I have had a couple times where a corporation asked me to have a bank fax them a personalized letter indicating some information about me which banks will usually not do… I used to use NetSpend savings accounts to earn 5% interest and they ended up (after several years) freezing my accounts and demanding a fax from Chase Bank attesting to my legitimacy, which a veteran employee at Chase said they could not provide and she had never heard of a bank asking for this. I ended up getting my money back after explaining to the NetSpend corporate employee that this was ridiculous and I would file complaints and sue in small claims court if necessary, and that I had fought Amazon before and won.

Keep your Walgreens receipt and scan + photocopy it just to be safe. File complaints against Amazon with your state attorney general, the Washington state attorney general, and even the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Of course, if you try to go to a consumer advocate like Elliott.org they are going to say something like “he’s obviously a drug dealer—why would anyone buy $2,200 of Amazon gift cards with cash.” Caveat emptor.

Boston Restaurant L’Espalier Refuses to Honor Gift Cards; Relevance to Amazon’s Gift Card Racket

I came across a news story in the Boston Globe about the restaurant L’Espalier closing and refusing to honor gift cards. The restaurant isn’t going bankrupt; the owner just decided he was tired of it and wants to start a new restaurant. They announced on 12/26/2018 their last day would be 12/31/2018, only five days later. The restaurant’s PR firm has gone on record saying they won’t offer refunds to gift card holders, the owner has stated the gift cards won’t be valid at his new venture, and anyone who tried to book a table at the end of 2018 did not get to use their gift cards because they were fully booked.

Sean Murphy, author of the Boston Globe article contacted the office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Murphy reports: “But the office of Attorney General Maura Healey told me it expects L’Espalier to refund the gift cards, citing the state’s consumer protection law, Chapter 93A, which outlaws ‘unfair and deceptive’ practices by businesses.” Following this, L’Espalier’s PR firm said it will work with the AG’s office to “resolve any complaints amicably.”

Amazon banned my account and stole $451.20 of gift card balance from me in 2015, which I recovered from a law firm representing them, Stoel Rives LLP, in 2016. Amazon’s initial action prompted me to search online, where I found this is a racket they have been conducting since the height of the financial crisis in 2008 (see the Slickdeals.net thread started 11/12/2008).

It does not appear Amazon has stopped or slowed down. I still get emails and comments every week or two from Amazon customers who have been defrauded. In past writings I have cited the federal CARD Act of 2009, Chapter 19.240 of Washington state’s legal code, Section 1749 of the California Civil Code (in my April 2018 deposition), and Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. All of these laws forbid theft of customer gift card balances, but citing them does not gain much traction with judges, attorneys general, or the general public (recall my shellacking from commentators on Elliott.org, with some even saying I belonged in prison for ripping Amazon off, on a story about Amazon ripping me off for $451.20).

With the L’Espalier story, we see the Massachusetts’s AG office has quite reasonably interpreted the restaurants actions to constitute an “unfair and deceptive” business practice. This is not specific to Massachusetts, however; most states have similar laws which can be applied against Amazon’s practice of closing customer accounts and withholding gift card balances. Even their home state, Washington, has such laws, and federal laws apply as well.

Murphy reports that the PR firm for L’Espalier smugly reiterated the terms of the gift card: “This card is not refundable and has no cash value.” Of course, to anyone with a modicum of legal understanding (or even common decency), this is ludicrous. In my recent deposition for a California small claims suit against Amazon, I pointed out these sentences from the California Civil Code: “The value represented by the gift certificate belongs to the beneficiary, or to the legal representative of the beneficiary to the extent provided by law, and not to the issuer,” and “Any waiver of the provisions of this title is contrary to public policy, and is void and unenforceable.” In most state canons of law and federal law as well, terms like “This card is not refundable and has no cash value” are void and unenforceable when used for the purposes of theft of a gift card balance.

Similarly, Amazon is quite smug when they point out their terms say “Amazon reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in its sole discretion” and:

We reserve the right, without notice to you, to void Gift Cards (including as a component of your Amazon.com Balance) without a refund, suspend or terminate customer accounts, suspend or terminate the ability to use our services, cancel or limit orders, and bill alternative forms of payment if we suspect that a Gift Card is obtained, used, or applied to an Amazon.com account (or your Amazon.com Balance is applied to a purchase) fraudulently, unlawfully, or otherwise in violation of these terms and conditions.

These terms are not enforceable and wouldn’t hold up in most courts against many of the customers Amazon has banned. In fact, Amazon should not be allowed to keep the gift card balances at all due to escheatment laws in their home state and many other states. If they are going to count the gift cards they steal as “abandoned” property, they are still required to turn them over to state governments after three years of inactivity in most states. We can be damn sure they are not doing that.

Snarky commentators are quick to point out that if you don’t like the terms, you shouldn’t buy the gift card. But, what about the recipients of gift cards? When suggesting that we just present the original receipt to Amazon, or dispute the purchase of the gift card with our credit card issuer, this assumes we are also the purchaser of the card. Many Americans have poor record-keeping practices and unfortunate financial situations, so they may have purchased the gift card with cash and lost the receipt, even if they purchased the card for themselves. Due to a lack of knowledge, some people think purchasing a gift card with cash and using it on Amazon is safer or more secure than using a bank card directly on Amazon. When they get burned, they not only have no recourse, but a chorus of commentators shaming them for their foolishness and commending Amazon for keeping prices low for everyone while providing tremendous value for their shareholders and chief philandering officer.

Although the same laws apply, in the court of public opinion it is harder to dismiss recipients of L’Espalier gift cards than people who have been banned by Amazon. One can always assume an Amazon customer was banned with good cause; they were stealing from Amazon or programming magnetic strips with stolen credit card information to buy Amazon gift cards at the local gas station. Bostonites, on the other hand, just received L’Espalier gift cards for Christmas that were void by New Year’s Day. Even the snarkiest commentator does not have a retort for that.