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

My April 2018 Deposition Against Amazon.com for Gift Card Balance Theft

The following is an expert witness deposition I wrote in April 2018 in response to a subpoena in a small claims lawsuit against Amazon by an individual in California who Amazon had stolen $3,400 in gift card balances from. In this deposition, I lay out several potential rationales for having a large Amazon gift card balance, detail why Amazon acts in bad faith when blacklisting customers and seizing their gift card balances, and explain how their practices are in violation of state and federal laws.

Regarding the case at hand, I have not heard from the plaintiff since May 2018, so I believe they were successful in recovering funds from Amazon.com, but stopped responding because they signed one of Amazon’s many non-disclosure agreements.

In November 2018, the author of the Miles Per Day blog was banned by Amazon. Amazon proceeded to cancel her outstanding orders and steal over $1,500 in gift card balance, even though she purchased her gift cards from first-party sources to earn credit card rewards miles and points. This prompted me to publish my April 2018 deposition, shown below.


IN THE TURLOCK DIVISION OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF STANISLAUS

[Redacted],

vs.

Amazon.com, Inc.,
Defendant.

SMALL CLAIMS CASE NO. [Redacted]
___________________________________

DEPOSITION FROM EXPERT WITNESS RICHARD THRIPP

Mr. [Redacted], having read articles on my website about my experience of being blacklisted by Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) and having my gift card balance stolen, has reached out to me and subpoenaed my testimony as an expert witness in her California small claims case. I am a non-lawyer and this is my first time being deposed in this capacity, which I am doing for free to shed light on practices by Amazon that I believe to be unlawful.

Amazon sells gift cards for its merchandise and services, both through its website and nationwide at most grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, and other retailers through its subsidiary, ACI Gift Cards, LLC, a Washington limited liability company. These gift cards come as “redemption codes” that are loaded onto one’s Amazon customer account. They function differently than gift cards for many other retailers (e.g., Walmart or Target), because once they are loaded to a customer account, they are permanently bound to that account and can be redeemed against future orders only on that Amazon account.

Since 2008, many customers have complained online about having their Amazon accounts blacklisted and being stonewalled when requesting an explanation from the company. I experienced this in August 2015, on my Amazon account which had a gift card balance of $451.20.

The first signs of being blacklisted are receiving an error message about your password being incorrect when attempting to log in. The error message persists after resetting your password, and representatives at Amazon’s customer support call center will say there is a problem with your account that requires a specialist to call you back within 24–48 business hours. These statements are false, because no specialist ever calls back.

Because you are locked out of your Amazon account, you are unable to view your gift card balance, gift card activity, orders, and other customer data. Amazon will not accept returns from a blacklisted customer, even for items defective or damaged in shipment. They remove access to purchased digital materials (e.g., Kindle e-books), do not honor textbook rental return-shipping agreements, and if you have purchased an Amazon Prime membership, they refuse to offer a pro-rated refund. Most importantly, they outright refuse to return your gift card balance, in violation of the U.S. federal and state laws.

On 9/04/2015, I filed a complaint with the Attorney General of Washington against Amazon. The following is an actual response received 9/19/2015:

Dear Andrew,

I’m Suresh Potnuru of Amazon.com. I’m responding to Mr. Richard Thripp’s subject matter complaint, and copying him for his reference.

I’m sorry for the trouble Mr. Thripp’s had in accessing his account.

I’d like to confirm the information Mr. Thripp’s received from our Account Specialist team is correct. 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.”

Mr. Thripp can review our Conditions of Use here: www.amazon.com/conditionsofuse

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we’re unable to discuss with Mr. Thripp, and the decision to close his account is a final one.

Regarding gift card balance: At this time we may not be able to issue a refund to Mr. Thripp for his gift card balance. [Emphasis added.]

Please contact me directly by replying to this email if I can be of further assistance.

Best regards,
Suresh P.
Amazon.com

Additional complaints against Amazon resulted in them making these statements:

Please note this isn’t a decision we can reconsider, and we won’t be able to issue a refund for the gift card balance. [Emphasis added]

I realize you’re upset, and I regret we’ve been unable to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we’ll not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters, and any further inquiries on this matter won’t receive a response.

You must return your rental prior to the scheduled due date in order to avoid any additional charges. You can return the rental using the carrier of your choice. Since you’re not using a pre-paid mailing label provided by Amazon, you’ll be responsible for any return shipping fees. [The textbook rental agreement that I agreed to when renting from Amazon Warehouse Deals stated that Amazon would provide a pre-paid mailing label for return of the textbook. Obviously, I could not print the pre-paid mailing label due to being unable to log in.]

Eventually, I sued Amazon in Volusia County, FL small claims court and reached a confidential settlement agreement. However, due to my blog posts, I receive 2–3 emails per month from blacklisted Amazon customers who are receiving similar treatment from Amazon.

Amazon’s Conditions of Use state that they can terminate a customer account at any time. Amazon’s terms on gift cards state:

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. [Emphasis added.]

Just because customers agree to these terms by using Amazon gift cards does not mean the terms are lawful. In fact, the above terms are void according to California Civil Code, Section 1749.51. As we have seen, Amazon blacklists customers without explanation “due to the proprietary nature of their business.” Amazon is incentivized to blacklist customers with high gift card balances, and they act opaquely and without oversight in reaching these decisions.

A customer’s violation of Amazon’s terms does not automatically entitle Amazon to seize their gift card balance. When Amazon blacklists a customer, they make no attempt to refund all or part of the gift card balance, even if they suspect only a portion was obtained unlawfully or in violation of their terms.

Amazon customers can add multiple gift cards to their account balance, and a natural characteristic of gift cards is that they may come as gifts from third parties. An Amazon customer may not know the gift card they have received was, for example, purchased with a stolen bank card. If a bank customer were to deposit a bad check, the bank would not be entitled to seize the entire balance of their checking account.

Amazon acts as a bully toward blacklisted customers. Per their terms, binding arbitration and small claims court are the only avenues available for blacklisted customers to petition for redress (besides attorneys general, the Better Business Bureau, etc.).

In Mr. [Redacted]’s case, he has informed me that Amazon banned several of her customer accounts with gift card balances aggregating to approximately $3,400. It is not necessarily unlawful for an Amazon customer to have multiple accounts, and there are many legitimate reasons to accumulate gift card balances in the thousands of dollars. For example, a customer might purchase Amazon gift cards at an authorized seller, such as a grocery store, to avoid the possibility of debit or credit card fraud when shopping online. Another possibility is that a customer may purchase Amazon gift cards at a grocery store using a credit card such as Chase Freedom or Discover It, which frequently offer 5% in cashback rewards on purchases at grocery stores. If, during such a promotional period, a customer was to use their Chase Freedom or Discover It credit card directly on Amazon’s website, they would only earn 1% in cashback rewards, rather than 5% cashback rewards earned by first purchasing an Amazon gift card at a grocery store.

In addition, customers not familiar with Amazon’s practice of blacklisting customers may believe they are safeguarding their gift card by loading it to their account long before using it, to prevent others from illegitimately guessing or hacking the redemption code to fraudulently add it to their account.

Moreover, Amazon’s practices may be in violation of these federal and state laws:

  1. The CREDIT CARD ACCOUNTABILITY RESPONSIBILITY AND DISCLOSURE ACT OF 2009 (Public Law 111–24), Title IV, states that it is unlawful to sell a gift card that is subject to an expiration date. When Amazon blacklists a customer and refuses to honor their gift card balance, it may be construed as unlawfully causing the accountholder’s gift card balance to expire.
  2. Chapter 19.240 of the Revised Code of Washington additionally prohibits merchants from issuing gift cards subject to expiration dates, unless the gift card is issued as a donation to a charitable organization or several other exclusions that are not relevant to the Amazon gift cards in question.
  3. California Civil Code, Section 1749.6(a) states: A gift certificate constitutes value held in trust by the issuer of the gift certificate on behalf of the beneficiary of the gift certificate. 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. [Emphasis added]
  4. California Civil Code, Section 1749.51 states: Any waiver of the provisions of this title is contrary to public policy, and is void and unenforceable. Therefore, Amazon’s Conditions of Use and aforementioned gift card terms are void and unenforceable according to California law.

Given the above facts, I believe Amazon acts in bad faith, and should pay the gift card balance owed to Mr. [Redacted], or explain their position to the court. Based on my understanding, although pretrial discovery is not permitted in California small claims court, the court “can also order a defendant to do something, as long as [the plaintiff is] also asking for money in [their] claim” (http://www.scscourt.org/self_help/small_claims/small_claims_overview.shtml).

DECLARATION OF CUSTODIAN OF RECORDS
(California Evidence Code, Section 1561)

I, the undersigned, declare:

  1. I am the duly authorized custodian of records for the above information and statements received from AMAZON.COM, INC. and have the authority to certify the records.
  2. The quotations included hereto are true excerpts of records on file with RICHARD THRIPP described in the subpoena. Emphasis (bold text) is added where indicated in brackets. In certain places, explanatory text has also been added in brackets. (Additionally: Quotations are also on file with the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General; the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services File # 1509-37467 / MLH; and/or the Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon, & Western Washington Complaint # 10830673.)
  3. The records were prepared by RICHARD THRIPP in the ordinary course of business at or near the time of the act, condition, or event.

I declare, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.

Executed on April 24, 2018, in Ormond Beach, Florida.

___________________________________

RICHARD THRIPP

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I HEREBY CERTIFY that the above deposition is a truthful accounting of the facts. I have furnished copies by U.S. Mail to the Stanislaus County Superior Court and Amazon.com, Inc., this 24th day of April, 2018.

By: __________________________________________
RICHARD THRIPP, M.A.

Expert witness in regards to Amazon.com, Inc. customer blacklisting and theft of gift card balances.

Amazon steps up customer blacklisting in April 2018; Binding arbitration clause limits customers’ legal options

My contact in California who is suing Amazon in small claims court suggests pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Amazon in a red (Republican) state (e.g., Alabama). She believes this would be a more favorable venue than the U.S. federal 9th circuit (Washington, Oregon, California) which tends to be Amazon-friendly. At the same time, Republicans often prioritize corporations over individuals’ rights to redress, so they may uphold binding arbitration clauses that prevent any court actions except small claims.

I contacted a lawfirm with this email. It may not be possible to pursue class-action due to the binding arbitration clause in Amazon’s terms, however.


Hello,

I am writing to inquire about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against Amazon.com, Inc. regarding the many customers they have blacklisted without explanation. They refuse to return pro-rated Prime membership fees, gift card balances, stored photos, Kindle e-books, et cetera. They also do not stand by their return policy for blacklisted customers.

Beginning on Friday, March 30, 2018, Amazon.com, Inc. has stepped up their blacklisting of customers, citing TOS violations such as writing a review for an item that a customer received a discount code from the seller. Many customers did not even appear to break the terms yet have been blacklisted. Some are saying this is a glitch, but Amazon has a history of illegal practices relating to blacklisted customers dating back to 2008. Members of Amazon.com, Inc. who were banned within the past week have a Facebook group, which already has 2,795 members.

Although Amazon’s terms claim they can seize a customer’s gift card balance at any time, I believe this is in violation of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, Chapter 19.240 of the Revised Code of Washington, and Florida Statute 501.95. Amazon previously blacklisted me in August 2015 and stole my $451.20 gift card balance, but settled in February 2016 with me. However I am still trying to get them to discontinue these practices against other customers. With respect to blacklisted customers, Amazon fails to honor their return policy, does not pro-rate refunds of Prime membership, and does not allow access to order histories, purchased Kindle e-books, music, or saved files. This likely violates other laws.

One large hurdle is that Amazon’s terms say they can only be sued via small claims court. Otherwise, binding arbitration applies.

Please let me know what you think about this. If your lawfirm is not interested but you think another lawfirm would be interested, please refer me.

Thanks,
Richard Thripp, M.A.
Doctoral Student, Instructional Design & Technology
Graduate Teaching Associate – EME 2040 Instructor
University of Central Florida


In response, the lawyer said that Amazon’s Terms and Conditions prohibit anything but binding arbitration, to which I replied:


Hi, Attorney X and Jane Doe,

Jane Doe is in California and had contacted me about possibly submitting a written deposition as an expert witness regarding her small claims suit against Amazon for $3,400 of gift card balances. I had blind carbon copied her on my initial email to you.

In 2015, the NYT did an exposé, Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice. This is why Amazon and many other corporations cannot be sued via class-action, or at all, for that matter, besides small claims.

It is highly unlikely the SCOTUS would overturn their 2011 and 2013 decisions or that Amazon would be criminally charged. But, one option would be to flood them with small claims suits. Most consumers do not have the knowledge, time, or motivation to sue in small claims court unless their loss is relatively large. It would be interesting if a lawfirm could handle such suits at a large scale like traffic ticket mills.

Small claims allows discovery in some jurisdictions, which could be costly and get Amazon’s attention. In Washington state, discovery is not allowed, but in Florida, it is. Of course, people who just lost access to their photos probably wouldn’t have good cases, and losing an Amazon Prime membership is a max of $99 loss… It would make sense for people with large gift card balances to sue in small claims court, though.

Unfortunately, as a non-lawyer I am not permitted to give legal advice on my blog, the Facebook group, et cetera.

Best regards,
Richard Thripp


Note added 2018-04-11: Commentators should take note that a class-action lawsuit appears untenable against Amazon.com, Inc. due to the binding arbitration clause. In fact, any lawsuits except small claims suits are prohibited. Binding arbitration tends to result in decisions favorable to Amazon, while courts are less favorable to Amazon. This is why I have suggested law firms or individual attorneys should counsel consumers in small claims suits against Amazon at a massive scale, like law firms that specialize in traffic tickets at a low fee. Cases in which Amazon has stolen a customer’s Amazon gift card balance are especially viable in small claims courts.

I Stand with Donald Trump Against Amazon.com, Inc.

Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos

Amazon, in their sole discretion, reserves the right to blacklist customers and steal the existing Amazon gift card account balance tied to their Amazon account. Like other gift cards, these gift cards are NOT reward points, coupons, or promotions. However, Amazon’s hubris is so massive that they will admittedly refuse to refund gift card balances in written statements to the Attorney Generals of Washington state and Florida, and no one will rein Amazon in, except Donald Trump.

Amazon’s behavior regarding gift cards is NOT appropriate nor legal. Jeff Bezos says Donald Trump’s attack on Amazon is “not an appropriate way for a presidential candidate to behave.” Amazon’s behavior regarding gift card balances is inappropriate and illegal. Jeff Bezos is in no position to claim the moral high ground and never will be.

Amazon is also known for withholding or permanently stealing account balances from Amazon Marketplace Sellers. Amazon encourages buyers to seek recourse against marketplace sellers through their A–Z guarantee policy. It is practically unheard of for a case to be decided in the seller’s favor. Amazon uses such complaints as ammo to justify permanently banning sellers and seizing their account balances, even when buyers may have been in the wrong, such as by refusing to return the allegedly defective items or even to acknowledge basic troubleshooting requests.

Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos are at the apex of hypocrisy. Customers who complain too frequently about items ordered directly from Amazon, or receive too many “concessions” from Amazon, are blacklisted, in Amazon’s sole discretion. This includes theft of their gift card balances, and may occur even if all complaints were legitimate. Amazon profits by stealing gift card balances from blacklisted buyers, as well as from stealing account balances from blacklisted sellers. These illegal acts help Amazon undercut competitors and continue to report high free cash flow, increasing their valuation and potentially swindling investors. At all times, Amazon, in an Enron-like fashion, refuses to follow generally accepted accounting principles.

Amazon and Enron logos

Below are actual quotes from official emails from Amazon employees:

Regarding your gift card funds: We closed your account because you reported an unusual number of problems with your orders. As a result, your unused gift card balance is no longer available.” — Excerpt from an actual message sent by Amazon to Louis Morgan regarding his Amazon gift card balance of over $400.

I’m sorry for any inconvenience caused by the closing of your Amazon.com account. I’ve reviewed the account and our previous communications with you, and can confirm the decision was a valid one. Please note this isn’t a decision we can reconsider, and we won’t be able to issue a refund for the gift card balance.” – Excerpt from an actual message from Suresh Potnuru of Amazon.com to Richard Thripp, regarding his $451.20 gift card balance.

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.’” – Suresh Potnuru, Amazon.com, Inc., 9/29/2015, in communication with the Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington in regards to Complaint #10830673 by Richard Thripp.

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we’re unable to discuss with you, and the decision to close your account is a final one.” – Suresh Potnuru, Amazon.com, Inc., 9/29/2015, in communication with the Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington in regards to Complaint #10830673 by Richard Thripp.

At the end of the day, you should do what you need to do to maximize free cash flow for the device. Do what you need to do to make more money. I don’t know if exposing that we have 100 orders gets us there [obviously exposing that we only got 100 orders on a major advertising media buy is not a good result], but you can decide what to do to maximize FCF [Free Cash Flow]” — Jeff Blackburn, Senior Vice President of Amazon.com, Inc., advocating lying to Discover Financial Services about a joint promotion botched by Amazon.com, Inc.

Justice

The only way to get a settlement from Amazon is to take them to court. The only court you can take them to is small claims, because you already agreed to binding arbitration by using Amazon—a legal fiction that the United States Supreme Court ludicrously upholds, again and again.

Amazon’s corruption may be far more pervasive and systematic than generally known. Amazon is well-known for treating employees like shit, including securing their “agreement” to 2-year non-compete agreements, effectively ruining their career prospects after Amazon summarily dismisses employees like Kivin Varghese for standing up against Amazon’s institutionalized corruption. For employees, Amazon acts as a total institution, shredding normal Americans who desire time with their kids or a social life. Amazon is a narcissist’s dream, apparently existing for, to quote George from Seinfeld, the glorification of Jeff Bezos’ massive ego—the ultimate narcissist of them all.

Bezos is forever inured with colonizing space, at immense cost in the face of evidently insurmountable challenges, while having no interest in meaningful charitable work that might benefit blighted Americans in Detroit or Oakland. In classic narcissistic style, Bezos’ flagship donations to Princeton University and the Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry involve centers and buildings being conspicuously named after him, even though, unlike Trump, Bezos does not capitalize on his name as a brand.

Here is another gem from an Amazon’s Suresh Potnuru, responding to my BBB complaint on 9/27/2016:

“I realize you’re upset, and I regret we’ve been unable to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we’ll not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters, and any further inquiries on this matter won’t receive a response.”

Oh, the condescension and hubris! Like a child throwing a hissy fit, I must be consoled and put in my place by my CORPORATE OVERLORDS at AMAZON.COM, INC. No one can dispute that Jeff Bezos runs a tight ship at Amazon.com, Inc.—unlike Steve Jobs, he has retained control of the company through its entire lifespan. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Bezos was directly and gleefully involved in writing Amazon’s patronizing canned replies to blacklisted customers, merchants, and vendors.

COMMENTATORS WHO ARGUE the baselessness of Donald Trump’s claim that Amazon is guilty of antitrust violations seem far too quick to forget that Amazon wields its clout mightily against authors and booksellers. While Amazon alleges these actions benefit consumers, Amazon itself demands extremely favorable terms from partners, including high fees and COMPLETE OPACITY regarding web traffic analytics, enabling them to conceal breaches of contract as with Discover Financial Services. In all of its businesses, any benefit that Amazon yields to its customers or clients may merely be a side-effect of its ceaseless, narcissistic rampage against its competition and against the laws of the United States, evidenced by its blatant, orchestrated theft of the gift card and seller account balances of thousands of clients.

JEFF BEZOS PURCHASE AND CONTINUED OWNERSHIP OF THE WASHINGTON POST is clearly a massive, irreconcilable conflict of interest, and yet goes largely unacknowledged, except by Donald Trump, who is continually and unsuccessfully dismissed as a crackpot by the Washington Post and others. While it would not be accurate to claim that criticism of Trump is solely fueled by establishment interests, the media’s preference for Hilary Rodham Clinton is palpable—if Trump had laughed about getting a pedophile acquitted on a technicality, we would certainly not hear the end of it. What the New York Times has succeeded in dredging up about Trump pales in comparison.

Corporate consolidation is clearly out of control—Theodore Roosevelt would not be pleased. For the love of Jeff, KRAFT AND HEINZ ARE ONE COMPANY. Imagine being blacklisted by Kraft Heinz and being denied access to BOTH CHEESE AND KETCHUP. Unlike the Bell System breakup, no one is calling for Amazon Web Services to be split off from the mothership. No one is protesting Amazon developing its own trucking network, television studios, or transoceanic shipping lanes. Fortunately, the government of the United States is making antitrust decisions conveniently beneficent to Amazon, such as forbidding the Staples–Office Depot merger. What is kosher in Seattle is clearly not permissible in Framingham.

No one is protesting that Amazon effectively owns the Washington Post. The control that Bezos wields over Amazon is far more totalitarian than the control Jobs wielded over Apple. No one seems to notice but Donald Trump. Fortunately, based on the results of the Republican primaries, it seems bad publicity only vindicates Trump as an underdog outsider who the elites don’t want us to have. They obviously do not have the type of dirt on Trump they wish they had, or we would certainly be hearing about it.

Amazon’s crimes only became of earnest interest to me when they banned my account and stole my gift card balance in August 2015. Amazon continually concealed, misled, and treated me like crap—their legal department even refused my small claims summons on the basis that a summons against Jeffrey Preston Bezos could not be accepted because they could not accept a summons on “BEHALF OF AN EMPLOYEE.” The ludicrousness of Amazon’s position was abundantly clear to an editor for consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott. However, few people care about injustice, particularly financial injustice, unless it personally affects them. To Make America Great Again™, we need to start caring about financial injustice. My course, Introduction to American Personal Financial Literacy, partially completed in partial fulfillment of my Master of Arts in Applied Learning & Instruction from University of Central Florida, conferred May 7, 2016, aims to do this. I will get to work on finishing it soon…

To Amazon: When you decided to defraud Richard Thripp, you pissed off the wrong dude. Yes, a settlement was reached. However, your egregious activities continue unabated. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. May your joy turn to ashes in your mouth for the love of $451.20 (George R. R. Martin, Clash of Kings).

Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos (flipped)

Amazon Continues Stealing Gift Cards

On the forums of consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott, another customer, Louis Morgan, has been victimized by Amazon, to the tune of $400:

Amazon Stealing $400+ of Customer Money Again! (Beware of Amazon!)

My take on it: Amazon is brazen. As the U.S. federal government and Florida state government are scaling back their civil asset forfeiture programs due to overwhelming negative publicity, Amazon continues the similar practice of stealing gift card balances, despite having no legal ground to stand on.

Below, is my reply to Morgan’s case, and a reasoned argument that Amazon gift cards should be completely avoided.

The replies Morgan received from Amazon reveal more of Amazon’s hubris, particularly this statement:

Regarding your gift card funds —

We closed your account because you reported an unusual number of problems with your orders. As a result, your unused gift card balance is no longer available.

Let that sink in. Imagine if a bank closed your account and said your bank account balance was no longer available because you were a problem customer. What we are looking at is a different situation, yet it shares similarities. Gift cards have more legal protections than airline miles, which typically have none. Yet, Amazon feels confident in flouting the law and enhancing their bottom line through theft of gift card balances and Amazon Seller account balances.

The recurring theme among Elliott commentators is that we cannot judge Amazon having heard only the customer’s side of the story. Surely, Amazon’s actions are legitimate and Morgan is omitting nefarious activity. However, Amazon is the judge, jury, and executioner. They hold the cards and when they ban you, they cut access to your account history and information while retaining it for themselves. Further, Amazon often declines to articulate its position even to the injured party.

When we read Amazon or Yelp reviews, do we care about the position of the manufacturer, distributor, or business owner? No—typically we look for a concordance of evidence from multiple reviewers (while perhaps using tools like www.fakespot.com). The evidence that Amazon is systematically stealing gift card balances, and that this practice has been going on since 2008, is approaching consilience.

How many stories go untold from customers who were actually doing shady things such as trading Amazon gift cards for BitCoin? As a government practice, the tide is turning against civil asset forfeiture—the U.S. federal government has suspended its equitable-sharing program and in Florida, effective 7/01/2016, Brandes’ bill (SB 1534) takes effect, massively reforming Florida’s civil asset forfeiture practices.

What Amazon does is reminiscent of civil asset forfeiture. In theory, one could apply one bad gift card to their account—perhaps received as a birthday gift or from a web donation—and end up forfeiting their entire gift card balance. Amazon encourages maintaining large gift card balances through offers such as their current “Buy $100, get $5” offer, obviously because resting gift card balances help maximize their free cash flow. Thus, they may be complicit.

Essentially, the takeaway for Elliott.org commentators and others is that the counterparty risk for resting Amazon gift card balances is alarmingly high. Since Amazon gift cards are typically acquired at close to 100% of face value, their counterparty risk needs to be very close to zero for them to be a good medium of exchange in countries with reliable banking systems such as the United States. Since banks typically pay no interest, it would be unwise to keep your money in a bank that had even 0.01% risk of balance forfeiture. Americans do not typically have to worry about bank defaults thanks to FDIC insurance. There is no similar insurance for your Amazon gift card funds. Therefore, Amazon gift cards should be avoided by gift-givers and for online trades. Recipients of Amazon gift cards should warn the sender about Amazon and should redeem their gift cards quickly to reduce risk of forfeiture.

Amazon Jolly Roger