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

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

Amazon and Labor Laws

Amazon and Labor Laws (satire)

Labor laws? We don’t need no stinkin’ labor laws (Soper, 2011; Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015)!

Jeff Bezos, CEO
Amazon.com, Inc.

Satire. Not a quote of Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos probably keeps these thoughts to himself and his Senior Vice Presidents.

References

Soper, S. (2011, September 18). Inside Amazon’s warehouse. The Morning Call. Retrieved February 8, 2016, from http://www.mcall.com/news/local/amazon/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917-story.html

Kantor, J., & Streitfeld, D. (2015, August 15). Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace. The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html

Photo by Asa Mathat.

Amazon Case Update and Elliott.org Story

My contact with consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott, was successful. Jessica, a volunteer advocate from Elliott.org, contacted various Amazon employees on LinkedIn, and Gabriele Masili, the Global Director of Digital & Device Customer Service at Amazon.com, Inc., thought my issue was important enough to refer it to the Amazon Executive Customers Relations team. On Tuesday, 2/02/2016, Amazon offered to refund my $451.20 balance or issue a check. My $38.02 Amazon Local Register balance has already been refunded.

I requested that Amazon pay my legal fees as well, for a grand total of about $610, which I was told they will consider and get back to me on. We will see if they actually reply, since it has already been 5 calendar days.

Please see the story here: Amazon gives customer silent treatment after closing his account – and us, too

Note that the Elliott.org story is actually quite abbreviated and leaves out many details, including my pending litigation. I appeared for the pre-trial conference on 2/02/2016 in Daytona Beach, FL, and the judge was sympathetic and agreed to allow me to amend the case style, since I could not serve the summons against the CEO as it was refused by Amazon’s Legal Department. I am holding off on refiling the case and paying for a new summons, since I will not have to if Amazon voluntarily offers the refund.

I have responded to a great number of comments on the blog post on Elliott.org. Surprisingly, the comments were quite uninformed and vitriolic toward me; one commentator even called for my arrest, saying that Amazon, Discover Bank, and other organizations and agencies should prefer federal charges against me for wire fraud and racketeering (said commentator’s comments were deleted by Elliott.org moderators).

The most vocal commentators have been very sympathetic toward Amazon.com, Inc. Many of them have fundamental misunderstandings of the issues, partly due to their lack of expertise, and partly due to their failure to actually read. For example, there was a particular commentator who said that buying gift cards with credit cards constitutes evasion of “cash advance fees” and should that I should be prosecuted by Discover Card. This commentator’s understanding of the law is ludicrous, and he or she could not even bother to read that I was purchasing gift cards with a Discover Cashback Checking debit card, not a Discover credit card. Another commentator believed I was buying Amazon gift cards for slightly below $10.00 each to redeem for cash, which is allowed by state law in California (though not for Amazon gift cards), thereby earning 5% cashback with my Discover credit card. Of course, this commentator ignored the fact that I explained many times in the comments section that I was buying sub-$1.00 gift cards to receive 20¢ rewards from my debit card issuer on each transaction, that I was applying them to my account directly rather than trying to cash them out, and that the gift card purchases were made in a quarter when Discover Card was not even offering 5% back on Amazon purchases! So much for doing your homework.

These victim-blaming comments are quite surprising on a consumer advocacy site. How much worse would the comments be if this was published on an actual news site?

However, these comments don’t actually represent public opinion accurately. They reflect a subset of vocal commentators who enjoy public, anonymous, online ridicule, and none of them present a cogent argument nor even accurately understand the situation. While such commentators are a staple on Slashdot, 4chan, and Reddit, it is disappointing to see them on Elliott.org.

While many people believe this case is closed, it will not actually be closed until Amazon actually provides the refund as indicated. I have told them about the small claims suit and asked for legal fees of $160.00. Now that the know about the suit, it’s possible they will decide to no longer communicate (again), in which case I will proceed with legal action. This has been a very educational experience for me. Obviously, it has cost me far more than $500 in time, but I have learned more about the law and awful customer service than I ever cared to before.

Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Amazon's Leadership Principles (satire)

Munira Rahemtulla, Amazon.com, Inc.
Kindle Ads Products General Manager

Allegedly falsified education records (Varghese, 2014, p. 19) and defrauded Discover Financial Services, Inc. of hundreds of thousands of dollars (pp. 5–22), with written support of Senior Vice President, Jeff Blackburn (p. 18).

RECEIVES A PROMOTION (Rahemtulla, 2015).

#WelcomeToTheJungle

References

Varghese, K. (2014, October 13). Letter to Amazon.com Board of Directors and Jeff Bezos. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://pdf.yt/d/CB3lP5o1HoRN3XZQ [mirror]

Rahemtulla, M. (2015). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.linkedin.com/in/munirarahemtulla