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

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

Discover Card and the Amusing Irony of My Situation with Amazon.com, Inc.

The Discover Cashback Checking debit card

Until now, I have not actually discussed the activities on my Amazon.com account that was blacklisted by Amazon.com, Inc., and for which they refuse to remit my Amazon gift card balance of $451.20.

Amazon is a corporation which institutes the following statements as part of their canned emails:

“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.”

“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.”

Note that the “proprietary nature” quote is all the insight they provide, which is absolutely no insight. An attorney representing Amazon.com, Inc. (Vanessa Soriano Power of Stoel Rives, LLP) has implied in an email to me on 10/27/2015 that Amazon will provide no explanation unless compelled to via subpoena.

It is not fair for me or any other customer to have to reveal information nor speculate about (fish for) reasons that “may” have been banned for.

However, I am admittedly dealing with a small amount here—even with my small claims fees, the total amount is only $650. Additionally, I desire to raise awareness about Amazon’s practices. Relating to my case, there is a highly seductive detail that may aid in this.

The prime reason for my blacklisting, I suspect, is purchasing 300 small Amazon gift cards using my Discover debit card, ranging from $0.50 to $0.74, and applying them to my account.

Why would I do this? A very time-consuming way to make (or technically, save) $60.00:

Discover Cashback Checking ad: Double your debit card rewards

Transactions that Amazon does not like

I bought 100 Amazon gift cards per month during three months: May, June, and July 2015. They were all for amounts below a dollar each, all using my Discover Cashback Checking debit card which is in my name with my billing address, and were all applied by me to my Amazon customer account.

While this does not add up to $451.20, other gift cards came from other sources, such as me purchasing them at Sears, Kmart, or OfficeMax (in $25, $50, or $100 denominations) using my BankAmericard Cash Rewards credit card when it was offering 10% or 15% back for purchases at these stores.

Of course, the small transactions are costly in merchant processing fees to Amazon. I wouldn’t be surprised if I cost them $50 in fees. However, such behavior is not illegal, and no Conditions of Use agreement can allow a corporation to steal such a gift card balance, even though it was intentionally acquired by the customer in a manner that was costly to the corporation.

Also, a mitigating factor is that I purchased the Amazon gift cards directly from Amazon, for which Amazon incurs lower fees overall. Gift cards purchased through GiftCardMall racks at retailers involve additional fees for merchants. Gift cards are something that almost all corporations “lose” money on—but they allow them to take an interest-free loan, and may not even be redeemed by the customer. Seizing gift card balances is something that makes gift cards infinitely more profitable! It is an activity that is manifestly illegal and appears exclusive to Amazon.com, Inc., eBay/PayPal, and Starbucks, though Amazon is the most brazen about it.

If anyone should have blacklisted me, it is Discover Bank, not Amazon.com, Inc. However, Discover is a corporation that is much more tolerant, courteous and, to my knowledge, ethical, than Amazon.com, Inc. Also, I have probably made Discover Card plenty of money on interchange fees, though I am financially literate and never incur finance charges. 🙂

THE AMUSING IRONY: AMAZON CAN DISH IT OUT TO DISCOVER, BUT CAN’T TAKE IT

The entertaining and quite hilarious irony is that Amazon.com, Inc. has defrauded Discover, which has been revealed on record by a former employee, including disclosed emails indicating that senior executives including CEO Jeff Bezos himself were aware of the fraud!

Letter to Amazon.com, Inc. and the Attorney General of Washington, dated 10/13/2014
By Kivin Varghese, former Product Manager of New Kindle Ad Products for Amazon.com, Inc. [Mirror]

DISCOVER CARD PROMOTION

Shortly after the successful launch of the ad platform in September 2012, we ran into an issue with one of our large launch partners, Discover Card. In addition to paying $1.2MM to be part of the launch, we ran a promotion where they paid an extra $500,000 that was intended to encourage Kindle owners with a Discover card, to switch their default 1-click card to Discover (ahead of the holiday shopping season).

The promotion was structured in a way where anyone with a Kindle, who used their Discover card to buy a digital good (e.g. mp3 or movie), would get a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The reason the good had to be digital is because to buy a digital good you need to use your 1-click default card, and Discover’s primary objective for this promotion was to get users who had a Discover card, to make it their 1-click default so Discover could be the card of choice for holiday shopping over the course of the fourth quarter. That was the only way Discover could justify spending $10 when someone ordered a $1 .mp3 music file.

The finance team and the ad execution team (who reported to my manager via a different Product Manager) put together a forecast for Discover that showed we expected the $500K to last for the full 60 days of the promotion, and it had a wide ranging buffer, so we would monitor it weekly. I was not allowed to see the data that went into the forecast – only the finance team putting together the forecast was allowed to see that data – I and others were just provided a range.

About 10 days into the promotion, the Ad Execution team found that over $300,000 of the $500,000 allocated for the promotion had been spent. I had our development team look into the data to find out how this could happen – Was it fraud? Was it a bug?

What we found was that there were tens of thousands of Kindle e-ink owners, the vast majority who hadn’t even seen the promotion details (as customers had to click on the ad to see the details), were qualifying for the $10 Gift card because every day, there are thousands of customers who own a Kindle and already have Discover set as their 1-click default card, that buy a digital good on Amazon in the ordinary course of their activity. As soon as we found this out, I sent out a 7-step solution that I recommended we implement to fix the issue, which involved being transparent with Discover about the issue and refunding a significant portion of the promotional funds that went to subsidized behavior. Munira disagreed with my approach, directing me to spin this as ‘good news, that the promotion is tracking ahead of plan’ and urged me to try to get more budget from Discover. Meanwhile the promotion continued to run and within a few more days we had gone over the $500,000 budget.

Our finance and ad execution team had missed the key fact when doing the forecast – the forecast should have shown that there was a 100% certainty that the promotion as structured, would go through the $500,000 budget within a couple of weeks given everyday activity. This was clear, the data was available during the forecast, and it was missed.

So in other words, Discover was essentially paying $10 to tens of thousands of users who had no idea the promotion was going on, and were just subsidizing existing behavior – Discover was paying $10 mostly to consumers that already had Discover set as their 1-click default and were unaware of any Kindle promotion. That was not Discover’s intention, nor was it Amazon’s when we ran the promotion. But it was our mistake to rectify.

Mr. Varghese includes many email communications indicating the fraud and cover-up resulting in Discover being defrauded of at least $500,000 or perhaps even more. Being that Amazon maintains a monopoly on tracking information and that Discover has spent over $30 million on marketing with them, as of 2012, it is likely that Discover has been defrauded for far more, given that we have empirically established that Amazon is amoral and corrupt. I have not bothered to include the emails here, but view the following 29-page PDF file for a stunning indictment of Amazon’s criminal behavior (click “Mirror” to download it more easily from my server):

Letter to Amazon.com, Inc. and the Attorney General of Washington, dated 10/13/2014
By Kivin Varghese, former Product Manager of New Kindle Ad Products for Amazon.com, Inc. [Mirror]

Amazon.com Jolly Roger

CONCLUSION: Amazon can dish it out to Discover, but they can’t take it.

Amazon’s positive public image deserves to be eviscerated. It’s amazing it’s lasted this long.

JEFF BLACKBURN, THE SVP OF THE GROUP AND DIRECT REPORT OF JEFF BEZOS, SEEMS TO ENCOURAGE THE TEAM TO WITHHOLD SALES DATA FROM ADVERTISERS IF THAT’S WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO MAXIMIZE FREE CASH FLOW AND MAKE MORE MONEY. THIS FROM A TRANSCRIPT OF A MEETING I ATTENDED.

Jeff Blackburn starts out with what seems to be the right approach when he asks “Are we hiding something? This doesn’t feel right”. But then goes on to tell the team:

“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]”

Statement Against Amazon.com, Inc., 1/26/2016

Amazon has banned my account as of 8/25/2015, defrauded me out of $451.20 in gift card balance, brazenly admitted as such on record to the BBB on 9/19/2015 and Washington Attorney General on 9/27/2015, refused to return emails or phone calls, and ducked my small claims summons on 1/13/2016 by claiming that CEO Jeff Bezos is an “employee” and legal department cannot accept summons on his behalf.

Please read my report at: http://thripp.com/files/amazon/thripp-v-amazon-report-20160123-public.pdf

Amazon.com, Inc. is a criminal corporation and my documentation serves as evidence as such.

Furthermore, Amazon’s business models are unprofitable and unsustainable; it is a Ponzi scheme ala Enron (albeit somewhat less audacious). Amazon relies on willful and systematic defrauding of its customers, sellers, and business partners such as Discover Card to maximize its free cash flow; these orders come directly from senior management and are known by CEO Jeffrey Preston Bezos.

Amazon manipulates its financial statements using non-standard accounting practices that allow it to claim profit based on future or subscription-based earnings without offsetting the profit with projected expenses, which is by definition a Ponzi scheme—it relies on a perpetually increasing number of users to continue. Amazon is also notorious for defrauding its investors by offering stock-based compensation to employees that dilute its shares, and exploits these and other schemes to inflate its valuation and stock price, to the extreme benefit of CEO Jeff Bezos, among other executives.

If a smaller and less influential corporation did what Amazon.com, Inc. does, the U.S. Department of Justice would likely be pursuing RICO charges, among other civil and criminal charges.

Richard Thripp
1/26/2016

Amazon.com Jolly Roger

SOURCES:

Amazon’s impressive cash flow: Don’t be fooled by it
By Timothy Green for the Motley Fool, CNN Money, 8/28/2015

Amazon: Free Cash Flow Not What The Bulls Purport It To Be
By Tom Doyle for Nasdaq.com, 12/10/2014

Letter to Amazon.com, Inc. and the Attorney General of Washington, dated 10/13/2014
By Kivin Varghese, former Product Manager of New Kindle Ad Products for Amazon.com, Inc. [Mirror]

STATEMENT OF CLAIM:

Amazon.com, Inc. has banned my customer accounts as of 8/25/2015 and seized existing balances on these accounts:

richard_thripp@falconnmail.daytonastate.edu — $451.20 Amazon Gift Card balance
thrippr@daytonastate.org — $38.02 Amazon Local Register balance

Amazon.com, Inc. has responded to my complaints with the Florida Attorney General’s office, the Washington Attorney General’s office, and the Better Business Bureau with statements such as these:

“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.’” – Mohammad of Amazon.com, 11/05/2015

“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.” – Suresh Potnuru of Amazon.com, 9/27/2015

Gift card balances and PayPal-like accounts are protected by law. It is not legal for any corporation in the United States to use Conditions of Use as a method of seizing these balances.

Mr. Thripp had an outstanding textbook rental on his account, richard_thripp@falconnmail.daytonastate.edu, when it was banned. Amazon’s Textbook Rental Agreement says they provide a return shipping label, which was not offered to Mr. Thripp. He additionally requests his postage of $3.72 to return this textbook (USPS tracking # 9449009699937147766157, delivered 12/15/2015 to 1085 Aviation Blvd., Hebron, KY 41048).

The total amount stolen from Mr. Thripp is $492.94 and includes the $451.20 Amazon Gift Card balance, the $38.02 Amazon Local Register balance, and $3.72 of postage costs for the return of a rented textbook which Amazon refused to provide a postage-paid label for, contrary to their Textbook Rental Agreement.

Amazon.com, Inc. continues to send emails alleging that I have not returned my rented textbook. Amazon.com, Inc. must cease all collections activities related to this textbook, which I have photo evidence of packing and delivery confirmation of being returned.