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

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

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]”