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

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.

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.