Like many consumers who have had a bad experience, Jen Palmer wrote a review online in 2008 after the Christmas presents her husband ordered from Kleargear.com never arrived. Years later, thanks to her online review, the couple is facing a damaged credit score and a $3,500 fine.
When the items Palmer's husband ordered in 2008 didn't ship within 30 days, the PayPal transaction was automatically canceled. However, Palmer still left a review on RipoffReport in early 2009 detailing her experiences with trying to reach the company's customer service:
A company like yours, while catering to geeks, should first and foremost understand that while electronic communication is nice, there are inevitably times that human contact is necessary. At this point, the only thing I can determine is that your customer service department, in fact, your whole company, is so busy returning voicemails from disgruntled customers that they are inable to take live calls of any kind.
But three years later, Palmer's husband received an email from Kleargear.com demanding that the post be taken off RipOffReport or the couple would face a fine. Apparently, Palmer violated a non-disparagement agreement hidden within the terms of sale on the Kleargear website. The clause read:
"In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts kleargear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees."
According to KUTV, the clause (it's no longer on the website) also said that if the consumer violates the contract "they will have 72 hours to remove your post or face a $3500 fine. If that fine is not paid, the delinquency will be reported to the nation's credit bureaus."
When a scared Palmer contacted RipoffReport to remove the posting, she was allegedly told it would cost her $2000 to get the review taken down.
Because the couple could not pay either the fee or the fine, their credit score was dinged by Kleargear. Palmer reports that she and her husband are now getting rejection letters from lenders as they apply for a loan to fix their car and their furnace.
KUTV looked into the company and found that in 2010, the company had an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau for "not delivering products purchased online in a timely manner." Today Kleargear has a "B" rating. When the reporter contacted an unidentified employee at Kleargear via email, the employee defended the $3,500 charge and said that when they asked Palmer to take down the review or face a fine, they were not blackmailing her: they claim they were making a "diligent effort to help them avoid [the fine]."
The couple cannot afford a lawyer, but KUTV has put them in touch with media relations people at a credit bureau in the hopes that they can successfully appeal the credit ding.
Making the situation even more disgusting, TechDirt has done more research and found that Kleargear's non-disparagment clause may not have even existed when Palmer's husband made his order:
According to the Internet Archive, that clause didn't exist in 2008, when Jen wrote her review, so there's no way the company can claim that charge is legitimate, even by its own shady metrics. It actually doesn't appear until June of 2012, suggesting that its battle to raise its BBB rating wasn't going as well as it had hoped, but rather than overhaul its customer service, it decided to bill its way back to the top at $3,500 a review.
In the meantime, the attention on this case has driven more people than usual to the Kleargear website. Apparently consumers are unable to resist the pull of a good "Geek T-Shirt," even if the company is a sack of garbage. On the front page of the site, the president of Kleargear has written "WHOA! Due to an unexpected and short increase in recent order volume, orders with Standard Shipping will temporarily leave Kleargearland in up to 48 business hours."
[Screenshot via KUTV]