KlearGear Told To Pay $306,750 For Bogus Attempt To Shakedown Customer For Bad Review

from the but-can-they-collect? dept

We've been covering the story of Kleargear for a while now. As you may recall, the company sneakily put a $3,500 "non-disparagement clause" in its online terms of service, saying that you agreed to pay that much if you gave the company a negative review. Jen Palmer left a negative review over some stuff that her husband, John, bought that they never actually got. This happened long before the non-disparagement clause existed. Despite that (and the dubious enforceability of such a clause anyway), Kleargear demanded the $3,500. And when the Palmers rightly refused to pay up, it sent the amount to a collections agency and messed up the Palmers' credit, causing significant hardship for the couple. At this point, Public Citizen stepped in to sue KlearGear. For a while KlearGear played a disappearing game. It didn't respond to Public Citizen's initial letter, then it ignored the lawsuit (and put back the non-disparagement clause on its website after briefly taking it down). Based on that, the Palmers got a default judgment against the company.

Then, suddenly, a "representative" of the company named Vic Mathieu magically appeared spouting all sorts of nonsense and trying to defend everything the company had done. Of course, neither KlearGear nor it's apparently French-based owner Descoteaux Boutiques actually did anything in court, and thus, the court has ordered KlearGear to pay up to the tune of $306,750 in both compensatory and punitive damages.

Of course, collecting on that award may take some work. It's still not entirely clear who is behind Kleargear, statements from Vic Mathieu notwithstanding. It's possible that the company is really owned by this French company, which will make collection difficult for a variety of reasons. Or that whole thing may be a sham in itself, meaning that no one knows who's actually involved at all. Chances are, the Palmers are unlikely to see much money here. Still, what amazes me is that Kleargear itself is still in business. I'm somewhat surprised the company didn't just up and move to a different domain. But, instead, it's still there. One hopes that people doing some shopping do some searches first on the company to find out about its practices.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2014 @ 8:53pm

    It's a Shame...

    ...that folks need the assistance of such as the Public Citizen, the EFF, the ACLU, your local TV stations Consumer assistance, etc.

    It is also a shame that regardless of the courts verdict in this instance, their credit rating was harmed by an overseas fraudster, as well as the years (?) of hardship, and there is not much that can be done about that, especially since it is likely they will not see dime 1 of that judgement.

    The credit reporting system is dead broke. Folks make up sh*t and report it, and the system just accepts it. Something is wrong in Skokie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2014 @ 12:03am

      Re: It's a Shame...

      Really I consider the credit rating system a form of fraud in the first place. Namely it is one of the top ten biggest it is all about how good of a cash cow you are which has no business being mixed with ability to pay. In fact it is the complete fucking opposite, since if you don't spend money you can pay it off far better!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2014 @ 5:57am

      Re: It's a Shame...

      ...that folks need the assistance of such as the Public Citizen, the EFF, the ACLU, your local TV stations Consumer assistance, etc.

      Indeed. Getting civil justice is for the rich.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan Hazelton, 26 Jun 2014 @ 9:00pm

    Troublinh

    KlearGear.com has claimed, now, to have been founded and run from three different US States - though at least one of them (Michigan) has no listing of the company in its records.

    If you check the wayback machine, you'll see that, until around February 2012 (only a few months before the non-disparagement clause was added) the company claimed to be from Texas, then until some time this year they claimed to be from Michigan (inc.com has them listed as one of Michigans fastest growing companies!) and now they claim to be from Delaware.

    This is most definitely *NOT* common behavior for a fully legal company, nor is the way that the parent company DBS acting in any form normal for a fully legal company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2014 @ 9:23pm

    If this were a movie and Techdirt articles were the inspiration for the script, KlearGear would be revealed in the end to be owned by Prenda Law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Berenerd (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 4:58am

      Re:

      DAMN YOU!!! I was gonna say that! I had that idea first! I am suing for copyright infringement!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2014 @ 9:00pm

        Re: Re:

        I have a string of dummy corporations set up to obfuscate and insulate myself, so good luck with that lawsuit. Also, you're clearly defaming me and expect to hear from my lawyers who might also be me pretending to be my own lawyers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2014 @ 10:10pm

    French

    need say more?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 26 Jun 2014 @ 10:40pm

    Domain name

    They could start by seizing the domain name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sneaking.ninja, 26 Jun 2014 @ 11:00pm

    meanwhile

    meanwhile in europe, kleargear are gonna get in truble if they keep this up mainly due to newly european law that just got into effect, if they truly are a french company

    the new law basicly forces them to tell european customers that hidden $3,500 in the terms lol

    The Directive on Consumer Rights (2011/83/EC)
    http://ec.europa.eu/justice/consumer-marketing/files/crd_arc2014_factsheet-consumer_general_en.pdf
    ht tp://ec.europa.eu/justice/consumer-marketing/rights-contracts/directive/index_en.htm

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2014 @ 11:24pm

    "One hopes that people doing some shopping do some searches first on the company to find out about its practices."

    Then there would be nowhere left to shop except to do so as you vote, the least evil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    zip, 26 Jun 2014 @ 11:28pm

    shotgun approach

    Like many dodgy online companies, KlearGear likely has multiple websites (and domains) that it operates. It's not uncommon for companies to operate dozens of sites that basically sell the same thing. The KlearGear brand may be only one tentacle of a large unseen monster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2014 @ 11:41pm

    How did KlearGear manage to forward the debt to a collection agency in the first place? Is a person's name and address all you need to ruin a person's credit because of false debt claims? If such a thing is possible then there need to be stricter regulations against that sort of thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 5:38am

      Re:

      And a statement that they owe you money.
      The debt collector doesn't have to verify all of the claims, merely have the proper paperwork in hand.
      Kleargear represented it as a valid debt and the system went forward.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2014 @ 7:28am

      Re:

      there are some good consumer protections against this...write a standard form letter disputing the charge and forward it to a few agencies...but...all of the sudden, you are spending your time cleaning up a mess instituted because you wanted something unique

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bugmenot (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 12:21am

    Search for KlearGear reviews? Why do that?

    Naaa, they'll just sign a "Forget about me Google" form and the bad reviews will magically go away. It'll be easy for them to sell to the next customer since there are no bad comments -- EVER.

    OMG: Why the EU courts didn't leave google alone and go after the actual source site? THEN if google doesn't update its index in a reasonable time (months, not seconds), THEN you go after google.

    It's just like fortune tellers and members of government: count or inflate the number of times you're right but completely ignore and discount the number times you're wrong. ("Oh, I misspoke; I mean you just didn't hear me correctly to start with. You should be more accurate with your reporting.")

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    andypandy, 27 Jun 2014 @ 3:21am

    track them identify them

    I think that there are people out there who could track these fraudsters very easily, all it takes is someone who understands the working of the internet"not me" to track them down and get the owners identity and his/her details so that there is someone to go to and to get there money from, I am sure with a 20%-50 fee for anyone finding and getting the fraudsters to pay up would encourage many internet "hackers" to find them.

    I can see it in the near future, bailiffs arriving at their front door and presenting them with a court order to repossess everything they have including homes,cars,boats etc.

    Now that is when we need to have police with cameras recording the people who are involved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bt Garner (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 4:10am

      Re: track them identify them

      Just track the money. When these scammers make a sale (sic), that money goes somewhere, and someone (the credit card company) can figure out where.

      It may not be the end of the money trail, but I'll wager that you can find out a fair amount with that info.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        jen (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 7:30am

        Re: Re: track them identify them

        that option has already come up. :)

        honestly, we've got several options on collections, and public citizens will be figuring out how best to handle the next steps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sergio, 27 Jun 2014 @ 5:23am

    collection agency

    Why not sue the collection agency it look as if they are part of the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Quiet Lurcker, 27 Jun 2014 @ 7:07am

      Re: collection agency

      And offer them a sweetheart deal: Deny it and or fight, and get cleaned out to the tune of 150% of any nominal damages that might be due. Or, acquiesce, and only pay 95% of any damages. Finally (and here's the sweetheart bit) admit wrong-doing, pay 50% of nominal damages; hand over the names and addresses of whoever referred the matter to you in the first place; for all similarly situated cases, drop the matter, report your error to the credit bureaus, spend $X (a fairly large amount) per person to clear up their reputation; and insert terms into their contract that from now on any client who tries the same stunt will pay out the full costs and fees of litigation, reputation clearance, etc. etc. for the agency AND the person being collected against.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jen (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 7:33am

      Re: collection agency

      the debt collection agency was named in the original lawsuit as one of the defendants. however, UNLIKE kleargear, they stepped up and responded. we basically told them "tell the credit bureaus this debt is false, turn over everything you have on kleargear's whereabouts, or you get sued too." fortunately, they did the right thing and realized the debt was bogus. they were very helpful in cleaning up john's credit report.

      since they came through, we dropped them from the suit and continued after kleargear for their bad actions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alternatives(), 27 Jun 2014 @ 8:11am

    Still, what amazes me is that Kleargear itself is still in business. I'm somewhat surprised the company didn't just up and move to a different domain.

    Who says it hasn't done that? Plenty of Internet retailers out there - why couldn't it have taken the good selling base, switched banks, add some new crap with an updated code base and picked a new location?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2014 @ 9:49pm

    What's good for the goose...

    Can't help but think, it would be pretty funny, as well as fitting, if the fine was relayed to a bunch of collection agencies, let them hunt down and hound the company and those behind it, in a nice little reversal of things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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