Mac Repair Company iGeniuses Sends Legal Threats To Unhappy Customers, Demanding $2500 Per Negative Review

from the iMorons dept

Paul Alan Levy is once again reporting on stupid legal threats made by a stupid company with a stupid non-disparagement clause hidden deep in its clickwrap. In addition, there's an apparently stupid lawyer involved.

I do not use the word "stupid" lightly.

First off, any company that thinks it's a good idea to hide a non-disparagement clause in its contractual agreements deserves to be called "stupid." There's no better way to set your reputation on fire than to demand that customers never criticize you, no matter how terrible your goods or services are. Well, there is one "better" way: enforcing it.

That's what iGeniuses, an Apple device repair company, did.

iGeniuses is a Houston company that repairs Apple products; it especially touts its ability to repair computers suffering from liquid damage on a fast turnaround schedule. A number of former customers have expressed concerns about the success of the repairs, about longer-than-advertised repair times, and especially about their believe that the company is very slow to respond to questions from customers concerned about not getting their computers back in the expected time.

Geniuses, they are not. Here's the wording from its "Customer Satisfaction Policy," which also doubles as the "Terms and Conditions" you must agree to before sending iGeniuses your Mac for repair. (emphasis added)

Customers agree not to attack/criticize/disparage/defame i-Geniuses.com or any of its employees, associates or partners publicly (on public forums, blogs, social networks etc)... Similarly you agree not to seek any SEO advice on SEO forums, blogs, community groups or any social media in a way which brings bad name to i-Geniuses.com or any of its employees, associates or partners. In case of breach of this clause, you agree to pay a flat fee of $2500.00 per instance to cover the cost associated with the restoration of i-Geniuses.com’s reputation and any and all business losses as directly related to your actions or actions of those directly or indirectly influenced by your prohibited action.

As Levy points out, this has been added to a new page on the iGeniuses website, most likely in reaction to him questioning whether or not customers were even aware of the non-disparagement clause. Previously, customers only saw it if they chose to read the "Terms and Conditions" they had to agree to before iGeniuses would accept their money.

Customers have been invoiced for $2500, with some receiving additional billing ($250), supposedly to cover the cost of having a lawyer write up (badly) legal threats on its behalf.

Chris Cammack, the lawyer behind the letters, has also issued followups containing threats of litigation over breach of contract. Levy spoke to Cammack, but was only able to gather more information confirming the dubious legality of the clause and its corresponding legal threats.

I reached out to both the company and the lawyer to ask questions about these claims. iGeniuses never responded, but Cammack called me back and we had a thoroughly civil conversation, even if what he had to say was largely uninformative. I wanted to know, for example, which specific facts in each of the reviews iGeniuses claimed to be false. Generally speaking when lawyers send demand letters that throw around the word “false” but give no examples, that tends to suggest that they have no sound claims of falsity. And besides, having been in touch with three recipients of the letters, and having looked at some of the consumers’ documentation, it appeared to me that there is some justification for a complaint common to many of the Yelp reviews, that the company does not respond promptly to inquiries from customers. Cammack told me that he “d[id] not choose to tell [me]” what specific statements were claimed to be false. I could not help wondering whether he had any specifics in mind.

Multiple forms of stupidity present themselves. First, the legal threats are vague and attack reviews that are protected statements of opinion. The more egregious stupidity is that iGeniuses waited until after the passage of a federal law forbidding non-disparagement clauses to start enforcing its clause. Add to that the fact that one threatening letter targets a 2013 review, which would put it well past the expiration date of Texas's statute of limitations.

The letters state the company has "proof" the dissatisfied customers agreed to the non-disparagement clause, but in the 2013 case, that's almost impossible to believe. Unless the company did business under another name at another URL, the i-geniuses.com domain wasn't registered until 2014. (It now redirects to igeniuses.com, which was registered in November of last year.)

>

More stupidly, iGeniuses' lawyer doesn't know for a fact whether or not the customers he told had agreed to this contractual language actually agreed to this contractual language.

I asked Cammack whether the web site worked the same way when two of the consumers had completed their transactions in 2015, and indeed whether the contract was the same when one of the consumers had sent his computer to iGeniuses in 2013. Cammack said he didn’t know the answers to these questions and that I would thus have to speak to his client. But if he didn’t know this basic information, how could he state as a fact that each of consumers had agreed to the contract he was telling them that had breached?

When Levy pressed Cammack on the legality of pursuing this after the passage of a federal law strictly forbidding this exact contractual language, the lawyer ended the conversation.

Finally, perhaps the stupidest thing about this whole fiasco:

Cammack plaintively said that he was just an outside contractor who had been hired to send three letters.

This is the worst: a lawyer willing to put his own reputation on the line to send letters of severely-dubious legality to unhappy customers of a company that would rather charge customers for negative reviews than attempt to make them happier. Cammack throws the weight of his profession behind letters designed to make recipients feel they have no choice but to pay up. With this "I was just following orders" pleading, he throws himself under the bus, saving iGeniuses the trouble. This is good news for the company, which will probably have its hands full dealing with unhappy customers and non-customers alike. Unhappy customers forbidden from screwing with iGeniuses' pagerank by its idiotic contract will now have the satisfaction of watching the company speedily negate its own SEO efforts without their assistance.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 8:15am

    Fear not, Cammack, Prenda always has spots for distinct professionals like you! - @realAlanCooper

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:19am

      Re:

      Nah. Prenda at least kept digging. This guy is back peddling after replying that he was hired just to send letters.

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

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      Has any company made legal threats to customers their business model? (It'd be a variation on Prenda scheme, I know.)

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

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:52am

      Re:

      Even from a practical standpoint, I've never understood the point of these clauses. At most, they only bind the person receiving the service from engaging in non-disparagement. They have no effect on that person's friends and family.

      Instead of Angry Customer going on RipOffReport.com and complaining about iGeniuses, Angry Customer's Daughter can do it:

      "So my dad took his computer to this repair shop and let me tell you about the crappy service he got..."

      Even if these clauses were legally valid, there's nothing the could do about that.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 7:30pm

        Re: Re:

        Any company scumming and terrible enough to try to slip in a gag-clause is also likely to be scumming and terrible enough to argue that clearly you told your friend/family about your experience, and that counts, so therefore say goodbye to your money for 'defaming' them.

        It wouldn't be a good argument, but it would be a consistent one.

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

        • identicon
          Cowardly Lion, 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          May I counter your despicable but valid argument with an equally despicable yet also valid one..?

          Said daughter may have actually been present at the time of said crappy service in which case no actual disparaging took place. Daughter may in fact be a bona fide witness...

          I'll get my coat.

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

        • icon
          btr1701 (profile), 2 Feb 2017 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          But in this case, the clause only says the customer can't bad-mouth them on blogs, forums, etc. It doesn't say the customer can't bad-mouth them to his family or his next-door neighbor.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 8:56am

    Congratz, iGeniuses, this story from Techdirt is now the 3rd google result when searching for iGeniuses. Your own website being second to the yelp link in first where you are 1.8 stars!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 8:57am

      Re:

      Oh and Yelp themselves seem to be aware of your legal fuckery too and are posting this text on top of the reviews of your business:
      "Consumer Alert: Questionable Legal Threats

      This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp."

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      And it kinda looks like the only positive reviews on Yelp for them were written by iGeniuses themselves (or more likely by some other company they paid to write reviews for them):

      "Mac Geniuses is awesome! I needed a glass bezel repair for my MacBook Pro and the process was so easy and they were quick! On the plus side, they also do nationwide repairs."

      "I can not say enough good things about The Mac Geniuses! They had my MacBook Pro back to me within a week (over a holiday weekend too!). I had a little spill on my MacBook and was devastated that it was not working. I took it to the Apple store first and they quoted me a whopping $800 flat fee for liquid damage. So my husband and I were trying to think of any way not to pay that for the Mac. Luckily I found The Mac Geniuses through Google and called to set up a drop off appointment. They were so wonderful! My MacBook Pro is back to me and working perfectly. They went above and beyond with their service and I know that this is the only place I will be going for any of my Apple repair or upgrades! I wish I had more friends with Macs so that I could tell them this is the only place they will ever need to go!

      Thank you for the wonderful service Anthony and The Mac Geniuses!"

      What real person writes a review that sounds like that? Who the fuck talks about their own personal experience in terms of "nationwide repairs" or wishes they had more friends with macs just so that they could refer more people?

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

      • identicon
        David, 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:36am

        You know what is really funny?

        The most important remedy for liquid damage is keeping the damn thing off for a few days. Something that the owners' patience rarely is up to. So you give it to the experts, they wait a week, then try. If it works, they bill you. If not, they say it was beyond repair.

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

        • identicon
          David, 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:42am

          Re: You know what is really funny?

          And a bag of rice. Uncooked, obviously.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 3:57am

          Re: You know what is really funny?

          Unfortunately most (if not all) mac books and other apple products have non removable batteries so even with the device off it is likely to fry some of the power related circuitry.

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

      • icon
        Vidiot (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 12:21pm

        Re: Re:

        "What real person writes a review that sounds like that?"

        A person with a whole bag full o' exclamation points, just itchin' to sprinkle 'em around!

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

      • icon
        John85851 (profile), 2 Feb 2017 @ 10:46am

        Re: Re:

        And I find it odd that the review says "I had a little spill on it"? Wouldn't a real review say something more specific, like "My baby hit a glass of juice that spilled onto the keyboard"?

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

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:07am

      Re:

      Hey any publicity is good publicity!

      ... Unless iGenius says otherwise in court.

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

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:16am

    Schadenfreud

    I love these stories, and I wonder how people in the tech business miss all the coverage over similar stories in the previous years

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

  • icon
    madasahatter (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:19am

    Correct name

    iIdiots should the company name. These charges can be challenged. Also, what is the minimum amount of money in a fraud/theft case in Texas for felony charges? Also, could there RICO charges involved (definitely a felony)?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 12:36pm

      Re: Correct name

      "Also, could there RICO charges involved (definitely a felony)?"

      No. Always. No. Every time people bring this up, yes even lawyers who should know better, the answer is 99.99% NO!

      In fact, the courts are so tired of RICO allegations being tacked on to lawsuits (and criminal charges) that there is a specific form for it in many jurisdictions and it requires very specific criteria to be answered and if they can't, the court will toss the charge.

      https://www.popehat.com/2016/06/14/lawsplainer-its-not-rico-dammit/

      READ IT. UNDERSTAND IT.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 9:52am

    Cammack plaintively said that he was just an outside contractor who had been hired to send three letters.

    And what does he call this service?

    iThug?

    Fraud On Demand?

    Chris Cammack's Barratry Emporium?

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

  • identicon
    dr evil, 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:07am

    wait.. wait... it gets better

    smart lawyers realize that words have meanings..
    'to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : evaluate ' is the
    first definition of crititize in Websters. therefore POSITIVE reviews are also subject to the 2500 dollar value added fine.

    this fee would be required to reinstate the Geniuses BAD reputation. win win

    peace out

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:09am

    Customer Satisfaction Policy (short version)

    You agree to be satisfied or pay $2,500.00 each time that you say you are not satisfied.

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

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:09am

    Can the Bar Assoc get involved?

    Can a lawyer send out legal threats that they know are illegal? Shouldn't that be reported to the Texas Bar Assoc?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:25am

      Re: Can the Bar Assoc get involved?

      Yes it should and based on the interactions so far, the lawyer is going to need help understanding why he is being disbarred. Whatever school produced this example should really be looking to shut him down for their own sake.

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

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:50am

    H.R.5111 - Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016

    Looks like neither them nor their lawyer are aware of this new law.

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

  • icon
    Al_D (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 10:54am

    Customer Satisfaction

    Where I can leave my negative review. I not a customer, but I definitely have a few choice word I'd like to leave.

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

  • identicon
    michael, 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:01am

    i-Geniuses Trademark infringement

    Apple should sue the crap out of i-Geniuses for using a 'confusingly similar' mark as their tradename and design.

    Hey, i-Geniuses – do battle with the big dogs.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:50am

      Re: i-Geniuses Trademark infringement

      Apple wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

      20 years ago there was a big annoying computer industry fad in naming things iThis and iThat. Compaq's iPAQ PCs and Pocket PCs for example. The trend was finally dying out when Apple introduced the iPod.

      The "iPod" trademark was already in use for other products including Internet kiosks. Likewise the "iPhone", "iCloud" and other now-Apple iNames were already in use before Apple joined the fad.

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

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 12:01pm

        Re: Re: i-Geniuses Trademark infringement

        As it is, they license "ios" from Cisco.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 5:29pm

        Re: Re: i-Geniuses Trademark infringement

        Apple couldn't claim trademark over 'i', that'd be true. It does have Apple Geniuses, the Genius Bar and so on. Apple probably couldn't claim trademark on Genius either.

        But combine their existing Genius support service with many of their products being an iDevice, and Apple might have a case on claiming consumer confusion with iGeniuses being affliated with Apple.

        If not a trademark infringement case, they might be able to go with trademark dilution. Or claim iGeniuses are misrepresenting themselves. Or something equally bad that would cause Techdirt to write an article about bad case law and precedents. :)

        But I'd say Apple is definitely watching now, because they're very protective of their products and the experience people have with them. They may yet intervene somehow.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 6:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: i-Geniuses Trademark infringement

          I'm slightly smarter than a moron and not in too much of a hurry, and I'm confused. Given Apple's use of "i" everything and "genius" I initially expected that IGenius would be an Apple Trademark.

          There. Now they have evidence.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:03am

    More fake reviews in their Twitter feed

    Including one by someone from "White Planes, NY". Apparently the igeniuses are actually imorons.

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

    • identicon
      Dan T., 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:22am

      Re: More fake reviews in their Twitter feed

      That's just referring to the color of the aircraft arriving at the Westchester County airport. The reviewer is obviously aboard one of them while writing the review, hopefully not during the time the flight attendants have told passengers to turn off electronic devices.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:04am

    and the first law suits against the company are going to be when? let customers begin litigation and see then who and how quick the tack changes! it still begs disbelief when the law specifically forbids this type of action, so how come this bunch of morons are getting away with it but had it been a customer, they would have been jumped on from a great height?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2017 @ 11:22am

    What kind of idiot names their company "iGeniuses"?

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 12:02pm

    So, not having something fixed in the stated time frame isn't a breach of contract, apparently.

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 31 Jan 2017 @ 12:17pm

    What a bunch of iDiots!

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

  • identicon
    Constance, 31 Jan 2017 @ 3:12pm

    wondering can the consumer getting their laptop after this sue? since this company keep holding the consumer's laptop and force them to remove all the negative reviews.

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

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 2 Feb 2017 @ 10:49am

    Hold the lawyer accountable

    By his own admission, the lawyer was simply hired to send out legal threats. This means 1 of 2 things:
    1) He doesn't know threats like these aren't enforceable in court.
    2) He does know threats like these aren't enforceable in court but took the company's money and sent the threats anyway.

    So which option is worse? And when will the court system start punishing lawyers for doing things like this, *especially* when they're "just following orders" instead of following the law.

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

  • identicon
    Jonathan, 31 Jul 2017 @ 5:29pm

    I-geniuses scam

    Does anybody have any more information on this company? I am building a case for myself and about 10 other people that this company stole from. I think all of this only buzz and people calling them out scared the shit out of them and they skipped town. ANTHONY MONTZ, WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WE ARE COMING FOR YOU. YOU BETTER GET A NEW IDENTITY BECAUSE I WONT STOP UNTIL YOU ARE IN JAIL. THIEF.

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


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