This Couple Found Out the Hard Way That Writing a Negative Online Review Could Land You a $3K Fine and Wrecked Credit Score
Nov. 18, 2013 3:28pm Becket Adams
A Utah couple’s credit score has been wrecked because of a negative online review and some fine print.
Couple Fined $3,000, Gets Bad Credit Score After Writing Negative Online Review
A Utah couple had a nightmare experience after leaving a negative online review for a company. (Image course: KUTV-TV)
Jen Palmer’s husband in 2008 purchased several items from a website called Kleargear.com. However, after 30 days passed, the order never arrived and PayPal eventually canceled the transaction.
Annoyed, Jen tried calling and emailing Kleargear.com to figure out what went wrong. Despite repeated attempts to contact a customer service representative, she was unable to get through to anyone on the site.
She eventually gave up and instead reported her miserable experience to ripoffreport.com, a site that specializes in reporting false or poor businesses.
“There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being,” Jen Palmer wrote, adding that Kleargear.com specializes in “horrible customer service practices.”
That should’ve been the end of it, right? Wrong.
A full three years later, Palmer’s husband received an email from Kleargear.com demanding that the couple either remove the ripoffreport.com review or face a fine.
That’s where things got ugly.
The Palmers had supposedly violated a non-disparagement clause buried in Kleargear.com’s terms of sale. The clause reads: 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.
The clause adds that if a user violates the agreement by posting a negative review, that user will have 72 hours to remove it or face a fine of up to $3,500. The site also warns that anyone who refuses to pay the fine will be reported to the nation’s top credit bureaus.
“This is fraud,” Jen Palmer told KUTV-TV. “They’re blackmailing us for telling the truth.”And it’s not like the Palmers didn’t try to avoid trouble; Jen contacted ripoffreport.com to have them remove her negative review, but the site said it would only do it if the couple paid a $2,000 fee.
Out of options, the Palmers refused to pay Kleargear.com’s fee. The fine then became delinquent, was reported to credit bureaus and the couple’s credit score has since been downgraded.
Now the Utah couple is struggling with rejection notices from lenders who are uninterested in helping them finance a new car and help them replace their broken furnace.
“I have the right to tell somebody else these guys ripped me off,” Jen Palmer said.
The couple then reached out to KUTV with their story, prompting an investigative report. What the station found wasn’t pretty.
First, Kleargear.com apparently has a history of upsetting customers. Indeed, according to the report, Kleargear.com at one point was slapped with an “F” rating by the Better Business Bureau for “not delivering products purchased online in a timely manner.”
Kleargear.com has since managed to work its way to a “B” rating.
The news team was also unable to reach anyone at Kleargear.com by phone and had to resort to email. A spokesperson in an email to the news team defended the $3,500 fine by citing the site’s terms of sale agreement. The spokesperson also said that the site’s email to the Palmers warning of a fee was merely a “diligent effort to help them avoid (the fine).”
Lastly, according to the new team’s investigation, it doesn’t appear that the clause warning of a fine was featured on Kleargear.com back in 2008 when Jen Palmer’s husband made the initial purchases. The site says it was there all along, but KUTV reported web archives show otherwise.
The couple says they can’t afford a lawyer. They have, however, been put in touch with media relations experts at credit bureau Experian. They hope that one final appeal will get their credit rating back on track.