By popular demand — which is a polite way of saying yes, I heard about this, for the love of God stop sending me emails about it — it's time to talk about KlearGear, an online company that sells "desk toys" and gadgets and tchotchkes and such. Tim Cushing at Techdirt has the story.
KlearGear is not having a good week in the social media. That's because KlearGear attempted to enforce a jaw-droppingly repulsive and unethical fine-print-condition-of-sale to retaliate against a customer who complained about bad service.
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.
Should you violate this clause, as determined by KlearGear.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.
The link to that language is from a web archive, because KlearGear has now sent it to the memory hole upon public scrutiny. Tim Cushing at Techdirt points out that, according to the Internet Archive, the clause didn't even exist when Jen Palmer clicked "yes" and bought her bauble from KlearGear. That suggests that KlearGear made a demand for money to Jen Palmer based on a contract she never signed. There's a word for that: fraud.
Could Jen Palmer defend a lawsuit on the basis that KlearGear can't prove that she agreed to the non-disparagement clause, because it wasn't on the site when she clicked "yes"? Yes she could. Could she also defend a lawsuit based on a variety of doctrines and defenses available when companies attempt to enforce bizarre hidden clauses in form contracts — sometimes called "contracts of adhesion" — against consumers? Yes. But a lawsuit isn't at the heart of KlearGear's despicable tactic. Ruining the credit of its critics is:
The clause goes on to say if a 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.
Once again — if KlearGear asserts falsely that someone accepted a contractual term, and asserts a debt based on that false statement, and reports that debt to credit agencies, that's fraud. It's not just a civil wrong, it's a crime.
I tried to get a comment from KlearGear. I tweeted their Twitter account. I left a message on their Facebook page. I repeatedly called "Rob Key," their "Media Relations" person, at the number they provided; it was constantly busy over two days. I called the main number on their website; the recording always says that a customer representative is unavailable on this time and to check the website. It's almost as if Jen Palmer's online criticism — that it's impossible to talk to a live person at KlearGear — is true.
KlearGear's non-disparagement clause is probably an effort to salvage a reputation hammed by bad results like an "F" grade from the Better Business Bureau in 2010, earned through shitty service.
Kleargear.com claims to offer products to "make your home and desk more fun with our desk toys, cool gadgets, stress relievers, games, cube decor, geek toys, and unique computer accessories." However, consumers across the country tell BBB that dealing with this company is anything but fun. BBB has issued an F rating to San Antonio-based Kleargear.com for failing to respond to consumer complaints. Click here to view the company’s current BBB Reliability Report™.
Consumer disputes received by BBB allege Kleargear.com does not deliver products purchased online in a timely manner and, in some cases, fails to deliver any product at all. Consumers further allege that attempts to contact the company go unanswered. In the past three years, 95 of the 123 disputes forwarded by BBB staff to Kleargear.com have gone unanswered, though some consumers later notified BBB they did eventually receive their products.
KlearGear's BBB rating has since improved. However, the Western Michigan Better Business Bureau reported in 2012 that KlearGear was falsely displaying a positive BBB rating on its web site:
As of November 28, 2012, the BBB became aware that the company's website is displaying a BBB Accredited Business logo and BBB Rating A+; however, the comapny is not a BBB accredited business and the BBB rating is not A+.
The BBB contacted the company regarding these issues and this matter is pending the company's response.
As of November 28, 2012, the BBB discovered that some pages of the company's website display the BBB Accredited Business Logo and state "BBB Rating A+", when neither is true.
The BBB contacted the company at the Michigan mail drop address instructing the company to immediately remove the incorrect BBB logo and reference from their site.
This matter is currently pending.
Companies, through the people who run them, can make errors of judgment. They can correct those errors, and consumers can make rational decisions that the company is again worthy of their business.
This is not such a situation.
KlearGear has begun to reap what it has sown. Techdirt, Simple Justice, Consumerist, and more sites have written about it. KlearGear deserves to fail as a business based on this conduct, and hopefully will. But that's not enough. Somebody needs to use public records to identify the owners and decision-makers behind KlearGear who countenanced this conduct, and any lawyers who participated in the threats to consumers. Their identity should be published, and they should suffer social consequences. Their communities, and their future potential employers or customers, should see them for what they are: scum.
Do you think KlearGear should suffer consequences for its actions? You can help by spreading the story.
Edited to add: In this life, you take your fun where you find it: