It’s Between “Scalper” and “Scandal” in Black’s Law Dictionary*

It’s low-hanging fruit, I know, but I cannot pass up juxtaposing my post about the smartest people avoiding law school with this ABA Journal article about a law firm that got hooked by a first cousin to the Nigerian 419 scam:

Milavetz Gallop fell victim to the scam when someone claiming to be a 40-year-old Korean woman hurt in Minnesota told the firm she needed help securing a 400,000 legal settlement, report the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Courthouse News Service. The firm received a settlement check for the amount, received assurances it had cleared, and forwarded $396,500 to a Hong Kong bank for the client.

While this scam’s narrativemay not be as outlandish as “I am a government official/son of Mohammed Gaddafi/whatever and need your assistance transferring $27 million in assets from my country,” extraordinary skepticism is not required to recognize that this smells like week-old walleye. Variations on this scam have been Internet regulars for 15 years or more. From what I’ve read Wells Fargo is not blameless but still, I’d like to believe lawyers are a little savvier than this.

Another reason not to go straight to law school from college: you get life experience necessary to develop the common sense and good judgment to avoid falling for something like this.

*Not in mine, actually, which is the 5th Edition from 1979, but that’s where scam would be.

Power of the Press

Last fall the New York Times reported on the abusive tactics of DecorMyEyes.com, seller of designer eyeglass frames.  The site’s owner, Vitaly Borker, intentionally practiced horrible customer service, figuring that customer complaints on online consumer advocacy sites would raise his site’s profile–more mentions of the company’s name, more links to the site, more buzz for search engines to pick up–and generate more business.  His insight was true, for a while.  Google’s search algorithms did not adequately distinguish between positive and negative references to a site, so any press was good press.  Until it wasn’t.  The Times reported that when one customer complained about receiving counterfeit frames and said she’d call her credit card company after the site refused to resolve the problem, someone identified as Mr. Russo said

“Listen, bitch,  . . . I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.

The Times reported that the site’s campaign of threats, retaliatory lawsuits, and harassment continued for months.  Borker freely admitted what he did:  “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

Here’s why not.  The Times story prompted Google to revise its algorithm to prevent this type of gaming, and prompted law enforcement to investigate Borker’s practices and bring criminal charges.  A few weeks ago the Times reported that Borker pleaded guilty “to two counts of sending threatening communications, one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.”  He’ll be sentenced on September 16.  Under federal sentencing guidelines he could receive 5-6.5 years; his lawyer expects a sentence of 12-18 months.  Another case in which the Internet amplifies the consequences of stupidity/a failed moral compass/poor judgment.

CSI: Fish Pier

You ordered mahi-mahi but is it really Vietnamese catfish on your plate?  The NY Times reports that researchers compared genes of commercially-available fish with a database of gene sequences of identified species and “consistently found that 20 to 25 percent of the seafood products they check are fraudulently identified.”   Seafood sold in the U.S.–84 percent of which is imported, according to the Times article–travels “a multistep global supply chain.”  Along the way the reported percentage is mislabeled, both to upgrade to more expensive species (“tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role”) and to disguise an overfished species that conscientious consumers might avoid as something plentiful.   The Times quotes a doctoral student who has worked on the research:  “If you can’t even trust that the name is right, then how can you trust anything else on the package, including the date?”  Let’s see the invisible hand of the free market solve this problem.

OJ Mystery Solved

Credit to my sister for solving the mystery of the missing orange.  As reported in As food costs rise, supermarket products shrink “[l]ast year, Tropicana announced it was effectively raising prices by shrinking its trademark orange juice carton to 59 ounces, from 64 ounces, citing a winter freeze that damaged crops.”  Accompanying the story is an image of the old and new Tropicana cartons.  Before I took the picture in the prior post I compared the two cartons in every way–except, obviously, their volume, because they appeared to be the same size.

Well done, sis.  You win a lifetime subscription to A Foolish Consistency.

Tell Us How You Feel

Since I’m giving an exam this week I want to present this as a multiple-choice question.  LexisNexis responded to the issues described in this post by:

  1. Providing 3 months free subscription to an alternate product
  2. Expediting payment of my refund for the unused subscription
  3. Pledging not to solicit users to subscribe for products LexisNexis no longer offers
  4. Asking me to participate in another survey, this time about my experience with customer support

Answer:  (4)

We Understand Your Concern

I subscribed, for years. to the LexisNexis advance sheet service, receiving daily summaries of and links to recent decisions on certain topics from courts I selected to follow.  It cost $198/year and delivered great value, keeping me up on legal developments relevant to all of my courses, Internet law in particular.  Early this summer LexisNexis notified me by email that its advance sheet service would cease on July 21.   The email also provided a link to facilitate renewing my subscription to the service LexisNexis was killing, the first hint to the Jekyll/Hyde character of LexisNexis customer service.  LexisNexis sent at least four subsequent emails with the same message:  We will not longer provide this subscription service after July 21!! Click here to renew!!  I thought of LexisNexis as a company that knew what it was doing, so one day I called customer service to ask, what’s the deal with the mixed message?  “You are terminating the service, you’ve not offered a substitute service, you owe me money for the service I paid for post-July 21, and you are inviting me to renew a non-existent subscription.  What’s up with that?”  I was not–and am not–angry, just mystified at and curious about the customer-relations cluelessness of this sophisticated information-services company.  The customer service rep, very friendly, confirmed LexisNexis had no other products similar to the cancelled service, that they owed me money, and that the renewal requests were generated automatically by computer.   But why is the computer programmed to generate renewal prompts in messages telling me the service will not longer exist?  Hmm.  Good question.

I thought and heard nothing more about this until a few days ago, when I received an email asking me to complete the LexisNexis Community Member Survey.  I had two thoughts:  1. LexisNexis owes me money!  2. Does LexisNexis, a company that licenses information databases, know its customer service database is engaged in stand-up comedy?  I had to call.  This morning I shared these thoughts with another customer service rep, whose voice was nowhere as appealing as the woman I spoke with in July.  Yes, there is a credit memo in my file, acknowledging that LexisNexis owes me money.  No, they haven’t actually refunded the money.  They only process these credit memos in April and October.  Oh, I’d like to receive the credit now?  No, they have no products to replace the terminated service.  Yes, they do appreciate me presenting my concerns to them.

Look Me In the i

Starting this summer, when our clickstream data and demographic profile trigger delivery of online ads, the ad will contain a little blue <i> icon, perhaps words such as “Why did I get this ad?,” and a link to a site explaining how the advertiser uses the collected data.  Advertisers agreed to the new policy hoping to avoid stricter federal regulations governing electronic collection and use of personally identifiable information.   The “Power I” is the brainchild of the Future of Privacy Forum.

Ugh

Otto von Bismarck said “laws are like sausages.  It’s better not to see them being made.”  Had Bismarck read yesterday’s New York Times story by Michael Moss he might have said “laws are like sausages and hamburger . . . .”  If you are tilting towards vegetarianism or dubious about purchasing that 18-pack of frozen ground beef patties for your next barbecue,  E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection will could push you over the edge.