10 Ways Consumers Can Get Revenge

by Jonah Stein on October 13, 2006

Have you been wronged by a company and they won’t do anything about it? Here are 10 things you can do to get even.*

1. Dispute the credit card charge
There is a widely circulated rumor about a merchant who won a charge back dispute, but there is no confirmation it actually happened. Credit card companies almost always side with the consumer when there is a complaint about an online purchase. After hours documenting every interaction with the customer, reciting the terms and conditions and proving they did everything right, companies lose the dispute and pay the charge back along with a processing fee. Savvy merchants don’t even bother to fight payment disputes; it is a waste of time and money.

2. Build a complaint site
Got a lot of time on your hands? A huge percent of online traffic comes from visitors searching for a company by brand name. A complaint site can appear right below (occasionally above) the brand the user is searching for. Google United Airlines and the 3rd result is for Untied.com, a site dedicated to complaints about United.

Negative reviews can obliterate the company’s brand in search engine results. Take the case of a now defunct search engine optimization company called Traffic Power. They decide to sue some bloggers who were critical of them. Instead of silencing their critics, the lawsuits rallied the SEO community, generated thousands of back links to the story on SEOBook and helped propel Aaron Wall into a celebrity. The top ten SERP’s on Google for “Traffic Power” are dominated by websites slamming Traffic Power. Traffic Power is out of businesses.

3. Blog About Your Experience
If you don’t have the time, the skill or the anger to spend weeks building a complaint site, write about your experience and then post to social media sites like Digg and Reddit. Companies invest millions of dollars in their brand – few things are more damaging than having complaints show up on the top of search results.

A blogger wrote about his bad experience buying a camera online and posted it to Digg.com. Beside the usual advice, dig users posted the store’s numerous aliases, phone number and address. Users flooded the 800 number with phone calls, wrote scripts using Skype to call and disconnect, making prank phone calls, launched DOS attacks against the site and posted bad reviews on various websites. Not only did the owners write an apology letter and claim to fire the manager, they had to change their brand. PriceRitePhoto is now BarclaysPhoto and the damaging blog still shows on the first page of results.

Reputation management is a serious issue and a real problem. It could cost the company tens of thousands of dollars promoting favorable reviews to push one complaint posting off the first page of search results and there is no guarantee it will work. It’s not unheard of for the company to offer cash to get someone to take down a bad review. When this happens, savor the moment and don’t accept the first offer…the negotiation has begun.

4. CPC Click Abuse
Unscrupulous people might spend a few seconds every day clicking on paid links for a particular company. Invalid clicks can cost a company a lot of money. For example, the search term “postcard printing” on Google brings up sponsored ads that cost between $5 and $10 dollars per click.

If you’re really angry, you could click on the ad once a day from home and again from work and get a few close friends to do the same thing. This can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars before you get bored. This activity may flag an invalid click filter at the search engines. If you clear your cookies daily, switch browsers, or surf in Safari using the “Private Browsing Mode” and navigate a few pages deep once you click on the link, it is unlikely anyone will detect it.
5. “Promote” the business
If the company gives away free samples, they are vulnerable to being placed on one of the hundreds of sites linking to companies that give away free stuff. Take an example of an online printing company that sends out samples of their work: greeting cards, calendars, notepads, etc. Someone listed their sample request page on a single freebie site. They got over 1,500 sample requests in 3 days, versus the 200 they normally expect.

This printer now has 200 legitimate prospects mingled with 1,300 freebie request. Each sample pack cost about $5 to fulfill, so it could cost $6,500 to send 1,300 samples to people who want a freebie. Each legitimate request costs about $25 in marketing, so not fulfilling the 200 legitimate requests would cost $6,000 in invested dollars and around $25,000 lost revenue. In the end, it took at least 30 man-hours to straighten out the mess and another 20 hours for IT to put in a fix. A week later, someone reposted the new link on another site along with instructions on getting around the fix.

6. Better Business Bureau
Even if the company isn’t a member, maintaining a clean BBB file is very important; many consumers will check the BBB before they make their first purchase. A company can be classified as “Not Recommended” with as few as 3 unresolved complaints even if they have a million customers who never complain. It takes many hours of paperwork to respond to each complaint. Even if the company responds, it is still up to the consumer to agree the complaint has been satisfied. Eventually, after spending a lot of staff time, the company may prevail and have the complaint ruled in their favor, but the complaint never gets taken off their record.

7. Write a funny email describing how incompetent the company is
Never underestimate the viral power of a well written email. Send it to everyone you know with the subject of “funny story” and they will send it to their joke list. The trick here is to make sure to paint a portrait of a beleaguered customer faced with an incompetent policy and an unbending bureaucracy. Try Alexa or Epinions if you want to keep going.

8. Link to them
Opinions differ about how much harm can be done to a company by linking to them from “bad neighborhoods” such as link farms, porn sites and affiliate sites that promote online casinos, debt consolidation and viagra. It would probably require a “Black Hat SEO” professional to really do much damage and this will never work for an established company like Amazon.com, but a newer website without a lot of inbound links is certainly vulnerable. (If anyone has a list of ways to get a site penalized or banished, let me know and I will link to you.)

9. Send them Dog Poop
You don’t have to touch it because there are two companies that will do it for you: DogDoo.com or Mailpoop.com

10. Buy from someone else!
The fact is, it takes a lot of money to attract a new customer and it is in the interest of a company to try to retain almost every one.

*This is meant as a cautionary tale for business owners, not a recommendation for consumers. The ROIGuy is not suggesting you take any of these actions. He is not an attorney and has no opinion whether pursuing any of these strategies is a violation of federal, state or local laws or civil statutes.

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