Friday, 16 March 2012

What do we cost?

Even after all these years we still occasionally get a call or an email from a reader asking how much it costs to get help from Consumer Watchdog. The answer, in case you’re wondering, is nothing. Nothing at all.

It’s time for some transparency about Consumer Watchdog is funded. We accept nothing from consumers for helping them out. More importantly we don’t ever accept anything from suppliers. Not ever. We’ve never even accepted a free drink from a supplier for anything we’ve done, not once. That’s a matter of policy. I don’t ever want anyone to be able to accuse us of being biased because we took some sort of reward from a company.

The only money we’ve ever accepted has been from our media partners, like the fantastically supportive team at Mmegi, for the newspaper columns we write. Other than that, no money changes hands at all.

Not that we haven’t been offered money.

Just recently I received an email from someone calling himself “Luigi”, using a free Gmail address (, who expressed concern about things we had written that were posted on the Consumer Watchdog blog. He asked
“Do you entertain complaints removals? We have some complaints we want removed since its affecting our business. What can you guys do?”
I was curious that he didn’t say which business he represented so I emailed him asking who it was. This is what he said:
“I represent a consulting company that have many clients. These clients have negative complaints on your website. If you can remove the complaints we will pay you per negative listing. But we need guarantee that it will not be posted ever again. Work with us and we will make you happy.”
Mmmm, an offer of money! I should stress that I’m not prepared to remove comments that I’ve posted on our blog unless there’s a VERY good reason. So far, after more than 800 blog posts over more than 7 years I’ve never removed a single thing I’ve written. I’ve certainly added clarifications and updates but every blog post that I ever posted is still there. So far, I’ve not got anything wrong. I know that sounds pompous but we are extremely careful about what we write and post on the web. Who knows, I might write something tomorrow that will need correction, it just hasn’t happened yet.

This is a long way of saying that I’m never going to accept an offer of cash to remove a blog post. I don’t like people who offer to give bribes. They’re not the sort of people to whom I owe any respect. However I was extremely curious about what “Luigi” wanted me to do, who he represented and, just as interesting, how much he was thinking of offering me.

A lengthy email correspondence ensued including him saying that he does not “want our information posted or our email correspondence posted on your website or any other websites.”

That’s not something I’m prepared to do. I’ve always been perfectly clear that unless there is a VERY compelling reason, we’re very open about who we investigate, and what we feel about them given what we discover. We also immediately post any threatening or aggressive correspondence we receive on our blog. During a problem we investigated a couple of years ago this infuriated a certain South African distributor of a certain Korean car manufacturer. They got their every-so-scary lawyers to write us a threatening letter that mentioned that I had published part of an email from their client. They said that “this publication was unlawful as you ignored the DISCLAIMER AND CONFIDENTIALY NOTICE on the emails. Of course they were talking nonsense. There is no law that says I have to honor such a confidentiality clause unless I had specifically agreed to it. I hadn’t. They emailed me, knowing I had already posted some of the comments on the blog. They could reasonably expect that anything else they emailed me would also be published.

Since then all emails we’ve sent from Consumer Watchdog have included the following statement:
“Please note that any communications to or from Consumer Watchdog may be published or broadcast at our discretion. Disclaimers relating to email confidentiality will be ignored.”
Of course we’re never going to publish anything recklessly. All consumers who contact us are promised confidentiality. I promise that again here. We will never disclose your identity if you ask us not to. I don’t make that promise for the stores we contact.

So anyway, back to my new friend “Luigi”. After several emails asking which comments he wanted me to remove he stated that one referred to “Universal Degrees” and “Corllins University”, who I had described as a seller of fake degrees from a fake university with fake accreditation.

If that’s true then I’m afraid Luigi has crooks as clients. Universal Degrees had told me, during an online chat session, that I could get a Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate in Nursing all for a mere $1,576, all without any prior experience, qualifications or skills and without sitting any exams. They even said they would backdate the two lesser degrees to suitable years in the past. That’s lying, fakery and fraud.

If “Luigi” really is acting on their behalf he’s as crooked as they are.

Just out of interest I asked Luigi how much he’d offer me to sell my conscience and, after a little pushing said: “For any given removal we will be interested in paying $300 to $500.”

Unfortunately for Luigi I’m not going to accept his offer of a bribe. Instead I’ve simply published every email we’ve sent each other on the blog. You don’t think that’ll make him angry, do you?

So the answer the question is this. We cost nothing, other than to those crooks who try to bribe or threaten us. That might cost them a lot.

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