The non-profit American Computer Science Association today issued a series of warnings to consumers to shop only "where there is an exemplary record of no misconduct" when shopping on the Internet. The Association strongly recommended consumers "forego shopping at any company with pending fraud or consumer protection suits, as that may be the proverbial SMOKE where FIRE is soon to be found behind it. Try not to get burned by any company."
Citing recent legal activity such as the Dell "Bait and Switch, Financial Fraud" Lawsuit, filed in San Francisco (Case: CGC-05-43864 in the Superior Court of California), allegations against Dell are being hard fought between Dell's lawyers and the plaintiffs lawyers. The ACSA stated:
"If you go to the web and type in [Bait and Switch] or [Fraud], you see a large number of companies who are facing allegations regarding web abuse. Dell is one of them, in it's legal case in California and while the case is still in its very early phases, you can read for yourself that Company lawyers are working overtime trying to fight such cases from becoming Class Actions.
The issue in the Dell case is thus: two customers claim they were baited, that inferior products were substituted, that financing terms were unstated and/or overbilled and a variety of similar allegations. We tried to ask Dell their opinion, and we were told "no comment". (Visit here to read the complaint: http://www.lerachlaw.com/cases/dell/complaint.pdf).
In our charitable opinion, many large companies like Dell have too many cheap selling options in the internet. We have as a society, not enforced the standards of conduct used in mainstream society, over the Web. That leaves it up to the ethical conscience of large companies like Dell, to determine if, for example, they should bully their smaller competition, humiliate them in TV ads, even overwhelm or otherwise abuse them with print media catalogs, copy their web contents or product names, all because they believe that because they are the largest company in their segment that no one will oppose their legal might.
The fact is, it is up to the government, when that happens, to step in and examine any company's business practices who behave as has been alleged consumers or competitors, and determine if such warrants Federal Intervention by legal action of the Justice Department. When these complainants against Dell in the indicated lawsuit filed in February, in fairness to Dell, it was likely becuase the law for Class Actions was about to change for the difficult. It's only fair, however, that the Federal Government represent the interests of the entire People, because it would be too great a burden for every consumer, for example, to pay for their own Anti-Trust suit, or their own Consumer Fraud case, on the face of stringent laws making it more difficult for Class Actions to be formed. One consequence of the excellent concept President Bush has set forth of 'less big government' is that when you also diminish the rights of consumers to form classes, you thereby demand constitutionally backed FEDERAL INTERVENTION by the Justice Department in their defense. If you fail to do so, you are openly inviting abuses by companies who fear no plaintiff, since the Billions they earn each year will insulate them from RELEVENT as well as frivolous lawsuits. As a result, the quality of American products and services will begin to decline, for ultimate lack of accountability. To that end, while we fully and wholeheartedly support President Bush in the 'less big government' initiative, we do NOT support the rendering of Class Actions more difficult to form by JUSTIFIED CONSUMERS and JUSTIFIED COMPETITORS in the consumer protection and antitrust areas, at the same time. That could cripple certain long evolving elements of the constitutionally backed rights afforded consumers and business competition here in the states, costing us significant reputation and market share globally. We agree there have been too many frivolous class action suits, but in our society, we are not supposed to throw the Baby out with the Bathwater.
Dell's alleged abuses are only a case in point.
The Internet is openly inviting of fraud, if you've ever received SPAM offers to help a Nigerian migrate $80 million dollars, what is known as a 409 Fraud, named for the Nigerian Statute, there simiply is no standard for conduct.
But that does NOT exempt any company.
We are watching the Dell lawsuit as a bellweather of what the future holds for consumer protection. Changes in the Class Action Law have made it harder to gain 'Class Status', perhaps those changes need to be repealed in the case of all aspects of Consumer Fraud and Anti-trust.
We are not going to rendere a legal opinion about Dell's position in this case, but we do note that combining TV Ads and Web Sales does leave continuity gaps in any market, it is difficult to maintain continuity as a consumer when you hear something on TV and then call a company or place an order on their website. It is even more difficult to orally order something or place an order on today's somewhat primitive commerce websites, and expect what comes out the other end of the assembly line to resemble what you THOUGHT you were buying at the order entry area.
Who knows, maybe this case will turn out to be the most important case of our time, setting forth minimum standards any ecommerce based, TV advertising, mail order and phone order company has to adhere to, to avoid prosecution in Class Action suits? Let us all hope that the outcome favors the Consumer and the American Competitive Spirit, and not the other way around!"
ACSA, as part of its role, is a non-profit consumer advocacy, non-profit fair competition advocate, who publishes articles that are relevent to the computer, technology, web and other areas. Based in Los Alamos, NM, the Association has eOffices in most major cities, and a data center in Plainfield, NJ.