Damien the Angry Consumer

So some people might be wondering why it is I feel so strongly about the Vonage stuff. You might think they're a great company with cool commercials or whatever, that's fine. You might think I'm a self-important ass who for some reason thinks he can take on a big company, that's fine. But I thought I'd spend a little time explaining why I'm fighting, and why I think it's important and why I'm so angry.

Partially I'm fighting because I want to believe there are people out there who are willing to stand up, who won't roll over and just take it. I'm fighting because I believe that other people out there get angry too and and want to make a stand, even if its just something small, like writing about what's happened. I'm fighting because someone has to get angry. And I want to tell you why I'm angry.

Obviously part of why I'm angry is from the terrible, frustrating service. The most unbelievably bad service. Oh so many wasted hours, always feeling like we're on the verge of getting the situation fixed, and getting disconnected, or finding out again they didn't give us back our money. But if that were everything, you'd would have just seen my one post with all my anger and vitriol showing. And that would be that. But that's not that.

I'm very angry about is how the system has failed in the case of Vonage CEO Jeffery A. Citron. The SEC charges against him are pretty clear: blatant stealing, blatant fraud. This wasn't "questionable" practices issue, it was clearly criminal. As clearly criminal as the guy who stole my car stereo last week. It's also clear that he paid what to him is a petty fine $22.5 million - only a fraction of the money stolen. This is the guy who loved to brag about his money, his mansions and jet. He took a helicopter to work because he's so important. He loves living it up and flaunting his wealth. And when he was caught stealing the money he used to fuel his excessive lifestyle, he didn't go to jail. He didn't go broke. He didn't do community service. He simply walked away, and with the vast majority of his stolen hundreds of millions intact.

That could be the retirement money for many people. My grandmother is in danger of going broke in her assisted care living (she has dementia), and might soon have to go a nursing home. I know excellent engineers with long successful careers who wanted to retire but now can't because the market wiped out a huge part of their savings.

And it's because jerks like this are completely gaming the system, they take their millions and never care about their unseen victims. And why? So someone waaay more self-important than I can have his own private jet and expensive mansions and take his helicopter to work.

I don't think anyone is so naive to think this stuff never happens. We've all seen Enron and Tyco. I expect that even in the best circumstances corporate crime is going to happen and you just can't catch most of it. But we'd like to believe the people who get caught are made to pay. So here they caught the bad guys ripping off the system in a big big way, caught red-handed, a well documented, clear cut case. But they were let go. Why? Because on the very same day the charges were filed, the bad guys "settled" in a deal where they pay a fraction of the money they stole and $70,000,000 goes to the SEC. The SEC gets to keep that money, and furnish their offices in a style befitting the SEC, I suppose.

And so not only did Citron get away with it, HE'S DOING IT AGAIN. He's stealing from decent people, by deliberately making it impossible and frustrating for people to get their own money back. Google "Vonage problems", it's the same story over and a over. Not everyone can afford to be ripped off. Some people choose this service because it's cheap. They NEED cheap, they don't make a fat salary. Some people really need that money. And they're getting ripped off and don't have the time to deal with it.

So I'm doing what I can, which is to point out what's going on. To what end? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I'm getting my money back. And I'm really happy I got to yell at the Chief Marketing Officer (the second best person to yell at IMO). And every person who chooses another carrier and avoids getting ripped off again is a victory.

I was bluffing at first when I said I'd sue them. I knew I could turn it into a PR stunt, but it was an idle threat. I had better things to do, but I hoped it would get some results. But then I got really angry. I began to see this wasn't pure incompetence I was facing, this was a company ripping people off intentionally. I realized I could make it a very interesting story if I had to actually sue them. If they give me my money back by tommorrow (I have to call AMEX to verify) then I have no interesting story to tell, I've lost the angle. I almost hope I don't get my money back this time.

If I get my money back, I have one last low-effort measure I'll employ to draw attention. After that I'll just keep the page up, update it occasionally with people's latest stories. As more and more Vonage customers go through what I did (wait until you cancel), they too will get angry. And they will rememeber that lunatic Damien who had some trouble. And they will find and link to the page. It's not going to make the first page of "Vonage" search results overnight, it will take some time and it might never happen, but as long as they keep ripping people off, more people will find and link to my page.

Or maybe they clean-up their act and that's that.

Of course, if they don't pay the money back I really will sue them in small claims court and write about the whole thing and make it as interesting as possible. Ever wonder what really happens when you sue a big company in small claims court? I do. Hell, my family and I are pretty reality TV friendly and my wife is completely on board (it was originally her anger and frustration that drove me blog this), maybe some network would like to film my Don Quixote antics. Shoot it in a Roger and Me documentary style. Use the buzzword "blog" on every promo for it. And show me doing all the incredibly moronic stuff I do all day (ask my coworkers). Whittle it down, it could make for some television. (not a typo)

And I'm also sure the PR departments for their competitors would love to give me some press contacts. I quite certain I can find some powerful allies that can benefit from my rantings.

My point is, I'm a very resourceful guy, and right now writing software isn't as interesting as trying to mess with a criminal corporation. I've not even begun to show how resourceful I am, or how big of a pain in the ass I can be. I'm a hard guy to stop when motivated.

You might think I'm crazy, but at some point you too will get angry, you'll see what is allowed to happen, you will be disgusted that the people who steal the most from us, even when caught, aren't made to pay for what they've done. And when you catch them stealing from you once again, you too will want to strike back with what you can. And when that happens to you, I hope you have the courage and energy to join the fun.

Posted April 6, 2005 12:04 PM