On November 16, 2007, I filed a $54 million-plus lawsuit against Best Buy. I'll be the first to admit that it is a ridiculous sum of money. That said, neither 6 months of efforts by me nor engagement of the DC Police Department, DC Attorney General's Office, Better Business Bureau, and others have succeeded in producing fair compensation* or any indication from the Best Buy Tenleytown-DC store, Best Buy "Customer Service", or Best Buy corporate "management" that they share my belief that there is something fundamentally wrong if a consumer electronics giant:
- ALLOWS A CUSTOMER'S COMPUTER TO BE STOLEN FROM ITS STORE (I believe by a Best Buy Tenleytown DC employee);
- LIES to the customer about that theft for months (further EXPOSING THE CUSTOMER TO THE RISK OF IDENTITY THEFT); and
- FAILS TO COMPENSATE THE CUSTOMER OR INDICATE THAT IT FEELS A NEED TO TAKE ACTION TO PREVENT SIMILAR INCIDENTS from occurring in the future.
I would have preferred avoiding the time, expense, and stress of a lawsuit and internet campaign, but Best Buy's response to date has brought me to the conclusion that a hard-hitting lawsuit and public scrutiny may be the only way to get Best Buy to see the error in its ways.
As if Best Buy's initial negligence, deception, and cover-ups were not enough, Best Buy's behavior since the theft was disclosed -- indifference and insult -- has been truly appalling.
- Best Buy "Customer Service" initially presented a low-ball compensation offer ($750 for the computer and $150 for the lost content) that did not even cover the original purchase price ($1110.35) of the computer that they allowed to be stolen, let alone thousands of dollars of software, music, and other content, or other costs.
- Best Buy Tenleytown DC's management and Best Buy "Customer Service" never responded to my letters and other follow-up inquiries requesting an investigation into the theft of the computer and fair compensation.
- Subsequent involvement by the DC Police Department, DC Attorney General's Office, the Better Business Bureau, and others have not succeeded in yielding a sincere response from Best Buy.
To add insult to injury, Best Buy Tenleytown DC General Manager Robert Delissio**, who never felt my inquiries merited a response, did respond to emails from friends of mine who wrote in response to an email "Best Buy/Bad Buy Boycott" appeal (posted below) that I sent asking them to weigh in on the situation with Mr. Delissio and Best Buy "Customer Service." In his response emails (posted below), Mr. Delissio unjustly likens me to a customer who "can not [sic] be satisfied" and who "demanded unrealistic compensation", and implies that I am a customer who got the attention and service that I deserved. For the record:
- My first "unrealistic" request (via 8/25/07 letter to his store. see below) was for confirmation that an investigation into the theft had been conducted and compensation for the original purchase price of the computer package ($1110.35), plus $1000 to help offset the cost of music, pictures, software, and other contents lost when the computer was stolen from his store.
- On my October 7 visit to the store, my "unrealistic" response to Assistant Manager Delunte Lewis' question about "desired compensation" was that I would settle for a $2500, if I received a check (not gift card) that week, because I needed to purchase a replacement laptop ASAP.
- I did not specify a compensation amount in my October 10 email to Mr. Delissio, but outlined for him the scope of the losses that I faced.
- When asked by the DC Attorney General's Office, I said that I would settle for $5000, which was the minimum amount I felt confident I could receive if I opted for quick resolution through small claims court.
- These figures fall thousands of dollars short of the actual expenses I have incurred and estimate I will incur. However, even these amounts, in the mind of Mr. Delissio, were "unrealistic", despite the fact that I was faced with these losses as a direct result of his store's negligence.
Best Buy's overall response to the situation -- a situation that it created -- has been unconscionable. To me, the big issue is not the low-balling and bullying tactics, but Best Buy's systematic disregard for its customers' personal information and potential exposure to identity theft.
I am hoping the attention that the lawsuit and this website generate might motivate Best Buy and other consumer electronics stores entrusted with products that contain consumers' personal information to adopt thorough procedures and policies to safeguard customers' property and personal information against theft.
I am, of course, also hopeful that court and public scrutiny might be more successful than my personal efforts have in motivating Best Buy to compensate me. While I am seeking compensatory and treble damages for my own losses, $54 million of the damages sought in my claim is for punitive damages, which are designed "to reform or deter the defendant and similar persons from pursuing a course of action such as that which damaged the plaintiff" (Wikipedia). My desire is for damages awarded in this category to be used to support advocacy efforts for consumer rights and identity theft prevention and protection. I'd welcome recommendations on worthy, effective causes.
As for the amount -- it is an arbitrary number, selected simply because it is approximately the same amount as damages sought in the now-infamous "Pants Suit Judge vs. Mom-and-Pop Drycleaners” case that played out this year in Washington, DC. I will be the first to admit that it is an absurd sum. However, I chose this amount for two reasons. First, I have no clue what amount of money might be sufficient to persuade Best Buy to reassess its ways and implement adequate policies and procedures to more effectively safeguard future customers’ property against theft and to make minimizing a customer’s chances of exposure to identity theft the priority it should be. All I know is that 6 months of my efforts have failed to produce any indication from Best Buy that it sees any error in its ways. I am happy to leave it to the courts to determine an appropriate amount to incentivize better behavior moving forward and disincentivize similar customer treatment in the future. Second, I have chosen this amount with the hope that it will generate interest among the media to share this story with the public, so that they can both add their voices to mine and those of my friends who weighed in via emails to Mr. Delissio and Best Buy “Customer Service” last month, raise awareness of the risks of identity theft in daily life, and hopefully generate enough pressure to motivate Best Buy to demonstrate due respect for its customers, their property, and their private information.
* Since posting this, I learned that Best Buy transferred $1110.35 into my credit card account in late October without consulting me. Thus, they have provided "compensation", but I take issue with the adequacy of the amount -- and the unilateral manner in which the transaction was done.
** I have questioned Best Buy's continued employment of Mr. Delissio, given the lack of supervision and leadership he has shown, his insulting responses to inquiries related to the theft of a computer from his store, and the questionable circumstances that surround his departure from his previous place of employment (See: http://www.nypost.com/seven/09072006/business/home_fires_two_business_suzanne_kapner.htm)