Friday, 25 July 2008

Borders Books: Identity Theft and Indian Giving

Now, I enjoy a good bookstore - wide variety of products and discounts - and while Borders books has offered that to me, it's a pity that like many of those big corporations that gets popular for products, it falls down severely on the customer service side.

Like my experience with Panasonic and their idiocy about not advertising correctly what their stereo system will do, and then their lame compensation which actually puts me at a disadvantage. These big corporations can afford better than others to both be accurate and to do a little more to please the customer and keep them onside; it just seems that many have got so big for their boots they don't bother - and forget that pissing off one customer can cause a chain reaction that pisses off many. And it's a lot harder and more expensive to gain a customer - especially gaining back a lost customer - to maintain one.

My experience was with this year's Border's The Ultimate Kids' Collection Competition.

Now, I happen to like kids' stuff, so I thought, hey why not? Besides, the stuff I don't particularly "get" - the stuff that's a bit too twee and not nostalgic or in my category of fun - if I win it, I'd give it to my cousins' kids. Or the disabled children my sister babysits. Hey, I know lots of children who would get a kick out of a good story book, picture book, adventure book, whatever. I thought it would be fun. But if I won that gift edition of Pippi Longstocking - it was going straight to the poolroom!

The game is pretty easy in formula - there is a picture of a bookcase with 100 prizes lined up on it. You have to log in and say you'll accept marketing communications from Borders as part of the conditions. You get to click on a prize to see if you've won. You might win the prize you've clicked on. Alternatively you could win a coupon like "3 for two kids books" or you could possibly win the whole 100 books in one swoop. There's only 1 of the big swoop prizes to be given out, and 1 each of the individual prizes.

In order to play again and again, you have to each time enter a "friend's email address" - or what the conditions say has to be a "valid email address" (so they really don't care if that happens to be your worst enemy, not your friend).

Then you get another shot at guessing where a prize may be.

Sounds easy enough, and I played a lot.

One thing I did do though, which probably a lot of ordinarily email savvy people do nowadays, is one of the first emails I entered as a "valid email address" was one of my own alternate email addresses - hey, I am my own best friend!

I then logged in to that email address to see what happens.

Instead of sending an ordinary email from Borders saying "Your friend [my login name] has recommended that you play this game, here's the link" sort of message:


Identity Theft.

Basically, what does this look like, especially if you play this game a lot - which, by the way, Borders explicitly encourages you to do on its website (with its "Play again - hurry up - prizes will go fast - etc exhortations)

It makes you look like a spammer. Without your permission, or even your notification, and unless you send this to yourself near the beginning - you mightn't find out. If you had instead sent them to all friend's emails, you might have annoyed friends complaining, possibly even blocking you, if they don't like that stuff and they see you've sent it to a couple of their emails.

Anyhow, undeterred, I played on. However, I decided that this was really unsavoury, and after all, it did say "valid" not "working" email address, so why should I enter working email addresses if a whole lot of people may receive them and Borders would make me look like a spammer?

I decided then to enter valid, but not working, emails. They had a correct form - in fact, if you don't enter an email address with the valid form, the competition prompts you that it's not valid, please enter a valid email, so it seems if they accept it, it fits in with their definition of "valid".

I played on and won a lot of prizes. I mean, a lot.

It wasn't difficult because Borders seemed to choke the game for a while then suddenly give them out in spurts and I got in when they were given out in spurts.

I even won Pippi Longstocking!

Later, I received a phone call from a Borders spokesperson on a Monday before the comp ended - whom I will call Melanie Paris here. Melanie called from Melbourne and asked me to call her back. It was about the competition.

I did. Twice. She didn't answer the phone, but I left messages.

On the Tuesday afternoon I looked at the prize tally - suddenly it had gone up by a lot - coincidentally by the exact number of prizes I had won! It looked suspiciously like they had decided to strip me of my prizes and place them back in the prize pool before talking to me. I checked my email, they hadn't notified me either. So I decided I'd send my time that afternoon winning many of them back. And I did - not all but most of them. And as I suspected, they were the prizes I'd won before - I was winning back many of the same prizes.

On the Wednesday, I received a call from Melanie Paris, who wanted to talk. She sad she was concerned over the NUMBER of times I had entered and WON and that she wanted to investigate because she thought that the emails weren't valid and were bouncing. I pointed out valid wasn't the same as working, and a bouncing email wasn't indicative of whether either an email was either not working or not valid.

She just went on about some "investigation" and later on - that afternoon - Melanie Paris called and told me that they'd decided to strip away all the prizes except one token prize (the first book I'd won, which wasn't Pippi Longstocking) because they'd decided that "valid" meant "working valid email address.

It's such a pity they'd decided this and don't put it in the rules.

My guess is, they saw I'd won a whole lot of prizes, freaked a bit, and tried to come up with an excuse to take them away because they realised they'd mucked up - instead of getting it right in the first place.

So I asked Melanie Paris, what would I need to do to win a prize? Enter a working valid email address.

Funnily enough, the prizes went back in the prize pool last night. I knew exactly where every single prize was, and which prizes were already taken - as I'd won them all previously - yet although I played continuously for quite a while, I didn't win anything while the prize tally went down ... until I changed IP address, logged in under a different email and cleared the cookies on my browser. Possibly a coincidence, but rather suspicious. Could it be that they blocked me - thus it was not playing against the rules they were against, but just me, personally?

A summary of offences:

1. Borders steals your identity, sending spam-like emails as Borders promotions under your name and email identity, without your express permission
2. Borders changed the meaning of "valid" email address to mean "working" email address - to suit their needs
3. Borders didn't return my calls - but returned prizes to the pool without letting me know (on Tuesday). This also meant that I had no chance to ask them what they objected to in my playing before they were returned and no real possibility of asking how I could win them back in a manner they would approve of on Tuesday.
4. I "suspect" Borders blocked me from playing last night, after my books were returned ... for the second time
5. If Borders was really concerned that I had won so many prizes, and needed some prizes for the continuation of the game for the week, but it was clear I had played by the rules, then the obvious way to deal with it would ave been to negotiate with me more fairly. Taking away all the prizes I had won and giving back 1 isn't negotiation. Asking to negotiate with giving back some prizes would have been.
6. If Borders' real beef was that I had entered in non-working email addresses:
a) There should have been terms that set this out clearly
b) They could have installed a system that checked for this
c) They certainly could have notified me about this when I first started winning prizes. So I had a chance to change my style. But considering the fact they waited til the end of the game ... it obviously shows complete incompetence ... or that they didn't so much care about non-working addresses as the fact that they couldn't stand that someone had let all their prizes fall off their competition before the official closing date. Dumbasses!!!!


JahTeh said...

This sounds like plain old fraud to me and congrats for sticking with it.

Maria said...

They need to be named and shamed and where better else than my blog?

eyrie said...

Personally I would be considering a complaint to the ACCC. Failing that, it sounds ripe for a segment on one of the current affairs programs. They have declared WAR!