Articles & News

Couple Fined $3,500 For Truthful Negative Online Review Fights Back

I recently posted an article about a Utah couple who was “fined” by an online retailer for posting a negative review (see Products were ordered, but never received. The wife wrote a negative review on a customer complaint website that appeared to be accurate and truthful. The company fined the couple $3,500 for “disparaging” comments in accordance with the terms of sale on the retailer’s website. The retailer dinged the couple’s credit report for the unpaid fine.

Now, according to a recent ABA Journal article, the couple is suing the retailer for damaging their credit rating when they refused to pay the fine. The lawsuit alleges the retailer defamed its customers and violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Damages sought total at least $75,000.

By Robert Hawkinson

Lawyer and Client Fall for Nigerian Inheritance Scam

Email Scam AlertAccording to a recent ABA Journal article, an Iowa lawyer and his client fell for a time-worn scam involving $18.8M from a long lost Nigerian relative. The lawyer tapped other current and former clients for loans to raise $177,660 to pay the Nigerian inheritance taxes and for an “anti-terrorism certificate.” Believing the inheritance was legitimate, the lawyer agreed to perform his services on a 10% contingency. The lawyer transferred the money to the scammers. The client went to Spain to secure the inheritance, which supposedly was “stashed in two suitcases in Madrid.” Surprise! The client, lender clients and the lawyer ended up stiffed. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board recently suspended the lawyer.

I’ve been getting e-mails like this for years. Here’s the takeaway from this debacle. When you get such an e-mail, chuckle while you send it to the trash file. It’s okay to dream about what you would have done with the money, though.

By Robert Hawkinson

Be Careful When Using Another’s Photo Or Image

A Seattle Times newspaper article alleges Fox News inappropriately used a photo from a Times article posted last week about a controversy over women-only hours at a public pool. The Seattle area women requested female-only pool times. Fox allegedly aired a story about a swimming pool in another state that had set aside hours for Muslim women. Fox supposedly used the Seattle Times photo taken at the Seattle area pool in a story about the “growing influence of Sharia law in the U.S.”

Using someone else’s photos or other images is a risky proposition. Many people are under the misimpression that if a photo or other artwork is posted on the internet, they are free to use it for any purpose. The Fair Use Doctrine allows for limited and reasonable uses of another’s copyrighted work. Fair Use does not mean free use. The safe approach is first getting proper permission before using someone else’s image or photo.

By Robert Hawkinson

Posting Truthful Negative Reviews Online Can Cause Big Headaches

Fined For Posting A Negative Review Online. Years ago, a Utah woman posted a negative review about an online company from which her husband ordered Christmas presents. The company never sent the products and Paypal canceled the order after 30 days. The wife tried unsuccessfully to contact the company, and wrote a negative review on a customer complaint website. The review stated there “is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being,” and accused the company of having “horrible customer service practices.”

The company fined the couple $3,500 for “disparaging” comments in accordance with the fine print in the terms of sale on the company’s website. The couple tried to get the comment removed, but the customer complaint website allegedly wanted $2,000. The couple then learned the online sales company had dinged their credit report for the unpaid $3,500. The couple recently has been trying to get an auto loan, and has been rejected by numerous lenders due to this black mark on their credit report.

It appears this couple is paying a heavy and unfair price for trying to do something about really poor customer service. They have legal remedies, but they can be very expensive and time-consuming, and there is no guarantee of success. On the other hand, even good businesses can be victimized by false or unfair reviews. There are people out there who make up harmful reviews and then offer to take them down for money.

By Robert Hawkinson

Suing Donald Trump Was Bad Idea

Ex-Miss USA contestant told to pay Donald Trump $5M files malpractice suit against her former lawyer. Too many people feel all they have to do is sue a wealthy person and there will be a handsome nuisance case settlement forthcoming. This doesn’t often work. The plaintiff’s lawyer should have realized Trump wouldn’t just roll over and pay. Trump knew if he did so, it would encourage others to sue him. Trump has the money and lawyers to fight back hard, and he did. According to the ABA Journal article, the woman’s attorney was absent during an arbitration hearing and failed to present evidence. The judge refused to vacate the $5M arbitration award, and now her attorney is facing a big malpractice claim. Depending on the insurance policy limits, there may not be enough money to cover the $5M owed to Trump. In that case, the young woman would be on the hook for the difference.

By Robert Hawkinson

Not Everyone Wants to Keep Their Health Insurance Coverage

Brad Camp, Poulsbo business owner and Rotarian, was featured today in Seattle Times ( and Washington Post ( articles regarding the Affordable Care Act. Our health care insurer cancelled us, too. We’re still waiting for a quote for a replacement small business policy. If that quote comes in high, it looks like a two-person individual ACA policy will provide us with better coverage for a little bit less monthly premium than we are currently paying. We can keep all our current providers.

By Robert Hawkinson

TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau jailed by Federal judge for not disclosing his assets.


According to a recent AP article, TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau has been jailed for refusing to disclose his assets in court proceedings. The Federal Trade Commission won a $37 million judgment over five years ago against Trudeau for “hoodwinking viewers” about his weight loss books. Trudeau insists he is penniless and has paid nothing. However, a Federal judge in Chicago was unimpressed noting that Trudeau recently spent “hundreds of dollars on cigars and a haircut.” Two days later, Trudeau again told the judge he was penniless. The judge told Trudeau he didn’t believe him, and sent him back to jail. The judge also jailed Trudeau last month for being uncooperative.

Federal judges have lots of power and like all judges, hate getting the run around. I often get questions about moving assets offshore for protection against lawsuits. In my opinion, moving assets offshore can be ineffective and dangerous. Judges can put an uncooperative judgment debtor in jail for contempt if the debtor refuses to disclose assets or where the assets are located. It’s also risky to park one’s money in some foreign countries that promote themselves as asset protection friendly. One may never get them back. There are better approaches.


By Robert Hawkinson

photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

Olympic College & Western Washington University announce an expanded partnership at the OC-Poulsbo Campus.


Olympic College and Western Washington University announce an expanded partnership at the OC-Poulsbo Campus. North Kitsap Herald

This is great for the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. It is little known that there are lots of unfilled jobs available because employers can’t find qualified people. Local access to more four-year degrees will be a game changer, allowing many people like single mothers, parents with children and those who can’t afford to go to distant colleges or universities the opportunity for a good education and better job. This expansion complements the already successful Olympic College partnership with Washington State University in mechanical engineering at the OC-Bremerton campus.

Our Poulsbo-North Kitsap Rotary Club was at the forefront of making the OC-Campus a reality twenty years ago. North Kitsap Herald

Want to Pay Other People’s Debts? Be a Captain Dave.

Seattle Times writer Danny Westneat recently wrote an engaging article about a fellow named Captain Dave. It goes something like this.

Captain Dave started the Seattle’s first modern floating farmers’ market at South Lake Union, “putting old boats back to work.” Unknown to Captain Dave, one of the market’s vendors was running up big dollars in back parking tickets, penalties and interest going back about 10 years. The City couldn’t find the scofflaw and they went after Captain Dave instead.

Last Winter the farmers’ market received a garnishment for wages from the City’s collection agent for the entire $7,800 debt. Captain Dave didn’t know where the vendor was. He called the City and the collection agent and explained the farmers’ market didn’t have any employees, thinking the whole thing would be dropped. Big mistake! When an employer doesn’t formally respond to garnishment papers, the employer can be come liable for the entire debt of the debtor even if the debtor is not an employee. Now the farmers’ market is shuttered.

Small business owners especially hate garnishments. The fee paid to the employer-garnishee to process an employee garnishment is a pittance, which doesn’t cover the employer’s costs and time. I always tell my clients, either process the garnishment or be prepared to pay what the debtor owes. Its the law.

By Robert Hawkinson


If you’d like to read Danny Westneat’s entertaining article, Parking enforcers sink Capt. Dave, here’s the link –

© 2013 Robert K. Hawkinson. All Rights Reserved