By night, I’m a masked jewelry maker. By day, I’ve been working in Quality Control in the food manufacturing industry for years. One of the not-so-fun aspects of my job is researching customer complaints. The ones that I hate the most are what are referred to as “foreign object complaints.” There are valid ones. I even got to initiate a product recall once because of one. But sad to say, a large portion of them are manufactured by the customer.
Here are two actual complaints I had to deal with this year:
A lady returned a container of our product to the store from which she purchased it, claiming she’d found a “handle of something” in the container. Our salesperson for the region arranged with the store for the lady to receive a $25 gift card in apology. (The product’s value was $4.99.) The empty container and foreign object were returned to us so we could investigate. I received what was obviously the ceramic handle to the lid of a kitchen canister, of the type you would use to hold coffee or sugar. The broken off ends of the handle, raw ceramic, showed absolutely no signs of having come into contact with our product, which has a high oil content and should have stained the unglazed ends, and there was no odor on the piece at all (the product in question has a high garlic content). Verdict – fraud.
A woman claimed she had found a metal nut in a container of one of our products, sold to one of the larger bulk store chains that require membership. The filler for the product in question would not have allowed the nut to pass through, and the line is covered by heavy-duty clear lexan “sneezeguards,” with the hardware all being on the non-product side. Even if the nut had been in the product before filling, or had fallen off the line and into the container somewhere along the line, each container of product is run through a metal detector. When she returned the product to the store, instead of just asking for a refund, the woman demanded two free one-year memberships to compensate for her “horrible experience.” The store gave her one membership, which was approximately six times the value of the product. Verdict – fraud.
People know that many companies will offer refunds, or even better, free products or coupons, when complaints are filed, to keep the customer’s future business. They also know that a claim for damages for a small amount will also most likely be paid because it’s less expensive than court costs.
But what most people don’t realize is that it is now a felony to file a false tampering or foreign object complaint, and doing so can be punishable by jail time and fines.
By filing a false claim, for starters, you are wasting the time of both the store employees and the employees at the manufacturing facility, who end up spending hours investigating these complaints and trying to determine whether or not it is a valid complaint that indicates there is a flaw in their manufacturing process. We cannot discount any complaint for this reason. By “crying wolf,” the fraudulent complainer detracts from valid complaints, as when we receive too many of these, we begin to look at each complaint received as a possible scam, even though some of them are valid.
Large companies have started to keep lists of people who have filed complaints, and are sharing them with each other. If your name crops up too many times on too many lists, it could have serious consequences.
It is possible that if you file a false claim of tampering or product contamination, and an investigation proves that you were the source of the tampering or contamination, you could be charged with fraudulent schemes or practices, or deceptive practices. If convicted, you could face anywhere from $2,500-$25,000 in fines and a possible 1-5 year prison sentence.
At times like these, with the economy in recession and so many people out of work or working under reduced hours or salaries, looking for “angles” to try to stretch a meager budget can seem attractive. Do us all a favor, yourself included, and investigate other options to supplement your income or larder.