Cell phone Review website

Charging 'extortion,' Tigard cell phone company sues

The widely followed consumer advocacy magazine Consumer Reports ranks Tigard-based Consumer Cellular No. 2 in the nation among traditional wireless carriers. It gets a 90 ranking, handily topping better-known names including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint.

The second listing, right after Consumer Cellular's own website, is for a site called ConsumerAffairs.com, which gives the Tigard company just 1.2 out of 5 stars. Click on the the link and you get hundreds of critical reviews.

Nearly every wireless carrier and cell phone manufacturer fairs poorly on ConsumerAffairs website, with one notable exception: A little-known company called Jitterbug gets nearly the full 5 stars amid pages and pages of favorable reviews.

At the top of Jitterbug's rankings there's one additional notation the other companies don't have: "Jitterbug pays a monthly fee to participate in the ConsumerAffairs accreditation program."

That's no coincidence, Consumer Cellular alleges in a $5.2 million lawsuit filed this month in Multnomah County circuit court (Update: The case has moved to federal court.) The Tigard company's suit accuses ConsumerAffairs of "racketeering, " "extortion" and "mail and wire fraud, " charging that it engineers negative ratings for companies that won't pay that "accreditation" fee.

"There is substantial evidence that ConsumerAffairs has also intentionally not posted and removed legitimate positive reviews to specifically lower the total star rating and damage Consumer Cellular and other nonpaying companies to coerce brands including Consumer Cellular to become lucrative fee-paying members, " the Tigard company says in its suit.

ConsumerAffairs responded by defending the integrity of its consumer reviews and asking the court to dismiss the suits, arguing its reviews serve a "public interest" and deserve special protection under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statue, which defends free speech against frivolous lawsuits.

Why would Consumer Cellular bother to sue a tiny website most customers have never heard about?

Businesses invest a great deal in their brand and can't afford to ignore what people say about them online, according to Daniel Connolly, the new dean of Portland State University's business school.

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