On Sept. 28, The Daily News published a story in the "news" section about a man who claims to have been dispossessed of approximately $2,000 over the course of more than four years.
He claims a company offering services in, among other things, home security systems, continued to make automatic monthly withdrawals from his bank account after he cancelled his contract with the company. He threatened a legal suit against the company if it did not make good for the wrongly converted money.
He now appears to distrust any company that offers ongoing services and provides an auto-withdrawal payment option. All that is Frank Carnovale's business.
My point in writing this letter is not to question Mr. Carnovale's reaction and whether it is proportionate or well-founded. He is welcome to complain to anyone who will listen and is free to post, on his own accord and time, his suspicions for the world to see. Is it the news media's role to jump on board?
For its part, the company responded to inquiries from KDN, stating that indeed the actual alarm system had been inactive for a long time. Apparently it had no record of the cancellation by Mr. Carnovale, though that question doesn't appear to have been canvassed.
The company said it would reimburse Mr. Carnovale when he provided evidence of the cancellation. That initial response is not unreasonable in the face of a claim for $2,000 and allegation of overcharging where the company has no record of a cancellation of the contract.
If Mr. Carnovale had no documentary proof but had anecdotal evidence that was plausible (an inactive system and evidence he had moved might suffice on their own) then that probably ought to be evidence enough for reimbursement.
The Daily News should not have run this story, however; and in my opinion it was irresponsible and unprofessional to do so.
Mr. Carnovale's discovery of the ongoing withdrawals occurred about one week prior to the story. There is no evidence reported that the company was being criminally deceptive, deliberate or even negligent.
Mr. Carnovale has not filed any court documents, though he has threatened to do so. There is not even any fact reported that he has complained to the company yet.
Essentially, a private, civil law matter involving a serious allegation of unlawful conversion of funds (with an implication, however unintentional, of theft) has been taken up by a news media organization as "news" appropriate for public consumption. The newspaper even named the company involved.
The story states that inquiries to the Better Business Bureau and "online business reviews" (together) have revealed "numerous" similar complaints. This is the only piece of evidence remotely suggesting there is a pattern of behaviour inviting public reporting in the public interest.
But why not specifically quantify the number and nature of complaints? In my online inquiry of the BBB on Sept. 30, I noted one complaint against the company in the past 12 months. I noted the BBB rated the company "F" but that grade appears mainly due to the fact it has not applied and is not accredited by the bureau and did not respond to the bureau's inquiry about the one complaint.
I have no affiliation whatsoever with the company named and have zero financial or any other specific interest in coming to this company's defence. In fact, I wouldn't classify this letter as a defence of the company at all; rather, my purpose is to question the professional judgment of The Daily News in reporting the story at all at the present stage.
Can I expect my grievance with company X over Y issue to be reported with a mere waving of an invoice and a claim of unjust billing without a notice of claim or even evidence the company had repeatedly ignored my official complaints? I hope not.
What investigation was actually done by the reporter? Did the paper inquire of Mr. Carnovale why he only noticed the regular withdrawals after over four years? Did the reporter ask the bureau for details of the complaints? Even just raw numbers?
I am not suggesting the company did not overcharge, nor am I suggesting that if it did overcharge, that it shouldn't return the unlawfully converted money with interest and apologies. I am saying that turning an unsubstantiated private civil dispute into a news story and naming the company involved, all in the absence of evidence, is irresponsible.
Mr. Carnovale hijacked our local paper to advance a private cause that may or may not have merit.
The reporting of his age and financial situation is an additional questionable journalistic practice of generating sympathy for one party with insufficient cause. The story is more than disappointing — it is unprofessional and irresponsible.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: ADT has been accredited with BBB since March 2013. The BBB lists more than 1,500 resolved complaints against ADT over the last 12 months and more than 4,500 over the last three years. More than 1,200 of those associated to billing and collection. The BBB website posts these consumer reports.