The Enron bankruptcy — all US$60 billion of it, complete with political shockwaves and thousands of evaporating pensions — should put the dot-com devastation into perspective. And for most of us, it probably does. After all, even e-commerce flameout champion Webvan couldnt nose over the $1 billion bar.
But size apparently doesn’t matter as much as one might think. For sheer volume of self-pity and vitriol, there is still nothing that can touch CyberRebate.
It’s been more than nine months since CyberRebate abruptly folded up shop, leaving hundreds of shoppers in the lurch. You know the shoppers in question: They’re the ones who spent $150 for DVDs based on a promise that they’d get almost all of their money back.
To hear former CyberRebate customers describe it, as they do endlessly in online forums, they are the ones whose life savings and retirement accounts went up in smoke, the ones whose former CEO is bashfully pleading the Fifth before Congress.
In reality, CyberRebate victims have found plenty of other scapegoats to blame as the bankruptcy proceeding creeps forward at a turtle’s pace. Many already have begun to recover their losses by suing credit card companies.
The most active message board has been marked recently by occasional success stories of former CyberRebate customers foisting their own foolhardy purchasing decisions onto their credit card companies.
A round of cyber-cheers went up on the board when the Feds shut down NextBank, a unit of NextCard. Some posters said they hope other credit card companies will be next. In fact, wishing for the demise of various credit card companies is a recurrent theme on the boards, as if forcing others to endure the same misery will somehow help CyberRebate’s victims get their money back.
In fact, given the lengths to which the company’s former customers are going — easily witnessed in the play-by-play of a dozen court cases nationwide — it seems pretty obvious that it’s no longer about money at all, but revenge.
This brings us back to other bankruptcies, notably the Enron debacle. While I’m sure they’d all secretly love to wring the necks of their executives, the bulk of Enron employees have behaved admirably.
I watched one woman calmly talk about how her life savings had been plundered and how her retirement had to be pushed back years to make up for the losses. And she did so without a hint of bitterness.
It’s hard to imagine, really. Maybe she and others from Enron are still in shock. Then again, maybe they’re just adults who realize that it won’t do any good to sit around and sulk or scan the horizon for potential scapegoats. What happened happened.
And the funny thing is, the vast majority of Enron employees don’t bear any culpability. They didn’t know that books were being cooked like five-course meals in the executive suite.
Stuck in a Rut
The same can’t be said about CyberRebate’s victims. To their credit, many do recognize that they got a bit greedy. One poster suggested the victims’ group hold a planned meeting in Las Vegas, since all the site’s customers had a little gambler in them.
It will be a year in May since CyberRebate went bankrupt, but many of those who were burned seem unable to move on. Some have learned enough about bankruptcy and fraud law to pass the bar exam. Others have fought credit card companies and won — no easy task and a feat to be applauded.
Most still can’t pass up an opportunity to wash their hands of any responsibility for their lost money, though. Their anger and resentment was justified, but only to a point.
They may have memorized the bankruptcy code, but many of them still have a lot to learn.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.