It’s the end of advocacy as you know it (and that’s no bluff)


It happened again yesterday.

Another threat of a lawsuit, this time from a reader for whom I’d secured a ticket refund in 2015. Even though she’d filled out a form explicitly authorizing me to publish her details, and even though her story had been online for more than two years, she insisted that I redact her name immediately.

“If this is not done by Jan. 8, you will be hearing from my attorney,” she fumed.

Of course, my answer is “no.” Just as I said “no” to the timeshare company that demanded I remove the names of its executives last year. Just as I said “no” to the guy selling bogus travel insurance and who wanted me to delete every story that I’d ever written about him.

We use real names, following Associated Press style because it makes this site credible.

And facts still matter.

But it also feels like I’m doing a highwire act every day. While the lawsuit threats from individuals are easy to ignore (a threat to sue is always a bluff, in my experience) the ones coming from overpaid attorneys working for large companies are not. Every time we’re hit with a cease-and-desist letter, my advocates and I fear the worst — a lawsuit that we’ll eventually win, but that could end the advocacy as we know it.

Also, what kind of screwed up world do we live in, where the people you help turn on you? There are no words to adequately describe that kind of ingratitude.


We have friends who stand up to the bullying. Friends like you. It’s week two of our winter fundraiser, and I’m relying on you to lend a hand.

Related story:   5 secrets travelers must know when dealing with a collection agency

Legal expenses are just a small part of our operational budget. There are development and IT costs, too. And we depend on individual underwriters to cover those bills. Here’s how you can get involved.

Fortunately, here are also companies who also believe in the advocacy work. This week, I’m proud to work alongside Bluffworks, a business that makes some of the best travel attire on the planet. Bluffworks is supporting our winter fundraiser with gift certificates for some of its top-selling clothing.

Become an underwriter now and you could be the best-dressed person on the plane in 2018.

I wear Bluffworks attire when I’m traveling, and I know the quality of its work firsthand. It rigorously field tests its clothes and never leaves well enough alone. A few weeks ago, Bluffworks’ CEO, Stefan Loble, sent me a sample of his new shirt — a really thoughtful design (see picture, above) that addressed many of my concerns about travel attire. When I told him I liked it, he said he was still finalizing some of the details. I like that kind of perfectionism.

When it comes to clothes, they’re not bluffing. And when it comes to consumer advocacy, neither am I.

I need your help now to stand up to the powerful forces — and the little nuisances — that want to rip this site apart. Don’t let the next lawsuit take us offline forever. Do something now.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • SirWired

    Yep, I’ve sent in a couple cases (and had one of them published) and I do distinctly remember it being quite clear that your real name is going to be used in the story. In fact, for the unpublished case, Chris offered to advocate, but I ended up requesting that he not do so BECAUSE of the Real Name policy. (For the curious, I was alerting him to the fact that Duke Hospital chose to bury the optional arbitration agreement in the middle of all the online pre-admission paperwork, with only a subtle hint that of all the forms you are filling out, that one could be skipped. I didn’t want my name out there because I didn’t want to be raising flags with the hospital in advance of my medical procedure.)

    And I find it weird she’s so upset about a successful case; I don’t see anything in there that would cause me to want to hide it from the Internet. It’s a routine “card deck of misery” combined with not understanding AA’s hold policy.

    In any case, it’s almost certainly an empty threat. Any actual competent lawyer would tell her to take a hike.

  • KennyG

    Unfortunately, there are a significant number of actual, but not so competent, or not so ethical lawyers that would happily take a case like this.

  • finance_tony

    Let’s say they did…would they take it on contingency? Because what on earth do they think they’d gain? Certainly the customer wouldn’t pay a retainer.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”. (King Lear).

    As an aside, I saw the Bluffworks ad on this website, bought a pair of their pants, and they really are nicer than I expected. (I bought them for the security features, but the pants are nice enough to wear as nice casual).

  • C Schwartz

    I doubt they would take it on contingency — generally those lawyers will not take a case that they have little chance in winning. Would this person pay to fund a lawsuit? Unlikely. But there is a chance that an unethical lawyer would take the money and file and not warn the client of the unlikelihood of prevailing.

  • Eyhung

    I went back to read her article/story from 2015, and see nothing unusual or inappropriate that warrants redacting her name now (particularly since like you said, it’s clear that her real name will be used, and it’s been 2 years!). In in her original article, that she stated that she’s a single mother and can’t afford to lose the money or be away from her ill aunt…but now she has the means to purportedly hire an attorney. What would be her claimed damages? No good deed goes unpunished, unfortunately…

  • Lex

    You advocated a situation for me a few years ago. Your intervention got the problem fixed. (a broken promise over a measly $100 gift card). Seeing my name and the (sometimes stinging) comments wasn’t the best feeling. But I’m still grateful for your help. At that time there were a lot of trolls here.

  • David L Underwood

    Send her a message back, telling her your shysters are preparing a SLAPP suit.

  • Kerr

    In that case, the client would be the big loser!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Another good reason the US should join the rest of the Western world and implement loser pays for civil litigation.

  • Bill___A

    “We use real names, following Associated Press style because it makes this site credible.”

    I strongly disagree. You think I wouldn’t believe the stories if the names were changed? It makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and in my mind, it does nothing for the credibility of the site. The site gains legitimacy because of the writers and the advocates, not by naming the victims. I admit that naming the companies is somewhat important but actually I have seen names of travel agents withheld from time to time. Particularly when someone has done something foolish and needed help, they don’t necessarily want their name up in lights for eternity.

    I understand that this is a decision that’s been made, for whatever reason, but the statement that the “real names make this site credible” is not credible! It is other things that do that. (note that while disagreeing with one thing, I am paying a compliment).

  • KennyG

    You have obviously never met or known any of the unfortunately long list of dubious lawyers that would sue a pillow case on retainer even if they had the same chance of winning the Mega Millions lottery.. And why are you 100% positive that a customer wouldn’t pay a retainer or anything else? Have you never met or heard of a seemingly rational and intelligent person that lost their life savings to a Nigerian prince after having received an urgent email from said prince?

  • Lee4You

    This is the website’s policy – no one is forcing anyone to request help from elliott.org so if one doesn’t wish their name out there, they should find other ways to solve the problem.

    I have no interest in my name being published in this website or anything I can avoid so I have (successfully) used Elliott’s contacts for three large companies to resolve my issues with them. It’s a trade off. Decide to take them on yourselves and live with the result or request help and expose your name.

    Personally, I am amazed at some of the stories and that some people were fine having their names associated with – i.e., the ones that indicate an apparent intent to try to secure something to which they are not entitled.

    I find that – in an age where social media/internet anonymity can be a minefield, real names do make the experiences more compelling – to me.

  • Seeing the increasing appeals for support I’m reminded that as I own a photography tour company I’ve sent emails twice – one directly to Christopher – offering sponsorship.

    Unfortunately I didn’t receive a response on either occasion.

    In any event keep up the good work!

  • finance_tony

    I figure the only way they’d take it is on retainer, for sure. I just find it hard to believe this person would think they’d win, AND that it would be enough to offset the time and expense. Then again, you pointed out the relative irrationality of a lot of people.

  • jerrymandel

    Do any of them come by email? As with all SCAM emails, forward the Cease and Desist ones to me@rescam.com and waste their time. And mark them as Phishing Scams. What is SLAMM?

  • SierraRose 49

    Oh my! And then she would probably contact Chris to get her money back. Just like the first time.

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