I love a good mystery. You will too.

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By Christopher Elliott

Have you noticed the recent string of stories about cases that ended in a big mystery? Neither the consumer nor the company responded to repeated requests for an update or a resolution, so we were left to guess the outcome.

These cases arrive at our shores in clusters of two or three. I have no idea why. But I have a few thoughts on what they mean for us, for them — and for you. And after you’re done reading this story, you may love a good mystery, too.

When consumers go silent

Sometimes, once-talkative consumers will fall silent after they fill out our help form and then furnish us with documentation needed to mediate a dispute. Why? I can only speculate. In the past, there have been problems with technology (email not working), personal circumstances (they got busy), or terrible personal circumstances (they’re dead). But we’ve also explored the darker motives for switching to “quiet” mode, like fear of retaliation or fear of violating a nondisclosure clause in their settlement.

It’s also possible that the customers expect we’ll write something about their case and would rather we didn’t. I understand that, but it’s something they need to think about before they ask our advocacy team for help. Remaining silent won’t stop the story. (It may actually encourage us to write about it, because we’re curious.)

When companies go silent

More often, companies will zip it after we’ve contacted them. There can be many reasons for their nonresponse. They might be embarrassed. They might not have an answer, at least not one we can publish. They might also mistakenly believe that by not responding, they’ll kill the story. But that’s provably false. We’ll write about a case even if we don’t have an answer from the company.

It’s difficult to discern the motives of a company, but just as with the nonresponsive customers, we empathize. Responding to one of our queries can often seem like a no-win proposition. And sometimes, staying quiet really is the best course of action. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

And now, the mystery

As we’ve seen in the last few days, these unresolved cases can be a rich source of material. The cases are fascinating to begin with, but the fact that no one responded makes them even more tantalizing. What made everyone shut up? What does it mean? (Related: Why it’s good to have enemies.)

Even in cases where there appears to be no meaning, no lesson to be learned, there sometimes is. What happened to my dream vacation? Why did Amazon lock my account? We can conclude that a reader broke a rule or tried to hack the system or simply hit the wrong button. We may never know.

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But it is the not knowing that keeps us in the advocacy game. I include you, dear readers, in that group.

Because if you’re reading this, you are an advocate, too. And if you’re like me, you probably love a good mystery.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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