Unethical or just plain Unlawful? What to do?

visad

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I work for a small computer company in Michigan that services other companies that are not large enough to have thier own IT staff. I have been with this company for a couple of years now and throughout the years I have seen them do things that I considered to be unethical, although not to the scale of recent events. Recently we have changed the business model, bought into a managed care software (remote control, backup, antivirus, patching and more) and have installed this on our customers machines/servers for a monthly fee. Several times in the past couple of months, one or more of our customers has not paid for these monthly services. The management will attempt to contact them, get them to pay and sometimes fail to get the customers to pay. When this happens they remote into the network and start disabling network services to effectively disable the companies computer network to force the customer to call us to fix the issue. They will then send a tech onsite for the customer, but only after the customer pays the outstanding bill. When we arrive onsite, we will fix the issue for the customer, but will then charge the customer for that visit depending on the "level" of monthly services the customer bought.
This has happened several times where I was the primary tech onsite doing the repair work. The last time this occured was about two weeks ago. I feel like this is getting out of control and wanted your guys opinion on how I should handle this. What is my responsiblity regarding this issue? Do I contact the customers that have had this happen to them and inform them? Do I warn the other customers of the service? Is this illegal (they are basically holding these customers hostage) and should I turn my company in for doing so? I know it is unethical and I am already looking for other work, but I am almost ready to simply walk away from the company to distance myself from this issue. The only thing hold mee back is that I live in Michigan and tech jobs are next to impossible to find right now.


Visad
 

krupted

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i would just keep rolling with the flow. i find it hard to claim its unethical when your customers are the ones not honoring the deal. at some point you have to make them know you are a business and must operate like one- and from what i can tell you already do it in a civil manner. if they dont want the tacked-on service call fees then they should just pay their bills on time in the first place.
 

Digital Cro-Magnon

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I would be careful approaching this. I am not a lawyer, but it sounds like what the company is doing, by shutting down network services, could be the basis of a law suit, if ever found out.

I would try to leave the company as fast as possible. If this is their approach to their clients, what would happen if you fell out of favor with the Management / Owners? It is best to leave and maybe try to do a similar business as an independent contractor / consultant. Did you sign a non-compete contract with your current company?
 

visad

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i would just keep rolling with the flow. i find it hard to claim its unethical when your customers are the ones not honoring the deal. at some point you have to make them know you are a business and must operate like one- and from what i can tell you already do it in a civil manner. if they dont want the tacked-on service call fees then they should just pay their bills on time in the first place.


I can understand that they have to pay to get work done. The problem is that my company is effectively breaking a companies network because they owe them money. Making it impossible for them to do day to day business. When the tech comes onsite to "fix" the issue, it is NEVER told to the customer that WE broke it. Just that "something" went wrong and we had to resolve the issue, so therefore you now owe us an additional 135$ an hour X however many hours it took to "fix" the problem.

It happened to one of our customers 2 times in 2 months. The first time they disabled the netlogon sessions, reset all of the user passwords, reset the admin password on the domain and changed all of the exchange services to manual start. Effectively destroying the companies network. I had to go in and they eded up being charged 4 hours of work to "fix" the issue. The seond time roughly the same thing was done.


Visad
 

visad

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I would be careful approaching this. I am not a lawyer, but it sounds like what the company is doing, by shutting down network services, could be the basis of a law suit, if ever found out.

I would try to leave the company as fast as possible. If this is their approach to their clients, what would happen if you fell out of favor with the Management / Owners? It is best to leave and maybe try to do a similar business as an independent contractor / consultant. Did you sign a non-compete contract with your current company?

Yes unfortunately I did, a 2 year non compete. We had originally signed a 6 month Non compete, but had one of our techs leave and he took some of our customers with him. Recently we had another tech quit (after wwe signed) and he took our largest customer with him as a direct hire. There are talks of serious lawsuits going against him due to this customer being a 250K a year customer.

Visad
 

Monkey34

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Man, you've got yourself in some crossfire there huh?

Definitely unethical, (not totally sure legally) very probably illegal. Disabling network services to force a service call, then charging them? Even if it's to get an unpaid balance collected, that's pretty bad. I couldn't even justify this if they DIDN'T charge to fix the supposed problems on top of it.
The real way of doing this would be to lock out the managed care (or remove it), send the bill to collections after an appropriate period, and charge a "renewal of service" to start it back up..............of course this doesn't generate quick billing like the malicious tampering does.

I wouldn't tell any customers if I were you. It will get back that it was you, and very probably negatively impact the business (and get you fired). Don't forget the other co-workers who may not be involved, who need a job. If you no longer work there, you at least don't have to worry about the heat coming to you at work.........ugly situation overall.

Leaving might clear your conscience a bit, but would you still wonder how many people were getting screwed later? If you approach the boss/owner on this, you had better be sure of what's happening, and the legality's. I have to think on this more.
 

blk95civicex

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Yeah, I'd get the hell out of Dodge if I were you.

Even if that isn't illegal (which it sounds to be, unauthorized access/hacking) I wouldn't want to be working at a place like that and get caught up in litigation and have my reputation and future work career tarnished.
 

kumquat

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You need to think about covering your ass, cause right now you're very exposed.

Go get a consultation with a lawyer. Seriously. You can often do this for free. See what course of action he recommends. Best case scenario for you is you leaving with the non-compete invalidated in exchange for keeping your mouth shut.
 

k1pp3r

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The management will attempt to contact them, get them to pay and sometimes fail to get the customers to pay. When this happens they remote into the network and start disabling network services to effectively disable the companies computer network to force the customer to call us to fix the issue. They will then send a tech onsite for the customer, but only after the customer pays the outstanding bill.

This is very illegal and can land you in court.

While you can pursue your accounts payable, even put you customers on credit hold (not service any requests) until the balance is paid. You CANNOT cause harm/changes which affect performance/ or reset admin passwords/ or disable their software. This will put you out of business if the customer finds out not to mention possibly in jail.

Now the question is, what can You do about it?
 

YeOldeStonecat

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Wow...reminds me of someone I know from years ago, we took over computer/network support of a client of a competitors a few years ago. (quite a few actually over the years, but this one Arts Center client that used to be their client for this example). We found a few workstations with viruses on them as we removed Symantec CE and rolled out NOD32. One of our techs was talking to one of the techs of this competitor of ours...mentioned that we found a few viruses...and that tech said "Oh yeah, we knew they were there..we were just waiting for the outbreak so we could go over and spend the day cleaning a bunch of machines..make for a fat invoice!"

:rolleyes:

You're in a pickle. I'd say "go find work elsewhere"..but as you stated..the economy in some places makes this difficult.

Do not go opening your mouth to clients, you'll just earn a bad rep amongst other business owners..specifically neighboring tech shops that you may want to go work for.

Their business practice doesn't reflect on you much, you don't make the rules.

Bide your time, gain experience, and work on finding work elsewhere...no sense it working for a place with a "used car salesman" mentality.
 

Digital Cro-Magnon

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Well, it sounds like this company has a distrustful and vindictive approach to business. I mean a 2 year non-compete, that is nuts. I am not sure that is an enforceable length of time. If you know a lawyer, I would consult with them, just to see what your legal options are.

What they are doing to their clients to, "make them deadbeats pay", has to be illegal in some way, but once again, I am not a lawyer. But for sure, it is unethical. The question for you is: Do you want to continue to associate yourself with an organization the exhibits such behavior?

I feel for you Visad, hope you can get this all worked out. Keep this thread posted of your actions if you can.

To Anyone reading this: Anyone want to hire a tech in Michigan? :D
 

visad

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Wow...reminds me of someone I know from years ago, we took over computer/network support of a client of a competitors a few years ago. (quite a few actually over the years, but this one Arts Center client that used to be their client for this example). We found a few workstations with viruses on them as we removed Symantec CE and rolled out NOD32. One of our techs was talking to one of the techs of this competitor of ours...mentioned that we found a few viruses...and that tech said "Oh yeah, we knew they were there..we were just waiting for the outbreak so we could go over and spend the day cleaning a bunch of machines..make for a fat invoice!"

:rolleyes:

You're in a pickle. I'd say "go find work elsewhere"..but as you stated..the economy in some places makes this difficult.

Do not go opening your mouth to clients, you'll just earn a bad rep amongst other business owners..specifically neighboring tech shops that you may want to go work for.

Their business practice doesn't reflect on you much, you don't make the rules.

Bide your time, gain experience, and work on finding work elsewhere...no sense it working for a place with a "used car salesman" mentality.

Haha, funny you mention "used car salesman" Mel Farr (Detroit) got busted doing something similar. He would install kill switches in his used cars to "disable" them for non payment. He went out of business some time later, I believe due to someone dieing, when he shut off a car while driving on the highway.
 
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Wow, that is definitely illegal. You cannot enter someone's place of business and start breaking crap because they didn't pay a bill. A plumber cannot enter your house and destroy the plumbing because you didn't pay your bill for the drain being plugged in a timely fashion.

Whatever you do, keep your mouth shut about it in front of clients. I would start looking for other work ASAP. You could bring up your thoughts about ethics with your boss and tell him you just aren't comfortable doing what you're doing but beware the consequences . . .
 

visad

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Wow, that is definitely illegal. You cannot enter someone's place of business and start breaking crap because they didn't pay a bill. A plumber cannot enter your house and destroy the plumbing because you didn't pay your bill for the drain being plugged in a timely fashion.

Whatever you do, keep your mouth shut about it in front of clients. I would start looking for other work ASAP. You could bring up your thoughts about ethics with your boss and tell him you just aren't comfortable doing what you're doing but beware the consequences . . .

I was thinking about contacting the FBI computer crimes division and turning them in regarding this. Although, I am not sure if this would fall under the whole whistle blower thing. I keep hearing one thing from the users of this forum though... STFU and Leave the company...

Visad
 

k1pp3r

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I was thinking about contacting the FBI computer crimes division and turning them in regarding this. Although, I am not sure if this would fall under the whole whistle blower thing. I keep hearing one thing from the users of this forum though... STFU and Leave the company...

Visad

It would fall under computer crimes, question is, can you prove it. And what are you risking by blowing the wistle?
 

Erland

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Here's the situation..

You go to a shop and get work done on a car. You apply for a credit card from the shop and put it on the card. You pay them for an OnStart type service for unlocking your car remotely and emergency calling and things along these lines. Then once the work is done you don't pay back the card.

The shop then uses this service to disable your car forcing you to come back to them to fix the issue.

This is illegal in any shape way or form. Unless the contract that the client signs says that they can access their network and disable services if the bill is not paid which I doubt it does.

They are allowed to remove or cut off their service that they/you are paying for. However they are not allowed to login to do something without permission.

I would report them annon to the BBB asking for an undercover investigation. Try to provide proof along with it, like screenshots of what was done, like the changing of auto to manual of services... you can show that the services are manual, ect. Provide a list of services like you did with us that had to be "fixed".

I also wouldn't do this while I was still working there... unless you have a back up job ready to go.. Remember you will become the "whistle blower"
 

kumquat

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The BBB? Seriously?

This is why you contact an actual lawyer instead of strangers on the internet.
 

Erland

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Ok sorry the BBB might be the wrong department.. .but I know there has to be some department of government they can contact...
 

aaronearles

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That's true, the bbb can't do anything but hurt a reputation IF the customer decides to check with them before doing business.
 

xphil3

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heh, take what everyone in this thread is saying about the legality issue with a grain of salt. I'm going to echo what everyone else is saying, go seek some kind of legal council only because you are in "cahooots!" with them(every time I say that, I think of that wwf announcer, rofl) as you're the onsite technician. You are the face of the company after all.

With that said, what your company is doing is unethical, probably illegal and downright douchebaggy... I would leave immediately, hop on some open wifi, connect to a open SMTP relay(or create a new dummy gmail acount) and blast all their customers with notifications of this shit, list exact dates when their networks went down, list persons involved, etc, etc ,CC your company while you're at it. Listen to what stonecat said, seek employment elsewhere ASAP.
 

kumquat

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heh, take what everyone in this thread is saying about the legality issue with a grain of salt. I'm going to echo what everyone else is saying, go seek some kind of legal council only because you are in "cahooots!" with them(every time I say that, I think of that wwf announcer, rofl) as you're the onsite technician. You are the face of the company after all.

With that said, what your company is doing is unethical, probably illegal and downright douchebaggy... I would leave immediately, hop on some open wifi, connect to a open SMTP relay(or create a new dummy gmail acount) and blast all their customers with notifications of this shit, list exact dates when their networks went down, list persons involved, etc, etc ,CC your company while you're at it. Listen to what stonecat said, seek employment elsewhere ASAP.

You're drunk on technology! Some anonymous letters are a lot easier than all that, and more effective at communicating to business-types. Not that it would matter, because they'd know who sent it - they guy who just quit!

But I really don't recommend that right away. That would pretty much immediately lead to a serious lawsuit. This is why you contact an actual attorney. You need to make sure you're protected before you go on the offensive.
 

xphil3

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You're drunk on technology! Some anonymous letters are a lot easier than all that, and more effective at communicating to business-types. Not that it would matter, because they'd know who sent it - they guy who just quit!

But I really don't recommend that right away. That would pretty much immediately lead to a serious lawsuit. This is why you contact an actual attorney. You need to make sure you're protected before you go on the offensive.

Right, and our legal systems finds in favor of people with no hard proof, just speculation of ex employees that recently quit. Your sir, have no idea what you're talking about. :rolleyes:

Easier that what I posted? Are you on crack? Im done here, Visad good luck man. Kumquat.... once again, :rolleyes: and clearly you can't read
I'm going to echo what everyone else is saying, go seek some kind of legal council .
 

k1pp3r

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heh, take what everyone in this thread is saying about the legality issue with a grain of salt.

No it really is illegal, Just consult your business insurance company, they will tell you.
 

Thuleman

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What I would do in your case Visad is look carefully through the wording of the non-compete. A non-compete may mean a lot of different things and would not necessarily prevent you from getting another job.

However, in either case I would well document the cases of questionable practices, with actual dates and times, people involved, actions taken, emails sent, and then I would find myself a different place of employment. Should the non-compete come up you have your evidence to get out of the non-compete.

The bottom line is that you need to find a different job.
 

-(Xyphox)-

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What I would do in your case Visad is look carefully through the wording of the non-compete. A non-compete may mean a lot of different things and would not necessarily prevent you from getting another job.

However, in either case I would well document the cases of questionable practices, with actual dates and times, people involved, actions taken, emails sent, and then I would find myself a different place of employment. Should the non-compete come up you have your evidence to get out of the non-compete.

The bottom line is that you need to find a different job.

As Thuleman stated, i would look very close at the non-compete. There is laws saying one company cant force you to not find work.
 

xphil3

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No it really is illegal, Just consult your business insurance company, they will tell you.
You can't just say that its illegal as you dont know the extent of the contract each customer has with the company. If they have legal rights to go into the network as per the contract and its very vague, what they are doing is 100% legal. They can claim incompetence of an employee and place the blame there if anything is every brought to court.
As Thuleman stated, i would look very close at the non-compete. There is laws saying one company cant force you to not find work.

+1 again, do this when you're seeking your legal council.
 

Monkey34

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Like I said before, this is a mess.

A thought: You definitely should get some legal counsel on this. You need some C.Y.A. for sure, but be very careful of how it's done. It's easy enough to get the incriminating info, but be careful of just logging into company computers, and copying stuff/ etc. You don't want to be on the bad end of a lawsuit yourself. I WOULD at least start a personal log of incidents/ involved persons/ etc.
Also, are you the only person of conscience there, or are others concerned and know about this? It might be good if someone will back-up your claims.
 

Monkey34

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You can't just say that its illegal as you dont know the extent of the contract each customer has with the company. If they have legal rights to go into the network as per the contract and its very vague, what they are doing is 100% legal. They can claim incompetence of an employee and place the blame there if anything is every brought to court.

Good point.
 

boatasiaus

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As a small biz owner, I have considered non-compete's, but based on legal advice, they are not geneerally enforceable in court. In very broad terms, courts have held that you can't restrict a person's ability to make a living, so I wouldn't be worried too much about it.

What many companies do use are non-solicit agreements, ie What you can't do is make the allegations, then at some point later go to the clients looking for business either for your own, or your new company.

Consult with your own business lawyer (and not a general, around the corner type lawyer)
 

SeaFoam

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Just get all hopped up and crack and then shoot everyone in the office. problem solved.


I LOLed.

Come on Pookie, let's burn this motherfucker down!

I would definitely go seek counsel though, companies like that will go after you in a heartbeat if you screw them over and don't have your ass covered.
 
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IceWeasel

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everyone is looking at this from a CYA and business perspective, so i'll throw in the moral perspective. if they're doing something immoral and it makes you uncomfortable, that alone is enough reason to leave the job. you're the one who will have to live with yourself knowing you compromised your integrity down the road.
 
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