Q: As is well known, every self-respecting company operates a customer service department that deals with complaints about defective products and grants vouchers for free products as compensation. When you call to report a defect, the service representative asks, among other things, where the item was purchased. Since, at times, the store owner may be to blame for the defect, due to faulty or extended storage, it occurred to me to ask if answering this kind of question might be lashon hara?
A: It would seem that there is no problem replying where the item was purchased. The answer is l’to’eles, for a constructive purpose. Even if we believe that the objective of the question is to determine if a particular store owner is to blame for the defects that were found in the items in his store — due to negligence in their storage, not making sure to sell the old items before the new, etc. — it would still be permissible to say where the item was bought.
The company will not stop supplying products to this shop because of this, since its goal is to expand sales as much as possible. Nor is it worth it to the company owners to demand payment for damages from the store owner, especially since they would have trouble proving his guilt beyond doubt. The main purpose of their inquiry about the place of purchase is so that, in case of suspicion, the service representative will alert the store owner to the matter to prevent such incidents from recurring.
Only in a most unusual, very rare case — if it emerges that defects such as these occur very frequently in this shop — would the company possibly decide to stop supplying merchandise to this store, due to the bad reputation it is giving their products. Even this would likely be only after advance warning. But even in such a case, there would be no concern for lashon hara or rechilus when the consumer answers the service rep’s questions, since it is absolutely l’to’eles and also will not cause the store owner more damage than he deserves.
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The views expressed are of the individual author. Readers are encouraged to consult their own posek for guidance.