Reputation Extortion Businesses?

22 replies
I'm looking for insights about businesses like the "Ripoff Report" and "Angie's List", which allow all sorts of slander, and then sell reputation management to get rid of it.

A friend of mine told me someone called him out of the blue from "Angie's List", offerning to remove a negative review for a significant fee; the only way to do it, according to them. They weren't interested in finding out the truth, and removing it for free because it is wrong to knowingly harm the reputation of a person or business which did nothing wrong to deserve it; just interested in getting their removal fee.

How do I know they were really from Angie's List? I don't; it could have been a random scammer using them, and I'll never know cause my bud told them to suck it without verifying anything, so I am asking; is this their biz model; post crap about people and then charge for removal? That has to be illegal; maybe it's extortion, or maybe a lesser charge, but I hope and believe it must be some kind of crime.

I hadn't thought about that story for a while until I was researching a company that buys and sells cars, and Googled "[business name] reviews". Half the page was Ripoff Report listings, and the top one was a hysterical liar. Another was less ridiculous but still nasty, and I believe totally false.

Then I noticed that they are pushing a rep management service for businesses. How convenient to post nasty crap, and then offer rep management; perhaps not as in your face as charging to remove each negative review, but a conflict at best, like selling yourself as both prosecutor and defender at the same trial.

Any insights into whether my impressions are accurate, or perhaps over or understated would be appreciated. If it is as it seems to be, I would like to find a way to help in any organized effort that is afoot to take these parasitic people down.
#businesses #extortion #reputation
  • Profile picture of the author ItWasLuck3
    I definitely wouldn't call it a "business" by any means, but it definitely is a strategy. A blackhat one at that.

    I bet if you could prove to Angie's List/ Ripoff Report that a certain user was posting fake reviews (probably pretty easy to tell if they're constantly posting negative reviews all over the place), you could get them banned, and then there goes their "business".

    I think the only way these kinda people disappear is when it stops working. Whether a business isn't afraid of them, like your friend, or Angie's List wises up and puts down the banhammer.

    Good find.
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by ItWasLuck3 View Post

      I definitely wouldn't call it a "business" by any means, but it definitely is a strategy. A blackhat one at that.

      I bet if you could prove to Angie's List/ Ripoff Report that a certain user was posting fake reviews (probably pretty easy to tell if they're constantly posting negative reviews all over the place), you could get them banned, and then there goes their "business".

      I think the only way these kinda people disappear is when it stops working. Whether a business isn't afraid of them, like your friend, or Angie's List wises up and puts down the banhammer.

      Good find.
      Thanks for your thoughts my friend. If Angie's List and Ripoff Report, and others like them are legit, I think they would be happy to ban people and clean things up.

      But if they are selling rep management, or review removal (I can't believe it's legal to charge businesses for removing negative reviews-giving a huge profit motive to slanderers seems insane), then it would benefit them to leave the reviews up until the pain they cause helps close the sale of clean up services. If my friend's phone call was really from Angie's List, then who is to say they didn't hire the troll themselves to post bad reviews in order to sell more removal services?

      If that is the case, then contacting them wouldn't help; I suspect it would only encourage them.
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  • Profile picture of the author Ghoster
    It is their business model. IDK if it's illegal. Yelp Does the same thing.

    Yelp is no stranger to litigation.

    Determining the legality of this would indeed be interesting. Any corporate attorneys here?
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by Ghoster View Post

      It is their business model. IDK if it's illegal. Yelp Does the same thing.

      Yelp is no stranger to litigation.

      Determining the legality of this would indeed be interesting. Any corporate attorneys here?
      Thanks for the link buddy; that is just the sort of thing I was hoping to find out. If Yelp really does what the lawsuits allege, I hope they throw the book at them, and maybe we will get some much needed (imo) legislation banning people from selling reputation services that have anything to do with review sites they own.

      You know, I used to laugh at this silly little new age paper we have in Seattle, because they always carried self promotional articles from people who have the biggest ads running in the paper, but at least it was all positive.

      What is happening now is like the ugly flip side of that; instead of writing puff pieces to scratch the backs of their customers, these review sites seem to be ripping the flesh off the bones of innocent people, and offering to stop doing it for a fee; sure sounds like extortion to me. Overly dramatic?
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    • Profile picture of the author xohaibx
      Originally Posted by Ghoster View Post

      It is their business model. IDK if it's illegal. Yelp Does the same thing.

      Yelp is no stranger to litigation.

      Determining the legality of this would indeed be interesting. Any corporate attorneys here?
      Corporate attorneys on the Warrior Forum? I'd like to see that

      I do agree with you that it is their business model - but how far can/will they go to make profit? Because I'm pretty sure this "business model" will have its own loopholes that can be exposed if things are stretched too far.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jassen
    I know nothing about Angie's List, but back in 2009 was engaged in a brief bit of litigation with Ripoff Report over the content of a purely false report made against the firm I worked for. It was posted by an employee of a competing firm.

    Very long story short, that post is still up, even though the employee at our competitor ultimately admitted his commission of libel. We didn't go to trial, we ended up just dropping the whole thing. The reason? In another, almost identical case, the district court in the jurisdiction covered by Ripoff Report held that, under the DMCA, Ripoff Report is not liable for the content posted by users, and was under no obligation to remove it. It was not the first such case that Ripoff Report won.

    This was four years ago, and I didn't keep up with any other court cases on the subject after that, but it was enlightening. We spent nearly $20,000 trying to fight it before dropping it, knowing we would lose. We had a strong case on the libel charge, but didn't even pursue that, although the other firm in question did ultimately pay us back half our legal costs.

    Whole thing was a mess from the get go. Can't imagine a whole lot has changed, and not sure how a rep management company can get things removed if a judge can't.
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by Jassen View Post

      I know nothing about Angie's List, but back in 2009 was engaged in a brief bit of litigation with Ripoff Report over the content of a purely false report made against the firm I worked for. It was posted by an employee of a competing firm.

      Very long story short, that post is still up, even though the employee at our competitor ultimately admitted his commission of libel. We didn't go to trial, we ended up just dropping the whole thing. The reason? In another, almost identical case, the district court in the jurisdiction covered by Ripoff Report held that, under the DMCA, Ripoff Report is not liable for the content posted by users, and was under no obligation to remove it. It was not the first such case that Ripoff Report won.

      This was four years ago, and I didn't keep up with any other court cases on the subject after that, but it was enlightening. We spent nearly $20,000 trying to fight it before dropping it, knowing we would lose. We had a strong case on the libel charge, but didn't even pursue that, although the other firm in question did ultimately pay us back half our legal costs.

      Whole thing was a mess from the get go. Can't imagine a whole lot has changed, and not sure how a rep management company can get things removed if a judge can't.
      Very interesting; thanks for sharing your story. In answer to the last sentence, I could be wrong, but it sounds like the judge could have forced them to remove it, but decided not to, and you are right that a rep management company can't force them to remove it, but if that rep management company is one and the same with the review site company, no force is needed; it's their site so they can remove it.

      What a legitimate rep management company could do that is almost as good is outrank the slanderous reports, so nobody sees it when they do their due diligence on the company being slandered.
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  • Profile picture of the author Dennis Gaskill
    The model is not much different from the Better Business Bureau, is it?
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  • Profile picture of the author trader909
    only on the Net. is this B*S* seen
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  • Profile picture of the author Arcana Media
    It's *possible* that the end is near for those sites and their tactics...

    Because 'mugshot shaming' sites have just recently been hit hard due in large part to a New York Times investigation. Those are the websites that post arrest mugshot photos and information (name, city, etc) and likewise have options for people to have their pages removed... for a price.

    The NYT approached not just Google - who subsequently dropped the SE rankings for at least the most prominent of those sites - but also Paypal and a variety of credit card companies who cancelled the sites' ability to process cc payments/extortion.

    No surprise that being slammed in the search results AND their wallet was a huge blow to those website owners, one of whom is quoted as saying: “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this.”

    Those sites aren't far removed from the websites being discussed her, who exhibit very similar blackmail practices imo.

    Short synopsis of the NYT article:
    Some digging by The New York Times strikes a blow against those skeezy mugshot sites » Nieman Journalism Lab

    Actual NYT article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/bu...ot-online.html
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by Arcana Media View Post

      It's *possible* that the end is near for those sites and their tactics...

      Because 'mugshot shaming' sites have just recently been hit hard due in large part to a New York Times investigation. Those are the websites that post arrest mugshot photos and information (name, city, etc) and likewise have options for people to have their pages removed... for a price.

      The NYT approached not just Google - who subsequently dropped the SE rankings for at least the most prominent of those sites - but also Paypal and a variety of credit card companies who cancelled the sites' ability to process cc payments/extortion.

      No surprise that being slammed in the search results AND their wallet was a huge blow to those website owners, one of whom is quoted as saying: “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this.”

      Those sites aren't far removed from the websites being discussed her, who exhibit very similar blackmail practices imo.

      Short synopsis of the NYT article:
      Some digging by The New York Times strikes a blow against those skeezy mugshot sites » Nieman Journalism Lab

      Actual NYT article:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/bu...ot-online.html
      This is the kind of thing I was hoping people would post, so thanks for the insight and the links Arcana!

      I checked out the synopsis, and found an interesting article it linked to here: http://www.niemanlab.org/2013/02/a-p...ndment-rights/

      I agree that there are parallels between the mugshot shaming sites and the review sites, because they both charge money to remove negative information from the targets of it.

      I found this passage in the second article of particular interest, and rather encouraging: "Under (proposed bill) HB 677, a website operator may not ask for payment to remove content, but the bill would penalize websites regardless of whether they charged a fee — it targets content, not commercialization.

      In my opinion the above quote suggests a need to alter the bill to make it constitutional, because I doubt it will survive a challenge on first amendment grounds if it forces people to remove negative information simply because it is negative.

      I think it will be called overly broad, and there are already laws against slander, so presumably that would already provide a remedy if the info is false. If it is simply mugshots and arrest information which might be unfair and distasteful, especially for those exonerated, it might nonetheless be truthful and therefore not slanderous.

      Where I hope they go with it is to simply take away the opportunity to extort money for removing the negatives. That would destroy the industry, and only a few pathetic trolls with no lives would make the effort to maintain sites that do nothing but rant about people they hate and/or are jealous of (did I just describe Salty Dog?).
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    The ROR rabbit hole runs deep... much deeper than I'm willing to post here.

    Jassen's post above illustrates perfectly what happens when you start to scratch that scab.

    Some folks let it bleed for a lot longer, unfortunate for everyone except one party.

    Take a wild guess at which that might be - clue: the judgment proof one.
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  • Profile picture of the author IndianBabe
    do people really care for what
    is said on "Ripoff Report" and "Angie's List"???
    am curious
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by IndianBabe View Post

      do people really care for what
      is said on "Ripoff Report" and "Angie's List"???
      am curious
      They apparently care enough to make it worthwhile. "Ripoff Report" is a fantastic name in my opinion, and probably appeals to folks like me who grew up with a subscription to Consumer Reports and was taught the importance of due diligence; the name is two "power words" combined to stimulate a lot of people's imaginations.

      I think everyone understands the importance of seeking non-stake holder info about a deal before you sign on, which is the reason testimonials are so powerful, and conversely, negative reviews are so harmful to their targets, deserving or not.

      I think they both must be successful or they wouldn't be so ubiquitous online. In the case of Angie's List, they have a huge advertizing budget; I got pretty tired of their radio ads a while back when I was listening to a lot of radio.
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  • Profile picture of the author tritrain
    Horrible, horrible, horrible.

    The same thing is done via those mugshots sites.

    I hope the justice department goes after these parasites.
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    • Profile picture of the author CH Yeo
      Thanks for this post. I wish to share my experience I got at another forum. That forum is about high yield investment stuff. I was commenting on some threads to look/sniff out scams.

      A few weeks later, I received an email from somebody claiming to be working on repairing client's reputation. The email sender mentioned a specific thread and my comment, and my comment didn't go well with his client's reputation.

      When I re-read my same comment on the thread with the eyes of his client, I could see that his client might have reasons to take my general comment as damaging.

      The email sender offered me a few options. First, to remove that comment from the thread. This option was very difficult because the forum has 'nothing is removed' standing.

      I offered to post on the same thread a clarifying comment. The 'repairing' rep said this remedy was not tender-able as the damage was done.

      So, repairing reputation rep didn't have to be part of the forum or setup. This kind of rep / business in repairing reputation can be an authentic outside party.

      But, we must be thoughtful, careful and tactful in what we post and we post only in forums which can allow our comments to be deleted.

      On the other hand, there are thugs who plough the Net, looking for opportunity to extort money from those who post negative/damaging comments.

      Repairing client's reputation is a good business. It is a niche. You got it if you go such genuinely.


      Bye
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      My niche? Every US$500 safely becomes US$5,000 each after 3 Years - see the record

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  • Profile picture of the author Regional Warrior
    This thread should be moved to The Off Topic Forum
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by Regional Warrior View Post

      This thread should be moved to The Off Topic Forum
      You might be right, but selling reputation management is part of how many Warriors make money, which I believe is what we are supposed to talk about here.

      Arguably imo, a conversation about the unethical practices your prospects are running into on the part of your competitors will help prepare you mentally to deal with a question such as "are you just another one of those predators who have people post fake bad reviews all over the interwebs so you can charge me money to remover them?"

      Maybe that is too tenuous a connection, but I think discussing what is happening to the businesses we target for our services is relevant to making money. If it isn't a direct enough connection, I suppose the mods will move it.
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  • Profile picture of the author carlamae
    Wow, the spammers never sleep do they! If they put half the imagination into something productive they would surpass us all in riches! What dummies!
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    • Profile picture of the author Greg guitar
      Originally Posted by carlamae View Post

      Wow, the spammers never sleep do they! If they put half the imagination into something productive they would surpass us all in riches! What dummies!
      I don't get it; this thread wasn't about spammers at all, so who are you talking about?
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  • Profile picture of the author TerryX
    I'd call my lawyer and see if I could deal with them from that angle.
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