Ripoff Report

 

Note October 2014: This will be updated shortly to reflect recent developments: See this blog post

Ripoff Report is a privately owned for profit website that purports to be representing consumer interests. One of the most contentious websites on the internet, Ripoff Report admits that it publishes false information about individuals and businesses. The website states that it does not remove material, even if it can be proven to be false or if the author requests removal.

Ripoff Report also has no compunction about publishing the identities and photographs of minors as well as content that is clearly offensive, homophobic, racist, illegal as well as content that demeans women and exposes children to danger. This list of example links clearly shows that Ripoff Report publishes a range of illegal and offensive webpages.

Anyone that  that challenges the editor and founder, Ed Madgeson on his methods of extortion. either privately or in the legal system has found  that they are suddenly the subject of a Ripoff Report or that the number of reports or links to reports suddenly multiply and old material gains new life in the Google search engine result page (SERPs). If this sounds ‘far fetched’ please download all of the documents in the State of Iowas vs Xccentric Ventures here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, if one happens to own Google, demands to are quickly met by the website. In a US legal docment the alteration of the name of a Google founder, Sergey Brin  on a Ripoff Report that alleged he has inappropriate contact with a minor was included in an affidavit.

Ripoff Report has a long history of removing reports for a substantial payment. In a deposition Magedson admitted that he removed ‘reports’ about a business for a payment of $50,000.

The Ripoff Report editor, Ed Magedson has been exploiting the website’s high Google page rank for close to 15 years to earn an annual income of around USD$15 Million.

 

Some victims have reported that the webmaster has offered to remove the false reports about their businesses for a fee that amounts to thousands of dollars. The website has always denied these allegations. However,  evidence unsealed by the State of Iowa proves that Ripoff Report, its founder and editor, ed Magedson and the website attorneys Jaburg & Wilk have, for years, been involved in and cognisant of the use of the website and its high Google page rank to obtain financial benefit.

In 2011 a US judgement labelled the website’s business practices as ‘appalling’:

The business practices of Xcentric, as presented by the evidence before this Court, are appalling. Xcentric appears to pride itself on having created a forum for defamation. No checks are in place to ensure that only reliable information is publicized. Xcentric retains no general counsel to determine whether its users are availing themselves of its services for the purpose of tortious or illegal conduct.

Even when, as here, a user regrets what she has posted and takes every effort to retract it, Xcentric refuses to allow it. Moreover, Xcentric insists in its brief that its policy is never to remove a post. It will not entertain any scenario in which, despite the clear damage that a defamatory or illegal post would continue to cause so long as it remains on the website, Xcentric would remove an offending post.

Because it is given a high page rank in the Google SERPS, many companies pay the exorbitant fees to participate in the corporate advocacy program in order to have their ‘reputation rehabilitated’. This cost schedule for the Ripoff Report Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP) was entered into evidence in a US court case. This amounts to between  USD $7,500 and $20,500 plus a monthly fee.

Very few small businesses can afford this cash outlay. For their money these companies obtain a glowing report from Ripoff Report that appears in a search for their name. However this is not a indication to the Google user that the company will provide a good service.

Since mid 2010 Ripoff Report ‘allows’ US residents to pay USD $2,000 per post to have the false statements ‘arbitrated’ and possibly have some of the false information redacted. This option is NOT available to non-US residents. Recently the name of a senior Google counsel was redacted from a report within days of the publication of the report on a blog. Obviously he could afford to pay $2,000 but this cost is beyond the means of many individuals and small businesses.

It is very risky for consumers to register on the website to post a ‘report’.  Some victims have reported that the webmaster sold their details to the companies and people about whom they complain. In my case they actually constructed defamatory urls from my name.

An Arizona private detective has found evidence of other money generating endeavours by the editor of ripoff report and his cronies including writing reports in order to convince companies to join the Ripoff Report Corporate Advocacy program. It appears that they are offering to provide lists of consumers to attorneys for class action lawsuits for a cost of $800,000. A  judgement in a US case referred to this evidence in discovery.

Ripoff Report has enjoyed a charmed, albeit litigious existence because it is considered to be a high authority website by Google. This means that the individual or business name always appears at or near the top of the Google search results.

Google and Ripoff Report

Google has been aware of this website since at least 2007.  Google and Ripoff Report were defendants in US lawsuit. In 2009 a senior Google employee, Matt Cutts (and the ‘public face’ of Google) stated that he had investigated ripoff Report but they would not remove it unless ordered by a court.

Google places advertisements on Ripoff Report. Many of the webpages violate their content guidelines. Specifically:

  • Content related to racial intolerance or advocacy against any individual, group or organisation
  • Any other content that is illegal, promotes illegal activity or infringes on the legal rights of others

The revenue from these ads is shared between the webmaster and Google. This means that Google is profiting from webpages that contain hate speech and/or destroy individual and business reputations. Google’s track record shows that it is unlikely to care. This is not the only example of Google’s willingness to contravene these TOS in the pursuit of profits from advertising.

In  August 2011 Google paid a fine of $500 million for hosting illegal pharmacy ads. According to the Wall Street Journal, “prosecutors found internal emails and documents that, they say, show Mr. Page was aware of the allegedly illicit ad sales”. Google also profited from illegal mortgage ads. In November 2011 the US federal government shut down 85 websites that were  preying on vulnerable homeowners by offering dodgy mortgage deals through ads on Google.

The company earned almost $10 billion from advertising last quarter (2011). The evidence shows that Google is aware of the damage caused by Ripoff Report, and in a situation similiar to that of the pharmacy advertisements (they knew as early as 2003 that their ads were used to sell illegal drugs) they are unlikely to care until their back is to the wall. Clearly, the philosophy of making money without doing evil was subverted after the first paycheck from the ads.

Damage caused by Ripoff Report: Individuals and Businesses

This website has caused severe emotional and financial damage to hundreds of people in individuals (mouse over view to read the comments). As noted in the section below on Google and Ripoff Report the company is unlikely to care.

A man recently took his own life because he could not escape the damage caused by this website. This comment was recently posted on a report about my case against Google by a leading SEO writer.

In Pain

My brother was a good person, did not intentionally harm anyone, and simply struggled through life like everyone else. He did not always make the right decisions, but his intentions were never evil. He had a large heart. His only flaw was that he didn’t handle difficult situations very well (We are all guilty of that).

Ex-girlfriends and ex-employees took to ripoffreport.com to get revenge.The posts haunted him every single day, for years. He simply couldn’t move forward. He legally changed his name in 2009, in an attempt to hide from this website, but even that didn’t fix it.He was unable to work, have a serious relationship, or move forward after these posts were made. My brother never recovered from these posts.After years of struggling to recover, he simply couldn’t do it any longer. He took his own life on 12/14/2011 in Orlando, FL. He referenced these posts many times in his final words. These posts haunted him daily.I hope my reply makes people think about the damage that can be done by posting negative things on the internet about another person. Everyone has feelings, and they are real.My brother will be buried sometime next week.R.I.P. Dear Brother.

The despair the man must have felt is reflected in the comments on the petition to Google to remove the website (mouse over view next to the comments). This petition has been ignored by the Google despite more than 500 signatures.

Small business owners and individuals have also  posted about their experiences with Ripoff Report (including the attempts to obtain payment) on their websites, blogs and news groups. These experiences represent the range of business and individuals hurt by this website.

Damage caused by Ripoff Report: Google Users

The damage is not confined to individuals and businesses. But, as noted in the section below on Google and Ripoff Report the company is unlikely to care.

Some of the companies that have paid Ripoff Report to be ‘verified safe’ have been indicted and prosecuted in both Australia and the US and listed as defendants in class action cases.  Google gives Ripoff Report a high page rank and data suggests that position in  Google search results impact consumer choices as well as business viability.

Chikita noted that the highly sought after top spot in a Google search for a product or service obtains 35% of the traffic. A website that jumps from the top of page 2 to the bottom of page 1 in the Google index can increase its traffic by 150%.

A recent Google sponsored survey found:

  • Nine out of ten smartphone searches results in an action (purchasing, visiting a business, etc.)
  • 24% recommended a brand or product to others as a result of a smartphone search

The company, ‘Storesonline (IMergent’) has 400 reports with the Ripoff Report endorsement of ‘verified safe’. Yet, while it was apparently ‘verified safe’ by Ripoff Report, this company was hauled into court in 2010 by the ACCC for breaching the Trade Practices Act. Moreover the judgement from the Federal Court found that StoresOnline failed to comply with undertakings provided to the ACCC on 24 April 2006 under section 87B of the Trade Practices Act 1974. This company was also faced with class actions suits in Texas and Utah while it was apparently ‘verified safe’.

Direct Buy was the defendant in a class action lawsuit while Ripoff Report was promising consumers that it was (paid) verified safe. By  2012 the company was no longer a member of the Ripoff Report Corporate Advocacy Program although evidence of its involvement can still be found in consumer comments. 

If a company that is ‘verified safe’ by Ripoff Report is indicted for fraud, the website simply drops it from the corporate advocacy program. Of course, this does not help consumers who used the ‘verified safe’ to make decisions. Bankcard Empire was verified safe –  at least until the company owner was indicted for fraud.

In another example, this company was dropped from the CAP several weeks it a prosecution was announced by an Attorney General in Colorado.

This raises the question of whether Ripoff Report and Google ripping off Google users? despite the diatribes from both this grubby little website and Google about doing it all for the consumer the reality is that it is all about their profits.

Ripoff Report: SEO Reviews

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the ranking of a website.  Ripoff Report has been extensively reviewed by search leading engine optimization (SEO) companies because it has caused so much damage to their clients and is notoriously difficult to remove from the Google search results.

According to Frank Watson from Search Engine Watch,  ‘there’s a much more successful way to play Google these days — just build a site that can rank for companies or individuals and write crap about them. Once the posts start appearing in the search results, these entities will get in touch with you to remove them and you can charge them for it’.

SEOmoz detailed the accusations that Ripoff Report is just an extortion business.

The 97th Floor argued that Ripoff Report is spamming Google’s search results for the purpose of furthering a questionable business agenda and Google is letting them get away with it.

Distilled argued for Google to prevent Ripoff Report from “destroying the businesses of hard-working people”  and  joined ” the campaign to ask Google to sort this out”.

Marketing Pilgrim wrote that ‘Ripoff Report’ appears to exist purely to make money from the various negative postings and it’s a rare occurrence to see something negative removed–even when resolved.

Ripoff Report has been reviewed by journalists:

Chanel 7  news posted a video about Ripoff Report.

The Phoenix Times wrote : “Magedson won’t remove posts. He’s not interested in evidence that would offer vindication. But if you’re willing to pay, Ed Magedson just might be willing to talk”.

Blogs also discuss Ripoff Report:

Resources for negative reports scams.

On detection and counter-attack of the most prevalent ripoffs from all over the world.

About online reputation.

Alleged money making sidelines designed by Ripoff Report  to make even more money such as selling off consumers information.

Online extortion.

The Worst SEO Blog Ever said that in his opinion Ripoff report are “like grand-standing asshole bullies”

A Design Blogger commented “the salience of its pages to innocuous search terms fuels Rip Off Report’s ability to allegedly extort money from companies’.

Ransomed Truth published transcripts of a US case in which the editor of Ripoff Report admitted removing reports for $50,000 and  of posters to the companies or individuals they named in the reports.

The groundswell of criticism peaked in 2008 when the writers for the influential SEO blogs posted the above mentioned articles about Ripoff Report. But this momentum was not maintained much beyond 2009. Does that mean that the editor of Ripoff Report saw the light and changed his business practices. Absolutely not! Ripoff Report sued a SEO blogger for some small errors that were corrected in this summary of the legal actions involving Ripoff Report. They lost the case! In early 2010 the court rejected  Ripoff Report’s lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds. The legal action seems to have caused the most prominent and cohesive critical group, the SEO community to back down. Honestly, I don’t blame them because they are mostly based in the USA and have businesses to protect and and insurance companies to appease.

Legal action against Ripoff Report

As noted above, the legal counsel for SEOmoz, Sarah Bird outlined Ripoff Report’s long history of litigation and was subsequently unsuccessfully sued. While Ripoff Report was bleating in court about the injury to its feelings over a couple of small errors it successfully challenged an injunction to remove material about an ordinary American family.

To date, the material remains at the top of a search for the family name, Blockowicz. Professor Eric Goldman raised a question regarding the refusal of Ripoff Report to remove posts even if the original poster requests removal:

What happens if the Blockowiczs find the initial posters and force them to remove the post or be in contempt, but the Ripoff Report declines due its no-takedown policy? The court skirts the fact that the initial posters no longer have the technical capacity to remove the posts, so it’s not clear what would happen if the Ripoff Report refuses the initial posters’ removal requests.

The evidence above suggests that the outcome may have been different had the family put their financial resources into the website coffers rather than a legal firm.

Ripoff Report has also aggressively litigated against websites that employ a similar business model. In June 2011 Ripoff Report was awarded a default judgment against the website for copying some of their urls. The defamatory webpages in my case on Complaints Board were copied from Ripoff Report complaints Board and yet Google has ignored requests to remove the links. But of course, they put ads on the webpages so this is not surprising. In 2012 Google removed more than 89,000 urls at the request of Ripoff report yet ‘bitch’ about removing those that destroy people and businesses. Ripoff Report has also sued the website Scaminformer seeking damages of ‘not less than $63,000,o00 for copyright infringement. The website seems to have been shut down.

Litigation is expensive. Magedson has boasted that he has spent more than $4 million in legal fees defending the ‘rights of consumers’.  The evidence suggests that the ‘appalling’ business practices benefit the website and Google (from the advertising). Magedson is not selling a cure for cancer. At best he is ‘defending’ the rights of consumers for a few dollars at the expense of the destruction of individual lives and small businesses. How is this right?  Moreover, his ability to do this is solely dependent on Google.