Imagine that you are in a family business that goes back several generations. You hire a foreign company to help you out with some technical things. Everything goes hunky-dory for a good long while. But then you have a fall-out with your foreign partner that turns into a war. And not just any war. A digital war. An SEO war.
Your foreign ex-partner launches a crusade against you and your company. And the weapon he selects is destroying your company's Google search results with the help of negative reviews, hundreds of them.
Seems like a very real-life scenario, doesn't it?
What are you to do? – Well, though understanding the damaging circumstances, might we suggest refraining from forging evidence and breaking the law in any way.
Here is what can and did happen otherwise: In 2011 Michael Arnstein, the CEO of The Natural Sapphire Company, brought a lawsuit against Prashant Telang, an Indian web designer, and his company, TransPacific Software. Arnstein's claim was that "Telang hijacked Natural Sapphire's website to extort payment after they had a falling out". Arnstein's claims also included, in particular:
- Defamation and libel
- Intentional harm to business and reputation
The lawsuit was settled in 2012. The U.S. District Court ordered Telang to take down at least 54 reviews located on various websites. The settlement, however, was not the end to the conflict. Negative reviews kept pouring in.
Instead of continuing the legal fight and bringing more defamation lawsuits, Arnstein picked another path. He went to the reputation management company called Brand.com in hopes, perhaps, to clean up and scrub search results for The National Sapphire Company once and for all. It is interesting to note that, even though Brand.com has been out of business for some time, one can still find (using, for example, the Wayback Machine) that the company did offer de-indexing services.
It is not quite clear to date what the result of Arnstein's cooperation with Brand.com was. But it looks like, having spent some hefty sums on legal fees, Arnstein decided that he was in dire straits enough to pursue a way cheaper route, make up de-indexing court orders and forging a judge's signature. Having done that, he only submitted those orders to Google, but also allegedly bragged about his doings. Here are some of Arnstein's statements:
"…No bullshit: if I could do it all over again I would have found another court order injunction for removal of links (probably something that can be found online pretty easily) made changes in photoshop to show the links that I wanted removed and then sent to "firstname.lastname@example.org" as a pdf — showing the court order docket number, the judges [sic] signature — but with the new links put in…"
Arnstein also revealed the following:
"…I spent 100k on lawyers to get a court order injunction to have things removed from Google and Youtube, only to photoshop the documents for future use when new things "popped up" and google legal never double checked my docs for validity… I could have saved 100k and 2 years of waiting/damage…"
Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest. And manifest it was made indeed: Google ascertained that the orders submitted by Arnstein were fake and notified the United States Department of Justice. In March 2017 the latter charged Arnstein with forgery of a judge's signature and conspiracy. Following the criminal complaint, Arnstein was arrested in April of 2017. In September 2017, according to the Department of Justice, "…ARNSTEIN, 40, of Kailua, Hawaii, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to forge a judicial signature, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge…".
The lesson to be learnt here is that while anger and desperation are understandable under the circumstances, sense of impunity, cockiness and disregard of law will get you nowhere. Google as well as other search engines is aware of cases involving fraudulent court orders and fake lawsuits.
We at PissedConsumer published "Dark Side of Online Reputation Management (ORM)" article on this topic on our blog as well.
Being a review platform ourselves, we want to stress the point that, contrary to the popular belief, most if not all online review platforms and forums have corresponding policies and procedures in place for those who are seeking to take down some content that they see as ill-natured. There is no need to resort to illegal means. Please stay tunes for an upcoming article on this that will be published on our blog.
PissedConsumer has caught and exposed a new scam. You may check out our recent investigations in the article "How NOT To Remove Reviews − a Story about Fake Notarized Letters"
In the meantime, you can learn about PissedConsumer review removal policies.
1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.
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