Timeshare Company Sundance Vacations Accused Of Forging Court Order To Delete Discussion Of Its Practices

from the getting-into-felony-territory dept

We’ve seen all sorts of bizarre and questionable attempts by companies to silence criticism or content they just don’t like. Bogus copyright, trademark and defamation claims are pretty standard these days. There’s also just general “begging” or the random “tortious interference” arguments. But according to Metafilter’s Matt Haughey, timeshare company Sundance Vacations may have taken things to insane new levels: forging a bogus court order to try to get Metafilter to remove a years-old thread.

It started nearly two years ago when Sundance Vacations sent Haughey an email, asking him to remove this 2010 thread in which someone asked about Sundance Vacations marketing process — starting off with “am I about to get screwed by Sundance Vacactions?” leading to a rather tame discussion about the sales tactics of the timeshare industry, and ways to deal with the dreaded “informational meeting” (really a hard sales pitch). The email included an attachment of a “court order” against someone who was supposedly running a “Sundance Vacations Protest site” barring them from speaking negatively about the company online. I don’t see how such a court order is actually legal given the whole First Amendment, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. Haughey pointed out that the person named in the court order was clearly not the person who posted the Metafilter thread, and everyone went on with their lives.

Until a few days ago, when Sundance Vacations sent a new email to Haughey, talking about a new court order, apparently against the person running this Boycott Sundance Vacations Facebook group. Bizarrely, the “court order” listed the Metafilter page in the document. Haughey posted the court order as an image:

As Haughey noted, there are some oddities in that court order. For example, the signature page has a “signature” of “Sundance Vacations” (actually signed as such) rather than the name of an individual, as would actually be required. The part at the top listing the plaintiff and defendant has “Sundance Vacations” in a different size and font than everything else — suggesting a cheap insertion. Even reading through the document, much of it looks to be about a basic restraining order between two individuals rather than a company. The order mentions “Defendant Friedman” despite the fact there is no Defendant listed with the name Friedman.

On top of that, the Order lists out five URLs which it claims are defamatory and says that plaintiffs can use the order to get those articles removed or delisted. While it’s not unheard of for local clueless courts to make such rulings, you can’t actually make such an order, because it violates Section 230 of the CDA. Thus even if it were true, it wouldn’t be enforceable. But it’s not actually true. After questioning it, Haughey called the actual court:

Today (Tuesday) I called a clerk in the Hinds County Chancery Court office. They asked me to fax them a copy of the court order so they could verify the document. I did as requested and a few hours later got a call back from the office saying it was not a real document from their court. The case numbers on the first page are from an unrelated case that took place last year. The clerk said they found a case from August 21, 2014 that used similar language but had different plaintiffs and defendants, but the same lawyers on page 3. In their opinion, it seemed someone grabbed a PDF from a different case and copy/pasted new details to it before sending it on to me.

As Haughey notes, forging court documents is a felony. It kind of makes you wonder, if a company will commit felonies to hide some (very mild) online criticism, what kind of crap will it do in its regular business of trying to do high pressure sales to buy into their timeshare?

Ken “Popehat” White points out that Sundance Vacations is now denying having sent the email, though it’s pretty difficult to think who else might be sending such an email.

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Companies: metafilter, sundance vacations

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Comments on “Timeshare Company Sundance Vacations Accused Of Forging Court Order To Delete Discussion Of Its Practices”

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Me says:

Awfully close signatures

If you look at the signatures on the, “court order”, compare Sundance Vacations to Eric Morgan. Notice the S in Sundance and the E in Eric. Very close start of a pen stroke.

Then follow that to the C’s and E’s. Fluidity of both signatures is the same.

The i’s tell a story because it’s a swoosh for the top of the icon both, not just a pen tap.

Now compare s in vacations to Morgan’s g.

Seems like Eric has some explaining to do or someone forged both those signatures.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re wrong. Spoofing where an email came from is actually very easy — in fact, my email server does this routinely for legitimate operational reasons.

What is a bit harder (but far from impossible) is spoofing the other administrative fields that can be used to determine the actual source of the email.

However, the important point is that emails, including the full administrative headers, are simply plain text. Once an email has been delivered, it is trivial to edit that text so the headers say anything you want them to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Then the question becomes whether the receiver of the email actually has control over the server that the email resides on. For example, if the email was sent to a Yahoo account, then the email is on Yahoo’s servers and the headers could not have been modified by the recipient.

Whoever is responsible for sending the email – Sundance or someone else – is in serious trouble if they are caught. I think there’s more than enough probable cause to get a warrant or subpoena to examine the original, if it is indeed on a third party server.

zip says:

'gateway' crime?

So timeshares are still around? I once thought that the timeshare industry could not possible survive long in the internet age. But now it seems that like the Nigerian 419 scam, it will probably always find enough suckers to keep the industry going.

Of course, it should not surprise us that the ethics (or lack of) of someone involved in peddling timeshares might not stop there. So what’s a little forgery when you’re already scamming people out out of their retirement savings or children’s college fund on a daily basis?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: 'gateway' crime?

But now it seems that like the Nigerian 419 scam, it will probably always find enough suckers to keep the industry going.

You seem to be thinking the entire timeshare industry is a scam. This is not so. It’s a way for someone to enjoy some benefits of a property without having to buy the whole thing.

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