Pissed Consumer Exposes New York Luxury Car Dealer's Use Of Bogus Notarized Letters To Remove Critical Reviews [UPDATE]

from the brand-management-yo dept

UPDATE: I spoke to former employee of Luxsport who claims Stephanie Lynch’s notary stamp was stolen by Lance Ludkin, the founder of LuxSport. This theft was reported to local law enforcement but Stephanie and this employee were told there was really nothing they could do about it. I am seeking more confirmation on this and other details about Ludkin’s self-styled reputation management efforts and will be providing another update once I have more information in hand.

Pissed Consumer has uncovered more fraudulent behavior by companies hoping to scrub critical reviews from its site. The site first uncovered the use of bogus court orders to delist content — something Eugene Volokh and Paul Levy have turned into a small-time crusade. These fraudulent court documents resulted in some genuine legal action. Questionable reputation management firms are now facing lawsuits from Pissed Consumer and the attorney general of Texas.

The latest twist in reputation management also includes forged legal documents. The stakes are a bit lower because no one’s directly defrauding a court or forging a judge’s signature. But the underlying tactic is still comparable: the misuse of fake legal documents to remove criticism from the internet.

Every once in a while, people would post a review or a comment here and there about Luxsport Motor Group. From time to time we received notarized letters from the posters who wanted to remove their reviews posted by mistake. Nothing suspicious. Until fraud was discovered.

Fraud involving notarized letters is the subject of this article.

[…]

As stated above, we accepted several notarized letters from the authors of the reviews about Luxsport Motor Group. They looked legitimate at a first glance as they were handled separately at different times and by different managers of our company.

In order to remove a review, the reviewer has to send a notarized letter retracting the review — one containing a sworn statement the review was inaccurate when it was posted. This helps prevent companies from impersonating users in order to remove their criticism.

By spacing out these bogus letters, Luxsport went undetected for awhile, slowly cleaning up its review history at Pissed Consumer. But things changed last March. Another notarized letter arrived but was missing some of the required statements. Pissed Consumer spoke to the person who had written the review they now wanted removed… only to find out this person hadn’t sent a notarized letter.

This happened again in October. Another review was removed with a notarized letter. Shortly thereafter, Pissed Consumer was contacted by the reviewer wondering why their review had been removed. The site dug into the stack of notarized letters it had received targeting negative reviews of Luxsport and discovered a whole mess of suspicious oddities:

4 notarized letters according to which we removed the reviews about Luxsport Motor Group were notarized by one and the same notary public from New York – Stephanie Chrysten Lynch

coincidentally, Luxsport Motor Group is headquartered in New York

interestingly, the posters whose letters were notarized by the same New York notary public, Stephanie Chrysten Lynch, posted their reviews not just from different parts of the US but from different continents

when we checked correspondence we received from, allegedly, the authors of the above-mentioned 4 notarized letters – it turns out that it was their 2nd notarized letter that was accepted in 3 cases; we did not accept the initial notarized letters and wrote them about it, they did not respond and then some time later the second “good” notarized letter came in.

Pissed Consumer confronted Luxsport about the suspicious letters and was treated to a lot of blustery bullshit suggesting the company was completely offended by the mere insinuation it might have engaged in questionable behavior. It claimed Pissed Consumer was trying to damage its brand and destroy its business with these claims. But in all of its defensive statements, it never sounded confused or baffled by the accusations, suggesting it wasn’t completely surprised to be hearing about its sketchy reputation management efforts. It may very well be that a representative of Luxsport didn’t craft these letters or have them notarized, but it’s not unimaginable it’s hired a terrible rep management firm to do whatever it takes to clean up its internet presence.

Bogus reputation management efforts rarely pay off. Luxsport only managed to temporarily shore up its questionable reputation before being found out. All of the reviews it wanted gone have been reinstated and Pissed Consumer’s blog post has drawn more eyes to its shady behind-the-scenes behavior. The Streisand Effect is nearly 15 years old, but there are entities still discovering the term’s definition — and consequences — in the year of our lord two thousand nineteen.

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Companies: luxsport motor group, pissed consumer

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Comments on “Pissed Consumer Exposes New York Luxury Car Dealer's Use Of Bogus Notarized Letters To Remove Critical Reviews [UPDATE]”

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76 Comments
Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Irrelevant

If it is a real notary, they can be held personally liable for any losses (which seem to be zero here).
They dealership could be found guilty of criminal fraud (assuming they paid the notary to lie), but I don’t see anyone actually prosecuting.

If they are not a notary, the person who faked the stamp could be found guilty of fraud (again, unlikely to actually be prosecuted).
The dealership in this case could be found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud – which I think would create personal liability for anyone directly involved.

So, I think the "bad day" is about a "have to wipe egg off of face" kind of bad day.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: if this is a real notary

claims Stephanie Lynch’s notary stamp was stolen by Lance Ludkin, the founder of LuxSport

From the article, I think we can presume that it is a real notary. Since she reported the theft of her notary stamp to law enforcement, it is at least possible that her notary stamp was stolen.

Bad day probably belongs to one Lance Ludkin, who is mentioned in the article as having stolen the notary stamp.

Anonymous Coward says:

In a world with Section 230, a "reputation history" is nothing more than a "gossip history." Anyone can put up a false or malicious review, and not every business can sue everyone who might be out to harm it so easily. Sometimes these sites are used as weapons in reputation-blackmail schemes where the mere threat of such a malicious review is sufficient to get someone to cough up money.

All a negative review usually means is that someone doesn’t like the target company. Section 230 ensures that the website isn’t liable for lies, which means one cannot really rely on what they read.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/fraud#
Dictionary.com (above) gives us the deets of fraud.

"
1 deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.

2a particular instance of such deceit or trickery:
mail fraud; election frauds.

3any deception, trickery, or humbug:
That diet book is a fraud and a waste of time.

4a person who makes deceitful pretenses; sham; poseur
"

Someone, Say Billy @ Car dealership/rep. company claimed to be P.C. poster, say Eugene in Albany. Billy ascerted to the notary that they were in fact Eugene (deceitful for personal reputational gain) and the notary then certified that billy was in fact Eugene.

That falsification of identity for the gain of the companys reputation by itself amounts to fraud. Added to the falsification of the claim of an incorrect post amounts to an additional fradulent claim.

The notary could lose their license/ability and will be added to state lists of persons ineledgible for this task on top of the fines per incident. They’d then need to work on their own personal reputation.

The certification of multiple claims by Billy and others at the dealership or at the PR management company shows the conspiracy easily enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s the point: If the website can’t be sure what’s true, neither can the readers. That’s the point. Online reviews are inherently worthless, more often than not posted by someone with a hidden agenda or an axe to grind.

There is no accountability for the speech, and no guarantee of its accuracy. "Sue the original publisher" doesn’t work when the vitriol is spread throughout the globe or the posters are judgment-proof.

John Roddy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

For those with an IQ below 60, who need it spelled out, Section 230 makes this self-evident, as do the number of fake-review scandals.

Even "those with an IQ below 60" could tell that your claims are complete BS.

Unaccountability is evidence of unreliability, though some might pretend it’s not (no need for logic anymore to these folks).

So, how long have you hated the first amendment? Every single thing you are complaining about it 100% a 1A issue. Section 230 just makes sure it stays a 1A issue.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s a bunch of crap.

Companies that care about customers manage bad reviews very well in most cases. Responding to the reviewer and addressing their problems quite often gets reviews changed. Posting more information relating to a review can help others understand a situation in which a reviewer is being untruthful or misleading.

If a few reviews out of hundreds are bad, people take that into account. If few reviews out of hundreds are good, people take that into account.

Anonymous reviews are worth far more than any kind of endorsement these days. Companies that understand customer service and good products get this. Car dealers that have been scamming people for years don’t.

A dealership that faked notarized letters is going to cheat you. A dealership that hired a firm to fix their online reputation and didn’t immediately call them out and fire them for this kind of behavior is going to cheat you. A dealership that does not address it’s reputation problems by contacting unhappy customers and trying to make things right is going to cheat you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There is no accountability for fake or malicious reviews. Section 230 immunizes the platform, who says it cannot determine the truth or falsity of reviews. If it can’t, neither can anyone else. False-advertising and defamation laws are safeguards which make speech much more credible.

Now we have decisions that leave up defamatory content on third-party sites that can’t be taken down even with a court order.

The review may or may not be accurate, but there is no punishment for lying, and a lot of known motivations for lying (competitor, disgruntled employee/customer, etc.). Someone who ignores this or claims to put stock in online reviews is essentially just declaring themselves gullible.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Once again for the slow class – restating the original assertion is not evidence.

I’m going to need some evidence of the assertion that most reviews are lies.

Please note that I have no issue with the idea that reviews can be false. I want support for the idea that the majority are false.

And again for the slow class – restating the original assertion is not evidence.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"There is no accountability for fake or malicious reviews."

I completely agree. However, the is reasonable redress – which is to respond to a review and get happy customers to write good (and honest) reviews.

Why do malicious reviewers need to be held accountable? If they are, would you agree that fake or paid "good" reviews should suffer the same penalties?

OA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There is no accountability for fake or malicious reviews.

"Malicious reviews" implies a judgment or an assessment. This commentary reads like a made up presumption that is then generalized. Is "accountability" only for reviewers and the platform? What about accountability of the business? Is accountability only of the legal type?…

Section 230 immunizes the platform, who says it cannot determine the truth or falsity of reviews. If it can’t, neither can anyone else.

Nice fake logic. Subtle.

  1. Pissed Customer provides a platform that allows people to learn from other people’s experiences with a business.
  2. If a user behaves badly Section 230 prevents an opportunistic business from attacking Pissed Customer because the site, otherwise, hosts an effective and badly needed counter to poor business practices (for instance).
  3. Without Section 230, a business could, for example, anonymously post a defamatory comment and then bring down the platform for unknowingly hosting it.

False-advertising and defamation laws are safeguards which make speech much more credible.

Nice psuedo-reasoning!
The dominate attribute for speech is being FREE. Being "credible" is a judgment. An irrelevant judgment. A freedom does not require pre-approval. "False-advertising" in not applicable to this situation. "Defamation" is an accusation not self-evident.

Now we have decisions that leave up defamatory content on third-party sites that can’t be taken down even with a court order.

On a roll!
Being "defamatory" is a legal issue that a court decides on. This whole comment keeps using "defamatory" as a self-evident starting point. According to the article content can’t be taken down with a fake court order.

…there is no punishment for lying,

Is "punishment" (whatever that means) the default response? Who claims a statement is a lie? How much lying matters? Can the business be the liar who is "punished"? Is an inaccurate statement a lie?… A vague ‘bogeyman’ is not good enough, here. Be more specific or this statement is just a lie.

…and a lot of known motivations for lying (competitor, disgruntled employee/customer, etc.).

And? I, too, can imagine all sorts of scenarios. Ooooh! What about aliens!…

Someone who ignores this or claims to put stock in online reviews is essentially just declaring themselves gullible.

Textbook FUD (fear – uncertainty – doubt). A biased stranger’s imagination should override all the good and utility in online reviews… and free speech.

[Note the similar logic used in "law and order" zealotry]

MathFox says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If the website can’t be sure what’s true, neither can the readers. That’s the point. Online reviews are inherently worthless,

A large part of online reviews conveys more information about the poster than about the product or service. Like people downvoting a restaurant because they had to hang their coats themselves. Those are to be largely ignored.

Where people take the time to write a motivation there is value in their review; knowing the stronger and weaker aspects of a product helps making a choice. It also is useful to be warned about a vendor with a history of handling complaints badly.

My conclusion is that there is some value in online reviews, but that is only when you read them with a critical eye.

Anonymous Coward says:

So bad reviews from four different continents mean a business which is targeted must file suit in those continents to get the reviews removed.

Of course, the best way to test these sites’ removal policies would be to post negative, but true, reviews of various lawyers, say those who have social-media histories they want buried due to how horrible it would make the lawyers look, but which can be pointed out on a site like this.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well it does seem that Smith at least is saying that:
User-generated content may be defamatory.
It’s hard to remove user generated content. (Because: 230)
Therefore, it should be easier to remove user-content.
So easy that anyone should be able to do it with a stern letter.
Failure for the intermediary (Google, TD, Facebook, any blog) to respond should be punished by force of government regulation. Harshly.

End result – User reviews, user comments, user created content would need to be blocked be default and reviewed before it can hit the web.

If I’m missing something, feel free to explain. And by explain, I don’t want to hear about how hard it is to chase people down on 4 continents as they blackmail someone with bad reviews. That is your problem, not a solution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

End result – User reviews, user comments, user created content would need to be blocked be default and reviewed before it can hit the web.

If I’m missing something, feel free to explain.

Ok. 24,000 hours of video are uploaded to YT every hour. That’s almost 66 years of video each and every day. It would require over 100,000 people to review all of that content without falling behind, watching video non-stop for 8 hours per day (accounting for vacation time and weekends).

Assuming a wage of $15/hour and no benefits that’s a cost to Google of $3.15B annually, just to review all of that content. And we all know there would be employee benefits which drive that cost up significantly.

And that’s just the video content; It doesn’t include user comments of which there are millions posted every day.

Section 230 exists because without it there would be no user-generated content posted to the web, ever, due to the insurmountable costs. There would be no youtube, no facebook, no twitter, not even this comments section on this site where you post your shortsighted comments. No non-self-hosted blogs, no reddit, no pintrest, no photo hosting, only corporate sites and advertising. Is that the net you want?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I love the rebuttals. You can predict what they’re going to say before you read them.

We’re sorry you had that experience. Here at Crapco we strive to make every customer’s experience pleasant and enjoyable. We will consider your comments and take any necessary action to prevent such an occurrence in the future.

Blah, blah, blah…

The rubber-stamp rebuttals only validate the original complaint imo.

Not.You says:

Streisand lives

I love when these places make attempts to manage other people’s complaints and just wind up drawing more attention to themselves for it. Reminds me of a story. I posted a negative product review on newegg. Newegg deleted it without explanation or notice, it just vanished for no reason like it had never existed. I googled it and discovered that this is normal for newegg although I had no idea before it happened to me. So I went on trustpilot and gave newegg itself a negative review about this. Newegg complained to trustpilot about my negative review on trustpilot, they claimed it did not include anything about customer service. As there was no interaction with customer service this was true but why would that invalidate my review of the fact that they were deleting negative product reviews without notice? At any rate newegg was apparently not just gaming the review system on their site but also the review system on trustpilot. So naturally I post this whole story every chance I get all over the internet including giving trustpilot negative reviews on other review sites.

Mike (user link) says:

Re: Streisand lives

It is unfortunatel common for product or service providers to delete negative reviews. This is where PissedConsumer originated from.

Additionally, PissedConsumer will not remove review if complainant is Not a customer. Posters have the right to express opinions even if they have not received a service. Advertisement of the product or service may also trigger desire for a review

Anonymous Coward says:

Nothing suspicious?

From time to time we received notarized letters from the posters who wanted to remove their reviews posted by mistake. Nothing suspicious.

That takedown process is so involved as to deter basically any legitimate use. What person wants a review they wrote to be taken down so badly they’ll find and pay a notary? I’d consider that inherently suspicious. It probably only happens "legitimately" when the company being reviewed hires the notary for the user, and is that really legitimate?

Qwertygiy says:

Re: Nothing suspicious?

I think you’re commenting with the belief that a notary public’s services are somehow similar to the services of a lawyer, where there is a complicated process of accepting you as a client and charging hundreds of dollars for many hours of legal research and representation.

That’s not the case. All a notary has to do is make sure you are who you say you are, and literally give you a rubber stamp. They don’t have to do any research about the content of what they stamp, or be held responsible for the content, or represent you in any way, or even read it. All they have to do is verify that the person’s signature is legitimate. (Which is what the alleged notary in this case clearly failed to do.)

While it varies by state, a notary public in New York State cannot charge any more than $2 per signature. While 8 states have no set limit, the highest limit established is $10 per signature in 6 states. Unless you’re taking up their time by making them drive out to you and spend an hour going over mortgage documents, this is hardly attorney-style spending. You even have a good chance of being able to get it done for free for a simple one-signature document like this.

As far as finding one, it shouldn’t really be hard. On average, there is 1 notary public out of every 72 U.S. citizens. Almost every bank and sherriff’s office in America has at least one, and banks will often provide free notary services to their customers. As already mentioned, the notary doesn’t have to agree with you or make any judgement that your content is legal, so there’s little incentive for one to turn you down.

And if you really aren’t able to find one for some reason, you can become one in New York for one hour of your time and $75. Can’t notarize your own documents, but you can pay someone else $75 to become one. Still heck of a lot cheaper than a lawyer.

Truth Speaks (profile) says:

I’ve unfortunately been on the receiving end of the wrath of the website http://www.Pissedconsummers.com. So here’s the long and the short, a shady russian guy named Michael Podolsky started the website http://www.PissedConsumer.com as a platform to extort online businesses. Anyone can create a profile and anomyously post a bad review. The website is designed so unless you file a sworn affidavidt that you posted the review in error and follow their four steps, it can never be removed. Even if a competitor posted it, a disgruntled ex employee or a jealous customer posted it. Another way is to pay Michael Podolsky’s website http://www.PissedConsumer.com per month for a membership which is thousands of dollars per month. If you attempt to sue them for libel, their shady attorney Marc Radnazza gets involved who is in Mr. Podolsky’s pocket. In fact whats even shadier is that Mr. Randazza is one of the owners of the website http://www.PissedConsumers.com. Mr. Randazza has a VERY chequered legal past. Google his name. His Nevada law license is currently suspended for bribery and extortion attempts. He is a well known Anti-Semite Neo Nazi who supports the alt-right, represents Halocaust deniers, and the Gab (the alt-right media platform where the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter radicalized himself). There are website after website blasting Mr. Randazza as well as Mr. Podolsky. If you try to get your review removed through the judicial system, Mr. Randazza will try to shake you down for $75,000 – $500,000.00 and send a demand letter aka an extortion letter. If you fight back legally and know they don’t have a case they will then leak their info to this website http://www.TechDirt.com to try and continue their smear campaign aka extortion attempts. These are BAD BAD people who are all in bed with each other including this website. BEWARE!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Google his name.

Indeed, his Wikipedia entry is quite a read.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Randazza

His Nevada law license is currently suspended for bribery and extortion attempts.

Not true: "Said suspension was stayed, however, with the requirement that he avoid subsequent ethics complaints for the 18 months following entry of the order, complete 20 hours of CLE classes, and pay the costs associated with the proceedings within 30 days." And I’m not sure exactly what these rules are, but they don’t sound like bribery and extortion:

"violations of Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4 (Communication), 1.7 (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients), 1.8 (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients: Specific Rules), 1.10 (Imputation of Conflicts of Interest), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property), 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 2.1 (Advisor), 5.6 (Restrictions on Right to Practice), and 8.4 (Misconduct)"

He is a well known Anti-Semite Neo Nazi

Known how? If you mean he has legally defended such people, yes. That doesn’t mean he agrees with them though. Anyone and everyone is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, even people espousing horrible toxic views. Maybe he is a neo-nazi, and maybe he is not, but we certainly cannot draw that conclusion from his clientele.

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