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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 11:47am

    Since they clearly made this court order up, it must covered under copyright. The next thing he is going to receive is a notice to remove it based on his copyright violation...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 11:51am

    Wow.

    Wonder if they'll figure out a way to hard-sell cigarettes in prison.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:00pm

    Email forgery

    Let's see the email messages -- ALL of the email messages -- from Sundance, including the full headers. It will soon enough become clear whether or not there's any reason to believe their denial.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:02pm

    Next move...

    DMCA notice to take down the published image of the document that they created.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Re:

    Sorry. Submitted my comment before I saw yours.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:06pm

    Quick! someone hand them a bigger shovel.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:09pm

    Email headers

    If they are so clueless as to forge a court document, they probably understand nothing of the normally hidden email headers, especially the Received chain.

    It should be quite easy to show who sent the email.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Me, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:24pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Trevor, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    Well

    Sundance's conduct actually answered the question posed in the subject article:

    "am I about to get screwed by Sundance Vacactions?"

    Yes. Yes you are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Trevor, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Awfully close signatures

    Also, the "an" in Morgan and "an" in Sundance are identical. The same person signed both.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Email headers

    I was going to make a comment about how easy it is to forge the email headers... but you're right, they're terrible forgers, so it probably doesn't matter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:46pm

    I'm flabbergasted...

    In 2014 people still ask you to Fax things?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Email headers

    will they (sundance) claim an ip address is not a person?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 1:39pm

    i am unaware of any way to spoof or fake where an email has come from, so surely it must have come from them? not being a computer genius, please correct me if i am wrong

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 3:29pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    zip, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 4:12pm

    '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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:17am

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:20am

    Next step...

    Techdirt receives a court order over its 'libel'. It'll be forged, of course.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 5:16am

    Re: Re:

    pirate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 7:54am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:13am

    it would be interesting to see the source headers from the email this court order was sent with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 9:23am

    Re: Re: 'gateway' crime?

    Yes.

    We have to remember that there is a difference between something that is always a scam (Nigerian 419) and something that is often a scam, on rare occasions not a scam, but universally a really crappy deal (timeshare).

    Sometimes people selling crap really don't know they are doing so...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Sep 4th, 2014 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re: 'gateway' crime?

    something that is often a scam, on rare occasions not a scam, but universally a really crappy deal (timeshare).

    I know people who have been involved with multiple timeshares and have found it valuable and a very good experience.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Gemmy, Sep 6th, 2014 @ 9:36pm

    Headers

    Haughey has posted the full original email with headers over at MetaFilter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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