Shady Customer Complaint Site Charges $10,900 For Attempted Removals Of Negative Reviews

from the taking-a-good-thing-and-making-it-horrible dept

Running a consumer complaint site has its problems. For one, unhappy companies and individuals will use a variety of methods to get negative reviews taken down, including bogus defamation and copyright claims. So, you safeguard against that by refusing to take reviews down for any reason. Companies will also make threats against reviewers, so you block that by taking that option away from reviewers.

But this all has to be enforced within the limitations of the law. Fortunately, Section 230 deflects a lot of this potential damage by shielding sites from being held liable for third-party content. It's not bulletproof, but it's a start. Of course, some complaint sites go overboard. RipoffReports has itself been criticized for leveraging these protective policies into a revenue stream by charging users high fees for complaint removals.

But not every complaint site exists to provide a valuable service to consumers. Some are just there to provide a soapbox for anyone unhappy about anything. There's no focus, no attempt to vet reviews or reviewers and nothing indicating there's any real oversight of the platform.

ComplaintsBureau is one of the latter. Here's the "review" that was sitting at the top of the page when I visited it on Jan. 25th.
OCTAVIAN P. OF CHICAGO, IL -WEST SIDE IS KNOWINGLY SPREADING STD(S) AND SLEEPING AROUND.
Classy.

Others are run-of-the-mill complaints about bad businesses, bad tenants and other unsatisfactory entities. But it's ComplaintsBureau's actions in retaliation for takedown attempts that really sets it apart from the Yelps of the internet. Adam Steinbaugh recently tweeted out the following link to a Better Business Bureau complaint about (sort of) ComplaintsBureau:
Complaint

Charged monthly membership - did not honor cancellation.

Experian online Credit( www.experien.com) offers a $1 Credit Report &Score. I did that & then same day cancelled my membership - Nine days later (two days after the free trial membership) they charged me a $19.95 monthly fee and when I called on 11/20/2014, they won't refund. With Only 2 days into what they are calling my membership month - and they wont even consider a partial refund. This is slimmy and false advertising...membership programs are such a scam!!!

Desired Settlement
$19.95


-----

Business Response
Hello

****** *********

Re: Case XXXXXXXX / **** *****

We have tried to go to the BBB site there is no where to post, the url you sent us for that complaint don't work.

This was clearly a false complaint by **** *****. **** ***** was billed for $10,900.00 USD for filing a false DMCA complaint, Complaints Bureau did file a DMCA counter-notification to have the complaint restored. Then Complaints Bureau has sent her bill to Experian on 10/16/2014 that was pass due

Peridocally, we recieve thousands of DMCA takedown requests. Because of people not liking what they read on the site, they attempt less-than-effective ways of trying to get them removed. Many even try to simply file DMCA, without following through with the process. You must validate who you are and your exact information, if you want action to be taken, in your favor. Every piece of information- including photos, videos, text and everything else, is automatically copyrighted when it is submitted to complaints bureau and also becomes the property of complaints bureau, as per our Terms of Use. If you file a DMCA request, you must follow through completely to the very end of the process, otherwise, complaints bureau will file a counter notice to all major search engines and hosts, to have it restored. We will then bill you for $10,900.00. for these costs. Should you violate this clause, as determined by ComplaintsBureau.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the DMCA request, in question. If the DMCA remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $10,900.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be sent to our collection agency and will be reported to all consumer credit reporting agencies until paid
The reponse has nothing to do with the complaint, but it appears ComplaintsBureau's owner -- Scott Breitenstein -- rejected a DMCA takedown notice and billed the sender $10,900, following it up by reporting this person to Experian. What it has to do with this particular complaint remains open for debate, but Breitenstein's standard MO prizes aggression over intelligence. The "response" quotes CB's policy in full, as noted under its "Non-Disparagement" heading on its "DMCA Procedures" page (for reasons only known to Breitenstein).

While it's good to know the site will stand up to bogus takedown requests ("If you would like to show up at a jurisdiction of Federal District Court , I would be more than happy to meet you in a courtroom, just bring a toothbrush for the prison sentence." [LOL]), its other practices are more questionable, including its legally-unsound issuance of a bill for $10,900 for rejected DMCA takedowns. This ridiculous amount -- coupled with reporting to credit agencies -- puts ComplaintsBureau in the same shady company with others who have inserted dubious non-disparagement clauses in their Terms of Service pages.

But that isn't the extent of the site (and site owner's) questionable behavior. Steinbaugh notes that a bogus review of him went up shortly after Breitenstein found out Steinbaugh planned to write about the ComplaintsBureau owner's foray into the revenge porn field. Under the infamous "STD Carriers" tag, there's a "review" that includes nude photos of a supposed "carrier." An angry email from the person "reviewed" demanding the removal of these photos was met with this response from Breitenstein:
Subject: DMCA-CASE#979968-Notice of unauthorized use of Rebekah Wells
From: "Scott Breitenstein" <legal@complaintsbureau.com>
Date: Tue, June 17, 2014 9:45 pm
To: womenagainstrevengeporn@gmail.com
Priority: Normal
Options:

As pertaining to your balls being bigger than mine, we can see that this is true, by looking at your photos!!! By the way, you didn't send an electronic signature with the proper DMCA notice.You also didn't include your home address, so we can file the proper paperwork, for submission. This makes this notice invalid. If you want to send it to the proper address, send it to : abuse@complaintsbureau.com.

Normally, all content is copyrighted, when submitted to complaints bureau. If you file a DMCA takedown, you need to follow through completely because complaints bureau will file a counter-claim to have it restored and you will be billed $10,900.00 for the costs. Once you file a DMCA, you have 10-14 days to file suit against complaints bureau. If you fail to file, within this time frame, the complaint will be restored, forever. You will be billed $10,900.00 for the costs. You then have 30 days to pay this. If you don't pay in this time frame, we will submit it to a collection agency, thereby affecting your credit. It will also be reported to all of the major credit bureaus.

We are not anything like other site's, that you have had complaints removed from. We are a real and genuine Complaints Bureau. We will not back down to idle threats and pressure to simply remove content. You also might want to consult an attorney, before you make a bad move. We will publish this email, under our legal threats section.

Site against woman whos against revenge porn

Go fuck yourself.

Polite as usual,
Dzianis Mohamed
Complaints Bureau
Note that the signature (Dzianis Mohamed) doesn't match the email header. Breitenstein appears to use multiple names in an attempt to portray his site as being more legitimate than it actually is -- i.e., an entity with several employees. The response posted to his own site doesn't even bother to strip the telltale email header.

The preemptive strike masquerading as a review of Adam Steinbaugh claimed (among other things) that he destroyed the apartment he was living in and had been arrested for molesting a minor. None of these things are true, but they live on at ComplaintsBureau, as related by the obviously fictional landlord "Sharon Eakins." Steinbaugh noted the oddly coincidental timing of one of his tweets and this review's appearance in his response to the bogus review.
Third, a mere three days before this was posted, I posted Mr. Breitenstein's photo on my Twitter feed and noted that I was going to be writing about this site, because Mr. Breitenstein had the classy idea of running a revenge porn forum here.
It would be the next logical step for the "STD Carriers" tag, considering most of them feature links to ShesAHomewrecker.com, a site bordering on revenge porn, but lacking the volume of explicit photos needed to push it firmly into that territory. It's a "revenge" site alright, but the "porn" part is very limited.

The site's confrontational tone has mistaken "being an aggro asshole" for "protecting consumers' rights." The STD section serves no purpose other than to give some people an excuse to drag others' names through the mud (with pictures). Sure, Section 230 protects ComplaintsBureau, but it won't do much for those posting defamatory reviews on Breitenstein's site.

Between the fake rep names, the fake reviews, the revenge porn-esque "STD Carrier" tag and its own bogus legal threats/defenses (see also: the Dayton, OH-located Breitenstein pretending to be a French company in response to a takedown request), ComplaintsBureau is a disaster masquerading as a consumer's champion. There's a lot of shadiness here, including its $10,900 non-disparagement fee that has very little to do with disparagement and everything to do with heading off people who might have legitimate removal requests. To top things off, ComplaintsBureau claims to be owned by "Vestron Video Media," a defunct home video distributor that ceased operations more than 20 years ago. (Meanwhile, its site registration data lists a company called "The Council of Complaints Bureau, Inc." as the Admin Organization.)

ComplaintsBureau loves complaining customers (and jilted exes) but doesn't care much for people drawing attention to the terrible tactics it deploys. A legitimate consumer complaints site doesn't need bogus fines and expletive-filled letters to protect its content from outside interference. ComplaintsBureau is all noise and no substance, and of use to only Scott Breitenstein.

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  • identicon
    jackn, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:52am

    "Normally, all content is copyrighted, when submitted to complaints bureau."

    If you start with a faulty premise, there is no need to read further. I hope I see one of my photos on their site. I would enjoy the trip to the court house.

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

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:12am

    We will not back down to idle threats and pressure to simply remove content

    So does that mean if I file a complaint on CB about CB that they guarantee it will stay online unless a successful DMCA is processed?

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

  • identicon
    Jyjon, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:16am

    They own the defamation?

    Every piece of information- including photos, videos, text and everything else, is automatically copyrighted when it is submitted to complaints bureau and also becomes the property of complaints bureau, as per our Terms of Use.


    If they claim ownership of the defamation, aren't they then responsible for it?
    I'm not a lawyer so I am probably missing something.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:23am

    Every piece of information- including photos, videos, text and everything else, is automatically copyrighted when it is submitted to complaints bureau and also becomes the property of complaints bureau, as per our Terms of Use.

    This is a novel legal theory. So if I submit, let's see, a video of "Pluto Nash", a copy of the famous gorilla selfie that everyone keeps fighting over, and the text of the Constitution, these all are automatically copyrighted and become the property of Complaints Bureau?

    Fascinating.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:25am

    including photos, videos, text and

    everything else

    I wonder what is included in everything else. DNA samples?

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

  • identicon
    JeremyWA, 28 Jan 2015 @ 11:55am

    Same Problem...

    I one times did a bad review about a car company who scamed me, i got many threat email and even a lawyer called me and told that if i don't remove my content they will take me to the court. This was one year ago and still didn't remove anything, hope this stay silent :) Thx for this post and success.

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

  • identicon
    Monti0, 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:26pm

    Malicious URL blocked

    Am I the only one to get a "Malicious URL blocked" warning from Avast when I go to any of the www.complaintsbureau.com pages (including the "Octavian P" link from the article?

    Is my system being paranoid or is this site actually carrying drive-by malware?! And if so, why? [ftc]

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

  • identicon
    Octavian P. - Chicago, 28 Jan 2015 @ 5:22pm

    PP hurt.

    I am, and I was. Pimpin aint easy ya know.

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

  • icon
    Adam Steinbaugh (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 6:00pm

    The site does, in fact, have an actual revenge porn forum -- titled "Revenge Lovers" -- distinct from its seedy "STD carriers" section. It doesn't have many people posted there quite yet, but I will note that a police report posted *on the site* indicates that the victim is under the age of 18 in the photos. Revenge child porn: a brave new frontier Breitenstein's site is exploring.

    Also, that "Sharon Eakins" who claimed to be my "landlord"? Turns out "Eakins" is also the maiden surname of one of Breitenstein's relatives. Purely coincidental, I'm sure.

    And lastly, Breitenstein changed his Facebook profile name to "Dzianis Mohamed" to respond to Women Against Revenge Porn.

    ComplaintsBureau is totally real. Totally.

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

  • icon
    lulzington (profile), 31 Jan 2015 @ 9:23am

    Cringe

    Ahhh yes, the 'pawnbroker'.
    A man of above average intelligence bullying and exploiting people of average and below intelligence. The smart guy of dumb guys. Cannot stand these kind of people.

    He's in for a big lesson about acting on his own untenable assertions. While the CDA naively empowers some of the grossest libel and is in sore need of some enlightened modification (and case law varies wildly from district to district), this guy and his site appears to be a civil damages train wreck careening off the rails. Not only does he probably cede CDA protections from about a half dozen different angles (where other, vastly more shrewd hit sites like ROR are very careful about preserving), but he doesn't seem to understand that you can't just 'bill people' for whatever you want then submit it to credit agencies. Fraudulent credit reports are low hanging fruit for civil litigators. This guy is going to get his assets attached, eventually.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2015 @ 3:02pm

    would be funny if you could issue out a bill like that to counter bogus dmca takedowns

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

  • identicon
    Melissa Hornbush, 16 Aug 2015 @ 8:10pm

    Breitenstein Eat a Bullet

    Scott Breitenstein and his scumbag son Justin and justins boyfriend Preston Lawson should eat a bullet.

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

  • identicon
    CyrusSullivan, 8 Dec 2016 @ 3:15pm

    Breitenstein Sued for Trademark

    That "STD Carrier" section Adam Steinbaugh mentions above is a blatant ripoff of a site I built years ago. Scott has since launched an entire site dedicated to the issue and using my original trademarks including a terms of use that is a word for word copy except for his use of the word "Registry" instead of carriers. For this I have filed a lawsuit against him in federal court. I have no doubt that Breitenstein is aware of the suit because I have found myself on some of his sites since filing it.

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

  • identicon
    Ken Harkins, 21 Feb 2018 @ 6:51am

    Scott Breitenstein

    Scott is the definition of human garbage. He survives in a dump of a house, by blackmailing people and posting lies about them. He relies on removal site to pay him for removal after his victims have contacted these phony removal sits. He is an internet terrorist and a scum bag at best. He is also a convicted pedophile which most people don't know.

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


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