The Latest In Reputation Management: Bogus Defamation Suits From Bogus Companies Against Bogus Defendants

from the with-unwitting-accomplice,-Judicial-Branch dept

Pissed Consumer has uncovered an apparent abuse of the court system by reputation management firms. Getting allegedly defamatory links delisted by Google requires a court order, which is something very few people can actually obtain. But the plaintiffs featured in this Pissed Consumer post seem to have no trouble acquiring these -- often within a few days of filing their lawsuits.

So far, we have collected 11 cases filed in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County in the State of California, where a very suspicious plaintiff files a lawsuit for defamation on one or several third party websites. The lawsuit is filed for a particular Plaintiff, while benefit (removal from search engine) is obtained by another business entity.
Below is just part of the list of cases filed with this court.


What's interesting about all of these cases is how quickly they reach a resolution -- and always in favor of the plaintiff.


In this case it was three weeks. In a normal defamation case, the plaintiff would be lucky to have been granted permission to pursue discovery of the anonymous poster's real identity by this point. But in these cases, not only has the person been identified, but they've also entered a sworn statement admitting their guilt. With this judgment in hand, the plaintiffs approach Google and have the "defamatory" links delisted. (Nearly) instant SEO win.

This suspicious timeline is reflected in other cases filed in the same court.
Now, since it is an anonymous review, let’s ask ourselves a question: how did Attorney Mascott find a defendant in this case without subpoenaing PissedConsumer for their identity? Did he just get lucky? How was Demoin Stroman III, the Defendant in this case, was located just one day after the case had been filed; and not only was located, but also managed to almost immediately provide AttorneyMascott with his fully executed Affidavit? Now, if it were a single case, we could say all this was possible. However, when we are looking at 11 (! ELEVEN ) cases in Contra Costa county in California with exactly the same pattern, it “all this” starts looking quite suspicious…
Just as suspicious is the fact that the defamed party apparently knew the defamer (found him in one day!) but still chose to go through the court system, rather than have the defamer provide a notarized letter to Pissed Consumer directly to get the original review taken down, rather than just the Google search results.

But this is all about cleaning up search results, rather than actually hunting down the real people behind the anonymous Pissed Consumer postings. The court order obtained in this case doesn't even refer to the original posting, nor its actual URL.
The allegedly defamatory statements as presented in the Final Judgment are actually not on the PissedConsumer page that is being removed. Whoever the perpetrators are in this case, their approach was to get Google to de-index the PissedConsumer listing (sub-domain page) for keyword ‘Reputation Defender’.

The text shown in paragraph g. above is the only text that can be assumed to be referred to in the case – “they lie” – verbatim text in the review (Review ID 203379) actually says “Reputation Defender lies…” based on the context of the case. This is only our assumption, since we did not find the exact text on http://reputation-defender.pissedconsumer.com. The language “Reputation Defender lies…” is actually a part of the review –http://reputation-defender.pissedconsumer.com/reputation-defender-lies-20101019203379.html– that was posted anonymously in 2010.
Another company whose web presence used to be defined by negative reviewshas cleaned up its search results using the Contra Costa court system. There's only the smallest indication on the first page of Google search results that something might be off.


That link leads to this takedown request and court order. Once again, the targeted URL is not the negative review, but the entire subdomain referring to BlueGreen Resorts (http://bluegreen-resorts.pissedconsumer.com). And, again, the sworn statement from the supposed defamer was obtained in two days, putting this on the fast track for a judgment in favor of the plaintiff Majestic Vacations (which doesn't even exist according to California business records). In a normal case, any forward movement would still be months away. The docket for this case shows a case management conference set for July 13… which has now been nullified by the speedy delivery of a sworn admission of guilt.

In the case of RepDefense Solutions suing on behalf of Reputation Defender, that "company" was "formed" on the same day its lawsuit was filed: February 2nd. Just as attorney Owen Mascott's link to any reputation management firm cannot be determined at this point, nominal company figurehead "Monica Andersen" is a similar dead end.

The two attorneys behind the filings Pissed Consumer uncovered have had their licenses suspended multiple times. What appears to be happening here -- fake companies suing fake defamers -- should result in further discipline, if anyone can tie the two to a reputation management firm… or to the defendants who are always magically located and convinced to sign statements with a couple of days of filing.

These two are apparently helping questionable businesses paper over their dismal reputations with possibly fraudulently-obtained court orders. Unfortunately, courts can be manipulated just like search engine results by those willing to try anything to clean up their online reputation. Putting more eyes on this shady reputation management tactic will hopefully expose the entity behind it.


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  • icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 8:57am

    ... the defamed party apparently knew the defamer (found him in one day!) but still chose to go through the court system, rather than have the defamer provide a notarized letter to Pissed Consumer directly to get the original review taken down, rather than just the Google search results.

    I'm guessing the reason they go after Google rather than directly to the site is that Ripoff Report is in the mix as well. Ripoff Report famously does not remove posts, and has extensively litigated that issue. Since Ripoff Report is immune from liability for 3rd-party posts per §230, they are not a proper party to the defamation lawsuit, thus Courts have no way to force it to remove posts, even with a court Order against the "defamer."

    So for consistency among the various gripe sites, it's off to Google for delisting instead.

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

    • identicon
      Scote, 31 Mar 2016 @ 9:46am

      They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

      "Since Ripoff Report is immune from liability for 3rd-party posts per §230, they are not a proper party to the defamation lawsuit, thus Courts have no way to force it to remove posts, even with a court Order against the "defamer."

      So for consistency among the various gripe sites, it's off to Google for delisting instead."


      The court order in the Demoin Stroman III case is against the purported defendant and not Rippoff Report or Google. It orders Stroman to take all needed steps to get his post removed from Ripoff Report and all search indexes. So the Judge ordered him to get the post down from Ripoff Report, but showing this court order to them would alert them to the shenanigans. Instead, they just filed with Google, because that was their actual goal. This means that the defendant is in violation of the court order for not contacting Ripoff Report.

      There actually is a Demoin Stroman listed in Contra Costa County. I had assumed that the lawyers might have just made up a defendant completely and faked an affidavit falsely claiming authorship of an anonymous post. They may have done that using the name of a real person without their knowledge or permission - ala Prenda. They may have recruited a real person to make a defamatory post then cop to it. Or they may have recruited a real person to falsely claim ownership of a real post then falsely admit culpability in a sword affidavit. I don't know.

      If they used a real person that person may be in trouble regardless of whether they really did author a defamatory post or not because, it seems, they never contacted Rippoff Report to have their post removed. Even if Ripoff Report refuses to remove it the defendant is still ordered to take all actions necessary to remove the post.

      Keeping this on the down low was key to the success. Don't know why the lawyers who filed these suits thought they could get away with this, but then they seem to have a history of assuming they can get away with stuff. And because lawyers really can get away with all sorts of stuff regular people would be in jail for.

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

      • icon
        GMacGuffin (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:33am

        Re: They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

        It orders Stroman to take all needed steps to get his post removed from Ripoff Report and all search indexes.

        My point being that if Stroman took the Order to Ripoff Report, they would ignore it because that's what they do. And fraud-counsel probably knows that. (see: http://www.ripoffreport.com/ConsumersSayThankYou/WantToSueRipoffReport.aspx#2) Otherwise, of course plaintiffs would prefer the posts be removed from the source.

        But, in light of Ripoff Report's stand on not removing posts, plaintiffs might as well go straight to Google.

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

        • identicon
          Scote, 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:56am

          Re: Re: They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

          "But, in light of Ripoff Report's stand on not removing posts, plaintiffs might as well go straight to Google."

          Rather, plaintiff lawyers in these cases apparently did. It is unclear to me if the lawyers had the purported defendant contact Google, or, more likely, if the lawyers contacted Google directly and waived the court order at them. Even though Google isn't named, they likely would comply with the intent of the order anyway.


          However, the court ordered the *defendant* to contact Rippoff Report, and apparently didn't. This means that even if the defendant didn't commit perjury by falsely claiming to be the author of the posts in the case, he would still be in trouble for failing to follow the court order. Though the court would likely never know if the plaintiffs clouded with the named defendant since they aren't going to tell.

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

      • icon
        GMacGuffin (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:44am

        Re: They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

        Keeping this on the down low was key to the success.

        I get that point. But if counsel were (smart or) really trying to keep this on DL, he would have made the timelines look a little more realistic. I suppose a scumbag attorney still has to balance the interests of his client's desire for quick results with his own hope of hiding his douchebaggery and subterfuge. What a choice to have to make...

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

        • identicon
          Scote, 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:59am

          Re: Re: They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

          "But if counsel were (smart or) really trying to keep this on DL, he would have made the timelines look a little more realistic."

          These lawyers are not super geniuses. I expect they never thought that Ripoff report would notice the delisting, or, if they did, how it happened. So I think they thought they were being below the radar, just like they probably did in those cases where they were caught and disciplined by the bar - and, likely, in all the cases where they weren't caught.

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Monkey (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 1:10pm

        Re: They didn't want Ripoff Report to know

        When I read the article above, I thought it was a made up name ... try saying it ... "Demon Strawman" .. too weird that there is a real person

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 9:09am

    Cogs in a scheme.

    Of course the burden will still be on those wronged by the courts. They will have to file a lawsuit to point out to the courts that these were bogus cases, then have to obtain the orders vacating the earlier ruling, get the results relisted, and then they can spend money to sue for damages.

    Any sanctions or punishment against the lawyers behind this will go on for a very long time, and won't stop them from filing more paper in the meantime.

    Then some other bright lawyers will figure out they can do this too, but they are smarter than the first guys so they won't get caught.

    One does wonder if the companies who hired these lawyers could be held responsible. They are the direct beneficiaries of these bogus cases, and while stopping the lawyers takes far to much effort companies tend to avoid signing up for schemes that hurt the bottom line.

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

  • icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 9:55am

    Of course the burden will still be on those wronged by the courts. They will have to file a lawsuit to point out to the courts that these were bogus cases ...

    But who would have a cognizable claim? If the "defendant" was bogus as it appears, then he's not harmed (he may be the lawyer's nephew, who knows). Consumers would have a hard time showing standing to sue for not seeing bad reviews about the companies at issue. If consumers were harmed by bad behavior of these companies, they may have other issues to sue over. I don't see where Google would have much to claim over fraudulent delistings, or would bother. Pissed Consumer would have the same tough sell on whether it suffered any damages.

    It's victimless fraud... except for, well, the public and the court system itself.

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

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:05am

    Demoin Stroman III, the Defendant in this case

    The defendant is called "strawman"?

    That's a little too on the nose, even for reputation management firms.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:32am

    Prenda wishes they could have come up with a scheme this brilliant!

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

  • identicon
    Nic, 31 Mar 2016 @ 11:55am

    Damn, that's devious. There's clearly a scheme behind all that to get companies to pay them to remove negative reviews. My educated guess is that they have fake defendants who are in on the scam.

    You noted likely fake companies too so whoever's paying them to do that is likely kept private. This scheme goes beyond just a license suspension though, if these guys are investigated and caught, I expect them to end up in jail.

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

    • identicon
      Scote, 31 Mar 2016 @ 12:08pm

      Professional Courtesy

      "This scheme goes beyond just a license suspension though, if these guys are investigated and caught, I expect them to end up in jail."


      Unless they get caught cheating on their taxes or hiding trust fund money, I doubt it. Lawyers practically have to beg to get prosecuted by the Bar - hopefully less so in CA, but still, the amount of leeway most lawyers get for malfeasance in civil cases is truly disheartening as we all saw in the Prenda cases.

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

  • icon
    MV (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 1:18pm

    Site offering review removal services

    If you look at http://affordablereputationmanagement.com/pissed-consumer-removal/
    they say: "As reputation management specialists, our removal service is a legal process that effectively removes any false and negative review of your business from the Pissed Consumer website – if it was posted anonymously."

    The "if it was posted anonymously" caveat makes it clear that the company does its work by claiming the anonymous review and then clearing it.

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

    • identicon
      Scote, 31 Mar 2016 @ 1:34pm

      Re: Site offering review removal services

      I dunno if I would say "makes it clear" but that certainly does seem like oddly specific wording, especially given that normally removing non-anonymous posts would be much easier to legally do since no subpoena of pissedconsumer would be required, nor a subsequent subpoena of an ISP matching the logged IP (if they are even logged) would be needed to get the name of the account holder, nor a fishing expedition suit against the account holder. Getting the ID on an anonymous poster and suing in court certainly wouldn't be "affordable and efficient at getting anonymous Pissed Consumer reviews removed" from Google listings but rather it would expensive and time consuming. Color me suspicious of the offer and his methods.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2016 @ 8:13pm

    "But the plaintiffs featured in this Pissed Consumer post seem to have no trouble acquiring these -- often within a few days of filing their lawsuits. "

    It helps when you have the sworn statement from the defendant admitting they did it, BEFORE you go to court. The sworn statement is dated January. They went to court in February.

    I don't know if the websites in question save IP addresses. Perhaps they should check whether the person who claims to have written these could have written these.

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

  • identicon
    Owen MAscott, 1 Apr 2016 @ 6:42am

    Who Cares?

    Who cares? If it wasnt for douche bags like you posting fake and negative trash online there wouldnt be a need to try and fix the problems you create. Your the guy who breaks a window and tries to charge to fix it.

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

    • identicon
      Dan T., 1 Apr 2016 @ 6:34pm

      Re: Who Cares?

      Who cares? If it wasn't for douchebags like you suppressing the free speech of people who say truthful things about you there wouldn't be a need to try and fix the problems you create. You're the guy who breaks a window and tries to sue the person who posts a picture of you breaking the window to social media to shame you for it.

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

  • identicon
    A, 3 Apr 2016 @ 2:25pm

    They were able to find them on pissed consumer because Pissed Consumer has a program where companies can pay to be a member and get I.P. information. Check it out for yourself.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 8:18am

    So this is for "reputation management"? I could imagine someone engaging in similar tactics for the purpose of establishing precedent. If some corporate entity has a patent/trademark/copyright case coming up that they really want to win badly, let it drag on for a couple of years, and in the meantime, fabricate a few similar cases where they have total control over the plaintiff, defendant, and all filings from both sides, all carefully designed to produce the desired outcome, so that when the real case goes to trial, they'll have these cases to refer to as precedents.

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

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 5 Apr 2016 @ 6:21am

    Real Reputation Management

    I've been the target of troll activity and believe me I can sympathise with people who have had fake reviews posted about them.

    The smart thing to do is to post a rebuttal on the website itself (they all let you do that, at the very least), then post a rebuttal on your own e-spaces explaining your side of the story. In my case I was lucky, the troll came forward and revealed himself. I took a screenshot and used that in my rebuttal posts. The link and fake review might always be on page 1 of the search results but so is my rebuttal and the proof that it's a troll post.

    Whether or not this kind of thing affects your reputation is down to your general conduct. If, as a rule, your behaviour and attitude in your online activities is far removed from the accusations being made about you it's unlikely that people will believe them. Besides, posts from people you can actually have a conversation with are easier to believe than drive-by histrionics.

    Those reputation/complaint websites that pride themselves on never taking posts down make themselves prone to being abused, and therefore untrustworthy. The ones that will take posts down if you prove your side of the story tend to have more credibility in my eyes.

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

  • identicon
    Troubled By This, 4 Oct 2016 @ 9:29am

    Owen Mascott

    Same thing happened to my client. An individual who was not the blog owner and in my opinion the Plainitff who appears to not exist filed a complaint in Court and had my clients website removed.
    The Court was informed and the Judge could not do anything and the California Bar said there was not enough evidence. However based on this I would think this should be reported to the Bar again as in my opinion there appears to be a pattern of behavior here.

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


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