RipOffReport.com has built a controversial reputation as an online review and consumer complaint website to help customers research and comment on individuals and companies before doing business with them.
The site has received a great deal of media attention over the years because of the uniquely combative and colorful personality of its owner and the often outrageous claims made by individuals on its Website.
RipOff Report appears on Page 1 of Google for most online searches that include the first name and last name of an individual or name of a business. RipOffReport.com is exceptionally well-optimized for an online search and its power derives from its prominence on Google.
Although an individual can respond to a RipOff Report, the irony of Google’s algorithm is that these comments often make the page more visible and rank higher — exactly the opposite of what you want to happen.
Reputation Rhino can help suppress or remove Ripoff Reports and other online complaints by creating and optimizing positive Internet content or help coordinate a court-ordered removal of a false RipOff Report.
Founded by “consumer advocate” Ed Magedson, RipoffReport.com is a consumer complaint Website based in Tempe, Arizona. The site claims over 9 billion visits since 1997 and 2,610,352 reports filed.
Ripoff Report has a company policy that states that it will not remove any reports for any reason. According to the website’s FAQs: “Unlike the Better Business Bureau, Ripoff Report does not hide reports of “satisfied” complaints. All complaints remain public and unedited in order to create a working history on the company or individual in question.”
Defamation and cyber libel have civil and criminal consequences but are usually balanced against principles of free speech and freedom of expression enshrined by the First Amendment. Courts are reluctant to hold RipOff Report accountable for the irresponsible, reckless, and defamatory posts of others.
Online reviews and sites publishing online reviews are deserving of legal protection and play an important role in educating consumers and small businesses about how to recognize and avoid scams.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB), for example, verifies the identity of all individuals who post complaints and will remove complaints that cannot be verified.
RipOff Report, which allows anonymous, negative reviews should be held accountable for publishing content that is false and defamatory, especially if is able to earn income online through advertising — essentially profiting on the defamatory content it publishes.
RipOff Report should not be able to hide behind the First Amendment only when it is convenient and profitable. However, to change this status quo will require a concerted effort by the public and political leaders to revise the Communications Decency Act.
Ripoff Report offers a Ripoff Report Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP), a Ripoff Report Verified Program, and a VIP Arbitration Program to help resolve issues between a customer and a business and to address false claims.
However, for most individuals, these are very expensive and incomplete remedies.
The idea of paying RipOff Report for the privilege of effectively responding to a false claim is repugnant to many.
In order to prove online defamation or cyber libel, one has to prove 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person (publication on the Internet would satisfy this requirement); 3) fault amounting to at least negligence; and 4) damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.
The published statement must be false, and not merely an opinion. Opinions, even when stated in an obnoxious or offensive manner, are protected speech.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was enacted by Congress in 1996 and provides broad immunity for online service providers and publishers, like RipOff Report, for content created by their users that might otherwise expose RipOff Report to liability for libel, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, and other claims.
The safe harbor protections provided by the CDA have been leveraged successfully by Xcentric, RipOffReport.com’s parent company, and company founder Ed Magedson, for over a decade.
In each of the following cases, RipOff Report and Xcentric were able to argue persuasively for dismissal of the charges because of its immunity under Section 230 of the CDA:
Global Royalties, Ltd. v. Xcentric Ventures, LLC (2008)
Whitney Info. Network, Inc. v. Xcentric Ventures, LLC (2008)
Intellectual Art Multimedia, Inc. v. Milewski (2009)
GW Equity, LLC v. Xcentric Ventures, LLC (2009)
In 2011, a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami issued the following stunning rebuke of RipOff Report, while still holding that the site is not required to remove the post because of the Communications Decency Act:
“The business practices of Xcentric, as presented by the evidence before this Court, are appalling. Xcentric appears to pride itself on having created a forum for defamation. No checks are in place to ensure that only reliable information is publicized. Xcentric retains no general counsel to determine whether its users are availing themselves of its services for the purpose of tortious or illegal conduct.
Even when, as here, a user regrets what she has posted and takes every effort to retract it, Xcentric refuses to allow it. Moreover, Xcentric insists in its brief that its policy is never to remove a post. It will not entertain any scenario in which, despite the clear damage that a defamatory or illegal post would continue to cause so long as it remains on the website, Xcentric would remove an offending post.”
*drops the gavel*
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) established a notice-and-takedown regime to facilitate the removal of IP-infringing content, while limiting the liability of online service providers like RipOff Report when they act as “mere conduits” or host content at the request of third parties.
When implemented appropriately, the DMCA allows internet service providers (ISPs) to benefit from a “safe harbor” that limits their liability for the copyright infringement of users on their platform — provided they take prompt action to remove that content.
For years, the copyright laws presented a promising avenue for reputation management companies to coordinate the removal of offensive content, even though it didn’t always violate copyright law. There were several problems with this approach, not the least of which is that abuse of the DMCA is itself against the law. Online service providers and publishers are usually provided a copy of a legal takedown request and have taken an understandably dim view of this tactical approach.
It is generally rare that a review site republished content published elsewhere and in the few circumstances where this does take place, fair use is generally a very strong defense. The doctrine of fair use generally provides that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder.
The RipOff Report Corporate Advocacy Business Remediation & Customer Satisfaction Program or Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP) is a paid service, starting at $7,500, followed by a monthly service fee and a per Report fee. There are also additional fees for participation in the program that are calculated based on the number of offices and the gross sales of the product(s) or service(s) mentioned in the RipOff Report.
RipOff Report will charge whatever fee is highest.
The RipOff Report Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP) will not result in the removal of RipOff Report reviews. It offers a marketing service to allow a business to directly contact customers that posted a RipOff Report and resolve outstanding issues by the means of a refund or other appropriate resolution and use a Ripoff Report Verified Logo.
The Corporate Advocacy Program allows for a rebuttal by the business owner and the meta description for the owner or business shows a TRUSTED BUSINESS | Ripoff Report Verified designation.
Companies that participate in the Corporate Advocacy Program must agree in advance not to sue a client or customer for filing a RipOff Report, even if the review is false or defamatory. The company must also “accept responsibility for complaints filed” — even if the review is false or defamatory.
RipOff Reports shares the names and details of a number of participants in the Corporate Advocacy Program.
Companies also agree to mediation or arbitration if they have any claims against RipOff Report.
The Ripoff Report Verified Program is a membership program that allows use of a Ripoff Report Verified Logo and is promoted as a way to demonstrate that a business is committed “to making customers happy and keeping them that way.”
Ripoff Report’s “VIP Arbitration Program” starts at $2,000 and depending on the complexity of the matter can cost significantly more. In the VIP Arbitration Program, a neutral, third-party arbitrator would review the facts as presented and if the Arbitrator finds that any factual statement contained in a RipOff Report is actually false, that factual statement will be redacted (removed) from RipOff Report. The title of the RipOff Report will be updated to state that the matter has been submitted to the VIP Arbitration Program.
Truthful statements not found to be false by the arbitrator, statements that were not challenged in the arbitration, or statements of opinion, will remain on RipOffReport.com.
Because the website hosting defamatory content is usually protected from liability, the only legal recourse for online defamation is to bring an action against the individual who posted the negative content. This can be especially difficult when the individual is anonymous, which is usually the case, especially on RipOff Report.
The plaintiff would typically have to file a “John Doe” defamation lawsuit to kickoff the discovery process and file a subpoena on the website or host to obtain information sufficient to identify the individual who posted the defamatory content.
There are many ways to mask or hide your identity online today, and the individual is sometimes able to retain anonymity.
However, if his or her identity is known, the website or host may offer the opportunity for the individual to challenge the subpoena or even the defamation complaint itself, at this early stage
A default judgment is possible if the individual cannot be located and the court determines that the content meets the legal definition of defamation. A court order would then be issued that would require RipOff Report to delete the post.
Although RipOff Report fiercely resisted court-ordered removal in the past, a defamation lawsuit is often the best and most effective way to delete a RipOff Report or remove a RipOff Report from Google, Bing and Yahoo search results.
Reputation Rhino has a team of experienced public relations, legal, marketing, and technology professionals trained to suppress or remove Ripoff Reports and other online complaints by creating and optimizing positive Internet content and/or assisting with court-ordered removal.
We offer one of the best online reputation management solutions available at any price to promote, protect, and defend your online reputation.