How To Remove Ripoff Reports From Google – Not Just Bury Them

If you’ve been listed on Ripoff Report, you know how frustrating it is and how helpless you feel. You’ve read the fine print and have probably thrown in the towel. There’s just no way to get off of Ripoff Report once you’re on it.

Well, I’m here to tell you there’s a proven (and up until now, nearly secret) way around this problem: get the listing removed from Google’s search results.

While it doesn’t get rid of the Ripoff Report listing itself, it keeps the average web searcher from finding it, which is the important part. Allow me to back up and explain…

In case you’re not familiar with Ripoff Report, it’s a consumer complaint website where anybody can post a “Ripoff Report” about any business or person. The only assurances of truthfulness required by the website are a valid email address and the author’s own verification (via mouse-click).

Once posted, the Ripoff Report is there forever — and pages on the Ripoff Report have an uncanny ability to rank very high with search engines, especially Google. Even if the parties resolve their differences, Ripoff Report won’t let you remove the original complaint.

How Can That Be Legal?

Well, Ripoff Report claims it is immune from liability due to a federal law known as the Communications Decency Act. This law says that websites are not liable for the content posted on their websites by third parties. (The law makes sense to a degree—if every time a person defamed another person in a Yahoo! chat room imposed legal liability on Yahoo!, there would be no chat rooms.)

Unfortunately, the law also protects websites like Ripoff Report that refuse to remove illegal content even after receiving notice that certain content posted on their sites is false, the original author of the offending content requests its removal, or a court of law declares the report defamatory.

This can be very frustrating, especially when both parties request the removal of the offending content. Ripoff Report’s argument is that if they allowed parties to remove postings, it would create a means for big companies to bully consumers into submission.

Traditional Options For Dealing With RipOff Reports

People have generally taken one of five different options to combat these damaging listings:

1.  You can post a “rebuttal” to the offending report

Rebuttals only appear beneath the original report, and do not change the negative language that appears in the original listing (which is also the blurb that usually shows up in the search engine results). It sometimes can make things worse by providing more content for search engines to index.

Here’s a free tip: if you do post a rebuttal, avoid using any names or words that would give the search engines more keyword terms to find! Instead of saying something like “Smith’s Furniture…” try using “The company noted above…”

2.  You can pay Ripoff Report to join its “Corporate Advocacy Program”

In a nutshell, Ripoff Report will perform an “investigation” into the reports made about you and post their findings above of the original report. Even if the offending reports are true, Ripoff Report may say that you have resolved the reports and committed to 100% customer satisfaction (provided that you make such a commitment to Ripoff Report).

The original report remains on the Internet, but the positive content appears above the negative report (though that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still listed on a website called “Ripoff Report”) which can be damaging in and of itself.

Interestingly, Ripoff Report now offers a “VIP Arbitration Program.” Basically, you pay a fee to a Ripoff Report arbitrator and are then allowed to contest the truthfulness of the report made against you. If the arbitrator finds in your favor, Ripoff Report may redact the untruthful statements from the report.

From what I understand, Ripoff Report’s VIP Arbitration Program can be cheaper than its Corporate Advocacy Program, but either way you have to pay the company that published the complaint about you in the first place — Ripoff Report.

3.  You can sue the original author of the report

Few people take this path because rarely does the original author have the financial resources to pay for any monetary judgment that might be obtained. Plus, Ripoff Report won’t allow the original author to remove the offending report anyway, so getting a court injunction requiring them to remove the report is of little value.

4.  You can hire a reputation management firm to “bury” the Ripoff Report about you

Reputation management firms, which are basically just PR or SEO (search engine optimization) firms, will devote countless hours to creating additional positive websites, articles, and other media about you in an effort to push the offending Ripoff Report off of the first page of Google search results.

In many cases, these efforts are successful. But in others, Ripoff Report listings are too strong to push down permanently, and the damage continues. And since SEO efforts usually require ongoing effort, any success can be short lived.

5.  You can sue Ripoff Report

Most lawsuits against Ripoff Report have had very little success due to the protections Ripoff Report enjoys under the Communications Decency Act, discussed above (they have an entire page about why you shouldn’t sue them).

Ripoff Report believes it is completely immune from liability, and vehemently fights all lawsuits brought against it, making this the most expensive and perhaps least effective option by far (it’s hard to say how expensive without specifics, but expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, easy.  And no, no lawyer is going to take this type of case on a contingency fee.)

Secret Option #6: Get Google To Delist The Report From Its Index

There is a far lesser-known option that I have found that works wonders (which is probably why Ripoff Report makes no mention of it on their site). You may not be able to get the damning listing removed from Ripoff Report, but in my experience, you can get it removed from Google, which is almost just as good.

Here’s what you need to do, in three steps:

First, file a lawsuit against the original author of the report for defamation, business disparagement, false light, or any other claim that is legally appropriate. The big point here is that you have to prove your case in a court of law — you have the burden to prove the report made about you is false.

Be honest with yourself here (otherwise, you’re just wasting time and money). If the report about you is true (or if you can’t prove your case), you do not have a valid claim for defamation, and this option will not work for you. Again, the key here is being able to prove your case in a court of law. If you can’t do that, game over. You’re stuck with one of the other options above.

Also, you should only sue the author of the report—do not sue Google. Your lawsuit will cost a fortune (Google has plenty of good lawyers), fail very quickly, and you will only serve to anger the one company that can help you the most.

Second, obtain a court order declaring the offending report to be false and defamatory (this of course assumes you win your case). The specific content of this order can take various forms, but you should make sure to seek an order that refers to the offending report specifically.

Third, present the court order to Google.

In my experience, Google will honor the court order and completely remove the offending webpage from its search index. While the offending report will still appear on the Ripoff Report website, the reference to that report in the Google search index will be gone completely, and Google will display at the bottom of the search results page where the Ripoff Report listing previously appeared, the following statement:

How To Remove a RipOff Report Listing in Google

How much will this option cost? Google has never charged me so far, so all you are faced with are the litigation costs. That includes a few hundred dollars in filing fees and service of process fees, and attorneys’ fees which can run the gamut.

But in my experience, often defamatory statements on Ripoff Report are so blatantly false that defendants know they cannot defend them in a court of law. Once you pull the litigation trigger with a strong defamation case, defendants will usually agree very quickly to a court declaration that the offending report is false and defamatory.

Note, this strategy is not limited to defamatory postings on the Ripoff Report. Google has honored court orders pertaining to content on other websites (such as Complaints Board, Pissed Consumer, and Scam.com) and removed those webpages from its search index.

Also note that this method works on a search engine by search engine basis. Just because Google delisted the offending report doesn’t mean that another search engine (for example, Bing.com) will. Though given how much of the market share Google has, getting the report delisted there will certainly be a huge step in the right direction.

While I’ve not had first-hand experience in doing so, it stands to reason that you could probably pursue this same method with Bing or any other search engine that displays court-declared unlawful webpages as search results.

Why Do I Need A Court Order?

While I can’t speak for Google, in my experience, Google will not remove defamatory webpages from its search index without a court order.

If you put yourself in Google’s shoes, requiring a court order makes sense.

Like any search engine, Google wants to be neutral with respect to the content it displays in its search results. Users trust Google will display the most relevant search results every time. Google does not want to violate that trust by adjusting its search results based on unverified defamation claims that can be easily fabricated.

Court orders, however, change the game.

If you want to be neutral, you can’t just say “anything goes”—that’s socially irresponsible. Rather, you have to respect the role of society’s proper arbiters of legal disputes—judges and juries. While our judicial system is not perfect, it is the best system we have, and it has safeguards to protect the rights of all parties. By honoring court orders, Google exercises responsible neutrality.

Of course, the best medicine is always prevention. Try to avoid ever getting listed on sites like Ripoff Report (there are several similar sites too). Conduct business in a way that even when there are disputes, the parties don’t have to resort to this sort of guerrilla cyber-warfare. Mudslinging on the Internet is a two-way street and is very hard to undo or contain once it’s out there.

If you do find yourself going down this path with an opposing party, swallow your pride, bite your lip—do whatever it takes to keep them from making additional postings (this sort of thing can snowball quickly since it’s so easy to retaliate). And that just plays right into the business model of companies like Ripoff Report who charge you to let you clean up the mess.

So take the high road when you can. But if you do find yourself the victim of damaging reports on Ripoff Report or similar complaint sites, at least you now have an option to stem the damage. It’s not perfect, but when successful, it’s a lot better than most of your other options.

Editors Postscript: For the purposes of full disclosure, Kenton J. Hutcherson has served as lead counsel in three lawsuits against Xcentric Ventures, LLC, the company that manages Ripoff Report.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: General | How To | Legal

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About The Author: is the founder of Hutcherson Law in Dallas, Texas. He works nationally on Internet law issues such as defamation, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and disputes related to affiliate marketing, domain names and email marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • Winooski

    What? I can’t just sue Google? Pfft. Lame. [;-)]

    Kenton, thanks very much for a thorough and valuable description of ways to try to remedy would-be libelous posts in Ripoff Report or any of its ilk. I hope I never have a client in need of such remediation, but if I do, I feel better knowing what the options are.

  • http://www.coinso.com Yam Regev_PureSheer

    Great timing!

    i have a listing in Google Maps which got 3 citations from Ripoff Report. The only reason i got them is b/c my client’s company name is exactly the same as the Ripoff Report category for the whole industry (Auto Towing). What can i do? who can i talk to?

  • http://www.fionndownhill.com Fionn Downhill

    Kenton,
    Excellent and very accurate report. The only flaw in this though is that you have to be able to idnentify the original poster for them to admit the court that it was false and slanderous. For the most part this is not possible as the posters mask their IP’s and use throwaway e-mails. A false report about us was done by an offshore user impossible to find. What happens then?
    Best Wishes and Thanks

  • http://www.hutchersonlaw.com Kenton Hutcherson

    Fionn,

    You can issue a subpoena to get the information from the poster from the website. If that still does not allow you to find the person, I would file a lawsuit against the name the poster used to make the report and have them served by publication (publishing a legal notice in the newspaper). You have to get court permission to do this, generally, but it gets the job done.

    If they don’t show up to defend their statements, then you will probably get a default judgment as well as the order you need to present to Google. Of course, you should consult a lawyer about your specific situation.

    I hope this helps.

  • http://www.elixirinteractivecomplaints.com/ Renee_Rei

    Kenton,

    THANK YOU for this information. What sites like Ripoff Report and other similar complaint sites do is extortion. Once a false defamatory report is posted on these sites and ranks well in the search engines any action you take will cost you a lot of money. This includes doing nothing, as potential clients see the report about your business and decide not to do business with you or your company.

    There are plenty ligament of review sites that allow users to post good and bad reviews about companies. The majority of review sites take down reports FREE OF CHARGE when you can prove they are false and defamatory in nature. However the complaint sites like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer only target negative reviews and refuse to take down false defamatory reports even when you can prove they are false. These sites then SEO each report for the targeted company or person to rank well in the search engines.

    If you do have a report filed against you, and you don’t have a big budget to file a lawsuit or hire a reputation management company, I strongly caution you against using one of the cheap companies that send you emails advertising removal of a report for only 99 dollars. A red flag to look for is if someone guarantees results as any method to deal with these reports are not guaranteed to give you results.

    You could leverage the digital assets you have such as a website and social media profiles. There is also a list of best practices when dealing with a report here – http://www.elixirinteractivecomplaints.com/online-reputation-management-best-practices/. I would also like to point out a previous article on this site to help you leverage your own website and domain stacking in Google to push a false report down in the results- http://searchengineland.com/how-to-grab-more-rankings-with-googles-branded-search-results-49733

  • http://www.visionefx.net Rick Vidallon

    GREAT ARTICLE – Very Timely!
    Today we have all these reputation companies, web developers, web writers, and SEO teams creating useless content and useless links to fight back against all these complaint websites. Even the complaint websites are getting in on this action and offering removal fees at up to $2400. There are even negative posts on competing complaint websites saying negative things about the other. I have found postings of people complaining that they paid to have the posting removed and once removed another appeared the next day. Sounds suspicious?

    My Suggestion
    Google employees and their engineers can, and should, come up with a professional way to handle these unprofessional complaint websites. Here are a few suggestions:

    a. Any complaint website that does not display the full name, email and phone of the person making the complaint should get pushed back in results. Or at least display an email that is tied to where they are a member.

    b. Any companies having an A+ rating with the BBB should algorithmically negate or receive a push back of any complaint websites targeting them.

    I think this makes sense and sounds doable. I truly hope this posting reaches a Google decision maker who wants to see search queries cleaned up, more relevant and increasingly useful.

    It is well worth mentioning that Yahoo and Bing do not rank these type of complaint websites as relevant in searches, not nearly as much as Google does. As a developer, I believe this speaks to inherent flaws in Google assigning so much value to back links.

  • http://www.visionefx.net Rick Vidallon

    FORGOT TO ASK KEN. May I report your article on my website article section to help get the word out? I will keep your bio and links intact of course. My article section is here: http://www.visionefx.net/articles/index.html

  • Matt McGee

    Hi Rick,

    We don’t allow our articles to be republished in full as you’re asking. You’re free to write your own article that cites/links to this one and even quotes a brief portion of it, however. But please do not reproduce the article. Thanks for asking.

    Matt

  • Maria Speth

    Ripoff Report’s VIP Arbitration program is much more cost effective than a defamation lawsuit, and a great option. While I give Mr. Hutcherson credit for at least mentioning the cost of obtaining a court order, I think he could have been more up front about how expensive litigation really is.

    Mr. Huthcherson mentions the “few hundred dollars” in filing fees but offers no estimate for the most expensive part of litigation, attorneys’ fees. The honest answer is that “secret option #6” is likely to cost several thousand dollars at a minimum. If the author contests the action, the lawsuit could easily cost tens of thousands more dollars in attorneys’ fees and costs.

    Ripoff Report’s VIP Arbitration costs $2,000.00 and you can do it yourself. Even if you hire an attorney to help you write the application, the arbitration is designed to cost far less than a lawsuit.

    Why would anyone risk tens of thousands on a defamation lawsuit for the hope of delisting the posting from Google (not removing it) when they can spend $2,000 to have false statements of fact removed entirely from Ripoff Report? Under Ripoff Report’s arbitration program, as long as you prove to an independent arbitrator that the posting contains false statements of fact, those statements will be removed entirely from Ripoff Report, not just delisted from the Google search engine.

    And no, the money is not going to the person responsible for the posting. The money is mostly going to an independent arbitrator who does not work for Ripoff Report, and partially to Ripoff Report for administration of the program.

    Ripoff Report Arbitration is less expensive and more effective than Mr. Hutcherson’s recommendation.

  • http://DarkMatters DarkMatters

    @Maria Speth

    It’s pretty hard to believe that Ripoff report is not profiting from their arbitration, considering that I’ve been contacted several times via email and phone after posting rebuttals to false allegations on the website. The callers are clearly salespeople, and if the service didn’t profit the website they would not pay salespeople to push them. Additionally, a quick Google search reveals that you are a lawyer for Ripoff report, which lends context to your comment.

  • fionn

    Maria Speth is the attorney for the Rip Off Report. I am concerned about the accuracy of the information she has posted here. My understanding is that Ms Speth’s company are the same attorneys who went to court to fight for the Rip Off Reports right to keep content up even when court ordered to remove it. The innocent victims had spent thousands of dollars proving the information was false. http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2009/12/ripoff_report_n.htm. So are you now saying that they could have paid ROR $2K instead and saved all that money?
    She has defended the indefensible when innocent people have been hurt and slandered on this site. Now she is saying that for $2K you can take down a rip off report. Ms Speth when did Ed Magedson change his policy a policy he went to court to defend many times with you.

    CDA 230 was not set up for sites like Rip Off Report to hide behind yet the site with the help of Ms Speths legal time has twisted to be used in a truly horrible way. I dont care what the law says or what Ms Speth has managed to convinve judges it means there is right and wrong. Other reputable complaints sites will take down false reports when proved false by the victims. My3Cents and Complaints board are two of those. ROR has done the most awful harm to individuals and I am one of them. Now they change their policy and for $2K the reports can be removed. Ms Speth’s company are listed on Rip Off Report under their attorneys for hire section http://www.ripoffreportlegaldirectory.com/. On his Web site Ed Magdeson claims to have spent $4 million dollars in legal fees who collected those? He also states on his website that.

    “The only consumer complaint website you can trust is Ripoff Report — we don’t remove reports for money (never have, never will), and we don’t steal content from other sources”.
    Ms Speth can you clarify as the legal representative of the Rip Off Report that you are saying that Rip Off Reports policy has changed and for fee of $2K which has to be paid to an arbitrator that the report will be completely removed.

  • fionn

    Just to add to that Ms Speth please clarify that the report will be removed once “proved False” by the arbitrator.

  • DanSEO

    DarkMatters, I don’t think the concern is their program’s fee. I’d be more concerned about the fine print in the contractual relationship. Here is a link to real documents related to at least one of these programs. http://bit.ly/dYXaOc

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