This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
Over the years, individuals and corporations alike have discovered the power of Ripoff Report. Whether you’re the author or the subject of a Ripoff Report, you most certainly understand just how quickly the website’s negative reviews can show up in a company’s Google search, impacting the business’s online reputation.
Here at ReputationDefender, we get calls practically every day from businesses negatively affected by Ripoff Report. In this article, therefore, we will explain what Ripoff Report is, how it works, and how to remove or suppress Ripoff Report reviews to protect your online reputation.
Ripoff Report: its history, audience, and purpose
Founded by entrepreneur and self-described consumer advocate Ed Magedson in 1998, Ripoff Report has grown into one of the most popular destinations for consumer complaints on the Internet, along with a similar site called Complaints Board.
Unlike the latter site, which allows for both appraisals and criticisms, Ripoff Report specializes in negative reviews: it’s an online loudspeaker of sorts that warns consumers about people and places to watch out for. Free to use, Ripoff Report provides a forum for anyone who feels wronged by a person or company—and who wants to broadcast those wrongs across the Web.
In order to post a complaint on Ripoff Report, a user must supply basic NAP information—name, email, and physical address—which is used by the site’s verification process. Upon posting a review, a Ripoff Report user can ask to be contacted by a lawyer, government authority, consumer advocate, or member of the media for support. S/he can also choose total anonymity instead. It is easy to see how this anonymity could be abused to post misleading or fake reviews, a possibility made all the more likely by the fact that Ripoff Report doesn’t investigate whether a user’s complaints are true or not.
Needless to say, one doesn’t have to go very far to find people who feel victimized by the site. Angry business owners have charged that the site is built around blackmail. Ripoff Report’s addition of a “verified” service to help businesses without complaints stay off the site doesn’t help with that perception.
Ripoff Report’s processes for contesting reviews
Though Ripoff Report states in clear terms that it will under no circumstances completely remove a review from its website (even by request from the original author of the review), it does provide options for resolving a disputed report. The options include updates, rebuttals, Ripoff Report’s Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP), and arbitration. Not all of these services are free, and the results can be undone by new negative reviews.
Log in to post updates
If the original author of a report wants to attach new information to the old review (usually more complaints), a retraction of the original report, or the resolution of the dispute, s/he can simply log in to the website and post the new information. Because Ripoff Report must verify that the updater is the same person as the author, the original email address and password must be used.
Post rebuttals at your own risk
If anyone wishes to add anything to a report, Ripoff Report allows for formal rebuttals, either from the individual or company mentioned in the report or other parties affected by the entity in question.
Somewhat akin to an Internet “flame war,” rebuttals on Ripoff Report appear below the original Ripoff Report. They document, in chronological order, responses that support or refute the original claim. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case with flame wars, rebuttals (regardless of sincerity or coherence) rarely resolve the underlying dispute and, in fact, can further damage credibility through the continued promotion of the original report.
Read the CAP fine print
Ripoff Report doesn’t explicitly state what its CAP does. It does say that it “engages your business in a process that helps to satisfy customer complaints and make amends for past mistakes.”
More importantly, CAP isn’t free—and Ripoff Report doesn’t publish its pricing up front. Cost is determined on a sliding scale, and expenses can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the case.
Members of Ripoff Report’s CAP, which the site calls “verified safe” businesses, see their original report(s) prefaced by one or more editorial statements posted by Ripoff Report staff. These statements take the form of disclaimers like “after investigation, the company does not defraud its customers/does not scam customers/has made amends with its customers.”
Ripoff Report arbitration
Ripoff Report also offers an “arbitration” process that will cost you $2000 up front. Or you can pay the company to hire investigators, potentially costing you thousands, with absolutely no guarantee of results; the company decides whether or not to redact content from reviews.
To make matters worse, the burden of proof is entirely on you—the anonymous critic never has to face the music. What do you get for your money? A headline and some text above the complaints. Even a false Ripoff Report won’t be taken down from the Internet. And just to add insult to injury, if you get another unverified, unchecked report, the arbitration headline and text are stripped out, sending you back to square one.
Powerless under the law
The first thing many business owners mutter when confronted with the difficulty of fighting Ripoff Report is that the site can’t possibly be legal. Unfortunately, however, so far Ripoff Report has won out against legal challenges. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, websites are not responsible for user-generated content. This is actually a policy that works in the favor of us all much of the time: your favorite website can’t be shut down by somebody posting copyrighted materials that they don’t own in the comments section, for example.
As a side effect, however, Ripoff Report is largely immune to any consequences of the behavior of its users. You could take the user to court, and possibly even win the case in a default judgment. But Ripoff Report isn’t legally required to take down the content, and since the user can’t redact the review, erasing a Ripoff Report is essentially impossible, even if you win.
Can you proactively obligate your customers to, essentially, not slander you on Ripoff Report? Again, legally, that’s tricky territory at best, and it’s easy to rather quickly become the bad guy. A good example is the case of Jen and John Palmer, who wrote a bad review of KlearGear.com on Ripoff Report… only to be hit with a $3,500 “fine” for violating the KlearGear.com’s terms of service. That fine spun out into a long and ugly court case, all over a set of items that cost less than $20.
Other options for removing or suppressing Ripoff Report reviews
There are two main tactics for fighting Ripoff Report online: removing links from search engine indexes, and burying Ripoff Report reviews so that no one sees them.
The first option is difficult to achieve, but it is possible. If you can demonstrate that a report is false in a court of law, you can submit the judgment to Google and they will remove the link. Keep in mind that you’ll have to take the reviewer—not Google or Ripoff Report—to court.
The second option is to use online reputation management techniques to push down the Ripoff Report reviews. Search engines index content based on how relevant it is, so if you can provide content that searchers consider more relevant than Ripoff Report, that content will rank closer to the top of your results, displacing Ripoff Report.
Depending on the volume of searches your business receives and the quality of other links in your search results, this suppression process can be quite simple—or frustratingly complicated. To get a sense of how much work it will take, check out our guide to online reputation management. Here at ReputationDefender, we’re also more than happy to provide you with a free consultation on the specifics of your situation—just give us a call at your convenience.