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Online Flimflam Factories

By Hector Cisneros

Image courtesy Pixabay

Having worked the web since 1993, I’ve seen a lot of scary trends come and go.  Early on there were SEO tactics like “keyword stuffing” and “link farms” that were used to generate page one results on search engines. This allowed unscrupulous online marketing firms to reap more than their fair share of Internet traffic.  Then there were the bait and switch artists who’d routinely get web surfers to click onto a seemingly innocuous site, only to be redirected to one that was blatantly pornographic.  After the turn of the century web trolling and cyberbullying became a way for disgruntled people to harass others in their sphere of influence.  These tactics caused some people who were targeted by this tactic to have nervous breakdowns or in some cases they were bullied to the point where they took their own lives.  While these nefarious online attacks were onerous examples of the web gone wild, the tactics weren’t done to turn a profit.

All that changed with the introduction of ratting, where a hacker used spyware to operate a victim’s webcam without their knowledge.  What started off as revenge porn soon morphed into sextortion where victims were told to pay up or have their most private moments posted online.  Soon it became common for nearly anyone to be extorted.  Even A-List celebrities became targets.  So common had ratting becoming by 2015 that even people like Mark Zuckerberg resorted to putting a piece of tape over their webcams to prevent online peeping.  But what was more troubling was the fact that hackers had finally found a way to make money by bilking the public.

Since then, there have been lots and lots of Fortune 500 companies who have had their computers hacked and their data sold for profit.  While troubling, these well-publicized online attacks didn’t seem to phase the public who felt certain that only the big guys were worth the attention of online perpetrators.   Even though a percentage of the general public had their computers hijacked by the use of ransomware, as long as most people exercised sensible browsing habits and made sure their antimalware programs were up to date, it was still possible to avoid being hacked.

That was before the online slander industry and lawsuit mills were born.

      Most people don’t realize that nowadays you don’t have to get hacked to wind up being economically impacted by online shenanigans.  Below are two of the most prevalent 

      1.      Online Slander for Fun & Profit – Online slander mills abound online.  Sporting names like,,,,, and to name a few, these sites purportedly provide the public with a place to report people who did them wrong.  Have a bad experience with a significant other.  No problem.  Report the bum on  Get ripped off by a realtor.  Dime them out on  Sounds like a real public service doesn’t it.  But that’s not what these sites are there to provide.  No sooner do you post a “complaint” on one of the sites when the post will take on a life of its own spawning dozens or even hundreds of clone complaints on other related sites.  While this may delight anyone who feels they were slighted, beware that none of the accusations are verified before they’re rebroadcast.  That means anyone can level an accusation at anyone. 

Image courtesy Pixabay

Here's where the scam comes in. – According to a recent article in the NYTimes entitled The Slander Industry, “When someone attacks you on these so-called gripe sites, the results can be devastating. Earlier this year, we wrote about a woman in Toronto who poisoned the reputations of dozens of her perceived enemies by posting lies about them.”

The authors of the article went onto assess the impact of these gripe sites.  It turns out that they discovered that “for more than a third of more the 150,000 posts assessed, the nasty posts appeared on the first page of their results and half the gripes showed up at the top of their image results.  The unverified claims are on obscure, ridiculous-looking sites, but search engines give them a veneer of credibility. Posts from appear in Google results alongside Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles — or, in my case, articles in The New York Times.

 Writer Aaron Krolik then went onto create a false accusation by pointing the finger at himself as a “Loser who will do ANYTHING for attention”.  Within a month, not only did the self-induced slander spread to more than fifteen other sites without any action on his part, but ads for services that offered to steam clean his reputation began popping up on them as well.  After a little digging guess what Mr. Krolik discovered?   The very same people who operated the slander sites were the ones offering to remove the stain for a price.

For example, ads for appear on a dozen prominent gripe websites, and were attached to some of the posts about me. 247Removal’s owner is Heidi Glosser, 38. She said she didn’t know how her ads had ended up on those sites. Ms. Glosser charges $750 or more per post removal, which adds up to thousands of dollars for most of her clients. To get posts removed, she said, she often pays an “administrative fee” to the gripe site’s webmaster. We asked her whether this was extortion. “I can’t really give you a direct answer,” she said.”

While 24/ was one of the sites listed in the article, it wasn’t the only one.  According to the Times article, it turns out that both Ms. Glosser and Cyrus Sullivan, the owner of & are convicted felons.  Not surprisingly, there are actors out there who run sites that cast aspersions on people only to offer to remove the complaints for a price.  Even if you pay up, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get your good name back. 

One disgruntled customer created under the pseudonym Greg Saint. He said he had paid RepZe $4,000 in 2019 to remove two negative posts. Months later, he said, copies of the posts began reappearing online, and he suspected RepZe was responsible. He created to expose the person he thought was really behind the service: a 28-year-old web developer in India, Vikram Parmar.

When the experiment ended, the Mr Krolik realized that there was no way to remove the online stain that he had inadvertently created.  Even after haggling with Google he still reports instances where “images from gripe sites keep popping up in my search results.” Until some class action suits are litigated against slander site operators, this kind of lifehack is going to be one that will ruin the names of good people far and wide.

      2.      Speaking of lawyers, in Part 2, I’ll show you how some law firms are cleaning up by carpet-bombing unsuspecting businesses with spurious lawsuits.

Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  

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