At 20 years old, Marissa Hernandez was faced with the decision of choosing a new career path or changing her name. Hernandez had found success as a taxidermist, and was making a living working out of her home in Upstate New York. At a young age, taxidermy was her only source of income. Her fortunes changed in 2015 when she noticed a significant drop in orders. A Google search of her name showed the problem: a Ripoff Report had been filed against her from an apparent disgruntled customer who claimed Hernandez’ work was subpar. The complaint also stated that Hernandez completed work and sold animals that are illegal in New York State.
In an interview for a podcast by Reply All, Hernandez explains that the complaint filed on Ripoff Report is untrue, and that it was actually posted by a competing taxidermist, not a customer as the review states. Hernandez tells Reply All that she was able to reason with the competitor, who eventually relented and attempted to have her complaint removed from Ripoff Report. After the reviewer was unsuccessful in trying to remove the report, Hernandez reached out to the site. In the podcast, you hear a member of Ripoff Report say that service was cutting out and then hang up. Hernandez’ follow-up calls go unanswered. She states that she has received no orders since the report was filed.
The History of Ripoff Report
Hernandez’ predicament is one that a number of other businesses and individuals have faced. Ripoff Report is a review website where users can leave an anonymous complaint about a business or individual. First established in 1999, Ripoffreport.com is now well known for being a source of false and often defamatory claims and has become a nightmare for businesses and individuals who have found themselves mentioned on the site.
The Damaged Caused by Ripoff Report
According to Magedson, Ripoff Report gives consumers who have been unfairly treated by big businesses a place to voice their concerns. He believes that businesses, especially larger corporations, frequently abuse their power to take advantage of consumers and smaller companies; similar to the situation with his own flower business. However, the lack of a process for vetting complaints causes it to be unreliable and unfairly damaging to an individual or business’ online reputation.
Ripoff Report allows users to leave reviews anonymously and has no process for verifying a user’s complaint against a business, resulting in overstated and even false reviews left by disgruntled customers, enemies, or competitors. What’s worse, Ripoff Report carries a lot of weight in Google and often ranks near the top of the search results for a branded query, especially for smaller, local businesses with little to no web presence. Ripoff Report currently has a high domain authority of 68, and links from over 900 domains pointing to the site. The nature of the site also caters to users specifically searching for reviews of a company or service.
Ripoff Report has received its own fair share of criticism online. Forums and business review sites show lists of complaints filed by business owners claiming that the reviews about their business are either partially or completely fabricated. Entire websites have been created that are dedicated to discrediting Ripoff Report, and there is even a victim’s group for those who have had their reputations harmed by the site.
Options for Dealing with Ripoff Report
The options for resolving a Ripoff Report are limited, and rarely, if ever, result in the review being taken down. It should be noted that Reputationmanagement.com never recommends paying Ripoff Report. This can be costly and rarely results in a complaint being removed. Secondly, take caution if deciding to respond directly to a Ripoff Report on the site. Added responses add fresh content to the page, helping it to remain relevant and potentially move higher in the SERPs. Even if you do respond to a complaint and a resolution is found, there is no guarantee a new user will see it as secondary edits to complaints are often buried on the page.
The first thing any business or individual should do after discovering the complaint is find out if it’s legitimate. If an honest mistake has been made, it may be worth reaching out to the affected customer to rectify the situation. It’s important to note, however, that even if the customer is satisfied with a refund or another form of apology, it does not mean that the original complaint will be removed. All complaints filed remain on Ripoff Report, even if the initial reviewer wishes to retract their statement. After a business has made amends, the reviewer may decide to edit their initial statement to acknowledge a resolution; however, this can only be seen if a user clicks through to the report from the SERPs. The initial report is what remains in the search results.
Offer a Rebuttal
Rebuttals can also be added to any report free of charge; however, these will be displayed below the initial post. Similar to the initial poster adding an update, rebuttals can only be seen if a user clicks through to the review and scrolls to the bottom.
VIP arbitration program
Ripoff Report’s VIP (Voluntary, impartial, and private) arbitration program starts at $2,000. In this program, a user must submit a statement explaining that a report is untrue and provide documentation (i.e. receipts, contracts, etc.) to prove it. This statement is then passed on to a Ripoff Report arbitrator to review who will then make the final call. Even if an arbitrator rules in favor of the person filing, the original Ripoff Report will not be removed, only statements part of a report that are found to be false will be removed:
“Even if the Arbitrator determines that a Report contains one or more false statements of fact, this does not mean the whole Report will be removed. Instead, any false factual statements will be redacted (removed) from the Report, but the Report page itself will not be removed, nor will the page URL be changed other than as outlined as an update to the title of the Report.”
File a defamation lawsuit
Filing a defamation lawsuit would perhaps provide the best chance of having a Ripoff Report removed, but it is the most expensive and still not guaranteed. Victims pursuing legal action for crimes online face a number of problems, and Ripoff Report’s anonymous reporting feature makes it all the more difficult. The burden in filing a Ripoff Report suit becomes not only proving the report posted to be false and defamatory, but also identifying the person who filed the report in the first place. If enough information exists to go to trial, your search results could potentially become flooded with legal documents and news stories, creating an even larger problem than what you started with.
Acknowledge any internal problems and minimize visibility
A search for Marissa Hernandez’ taxidermy business today turns up more negative results than the initial Ripoff Report. While this could be a large scale effort by competitors to ruin her online reputation, there is the potential that problems exist within her business. The best way to manage an online reputation problem is to first ensure that you are doing right by your customers and operating with best practices internally. If all internal issues have been solved and an inaccurate or outdated review is still negatively impacting your reputation, the best course of action would be to minimize its visibility in the search results by promoting unique, positive content about your business to rank in its place.