It happens all the time. When you search for a company to find out more about them, often times you’ll see a “scam” report or a “rip-off” alert with a link to a website that purports to give consumers and former employees a way to rant about their bad experience with a company. Often, these scam sites rank well in the search results, and if you are the company in question, your company reputation can be damaged by the rants and outright lies that a site like this spreads. So how do these sites work, and how can you deal with the problems they create? Let’s take a look.
Scams and Lies
First off all, it’s important to understand that although these sites offer a way for disgruntled employees and unsatisfied customers to talk about their experience with a particular company, the site itself benefits from the negative reviews that are published. Therefore they have no reason to verify or censor any of the user-submitted content on their site. In fact, the policy of many of these sites is to NEVER remove a bad review—even at the request of the person who wrote it.
And it has been alleged in numerous court cases that these sites will often fabricate bad reviews or edit user reviews to appear more damaging to the company they profess to review. However these are only allegations, and nothing has ever been proved in court. The reason that sites like these do not want to remove false information and benefit from inflammatory reviews is that their sites are paid for with advertising. Therefore, the more site traffic they get, the more money they make. And the more inflammatory a bad review, the more traffic it will get—especially if it is for a popular or well-known company.
Although many of these sites will refuse to remove any content from their site—even if it contains outright lies about a company—some offer an arbitration service. These arbitration services cost $2000 or more and claim to let independent reviews look at the “scam report” and verify whether or not erroneous claims have been made. If false statements are found, they will redact portions of the review that are found to be inaccurate. But the hefty fee does not guarantee removal of any false information. And even a few sentences are removed from an offending review, the bulk of the review will stay online.
It’s hard to sue scam and rip-off alert websites. This is because all the content on the sites is supposedly user-generated and not created by the site owners or their employees. And one cannot sue a website for statements made by a third party on that site. (For example, no one can sue you for an inflammatory comment on your blog made by one of your readers—which is a good thing.) Many companies and individuals have filed lawsuits against these websites, but few have succeeded in winning a court settlement. And when you consider that a lawsuit against a website like this may cost you a hundred thousand dollars or more to resolve, it hardly seems worth it for a case you have little chance of winning.
But this is where good reputation management comes in. No matter how unethical these scam and rip-off alert sites can be, you have just as good a chance of beating them at their own game. Scam sites optimize their reviews for the web so that they will show up when a user searches for a company name, but by using a solid reputation management strategy, you can make sure those reviews never show up in a Google search.
Reputation management is much cheaper than fighting the scam website in court and may actually yield better results. Even if you are able to get defamatory items removed from a review, the review will still stay on the web with all its negative accusations against your company. Reputation management can bury that review so deep that most casual searchers will never see any of it.
Scam and Rip-off sites are a pain and a nuisance, and rarely give any useful information to consumers. But with an effective, positive reputation management strategy, you can win every time.