Across the US, dozens of lawsuits have been filed in order to remove defamatory material from review sites such as Yelp, or Google's search results. That's not unusual, but, the thing is, many of the defendants' addresses are seemingly made-up, some of those named in the cases have never been informed of the suits, and some of the court documents contain forged signatures, according to The Washington Post.
Linked to at least some of the cases is a selection of companies run by a Richart Ruddie, including SEO Profile Defense Network LLC, and Profile Defenders. Profile Defenders specialises in "online reputation management," according to its website. In short, these companies and others are allegedly carrying out a pretty novel tactic to clean up content that would reflect negatively on its clients: filing fake lawsuits to encourage websites or online services to remove content.
When asked to remove something, websites may not be all that receptive: they're probably not going to delete a comment or scrap a review just because someone asked.
Sites are likely to be much more receptive to courts, though, and this is where the fake lawsuit comes in: by obtaining an order saying that the content is question was, say, defamatory, sites are more likely to take whatever it is down.
As for Ruddie's companies, some of the cases cited by The Washington Postinclude removing Google results and getting rid of a review of a Georgia-based dentist.
"Guaranteed Results," the website of Profile Defenders continues. "Get Rid of Negative Search Results."
In particular, Profile Defenders calls out popular sites used to name-and-shame companies, such as Ripoffreport.com. The company makes no mention of dodgy lawsuits on its site, but describes its employees as "white hat internet marketing experts."
Some of the company's customers allegedly include victims of the catastrophic Ashley Madison hack, although Profile Defenders doesn't explicitly explain what methods the company used to remove clients' information from the web.
Customers can pay for Profile Defense Network's products in a subscription style model. For between $250 and $625 a month, paid in a yearly sum, customers can get various levels of coverage for their websites or videos. Clicking "Order Now" immediately redirects web visitors to a PayPal page, asking for thousands of dollars, but with little information on what customers are actually buying.
The Washington Post reports that one client paid Ruddie, under another company name, $6,000 per month for its "proprietary de-indexing program."
Ruddie did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and someone at the Profile Defenders office, who identified themselves as an associate called James, declined to comment on the business's tactics when asked multiple times to do so.
"I'm not going to comment for the moment right now. It's [Canadian] Thanksgiving, but I'll be in touch with the management team and we'll address this, and get a response to this," he said. We'll update this story if and when we hear back.