For individuals and companies that have a bad online reputation, online reputation management (ORM) services might sound like a good investment. Such services are not illegal, even though search engines such as Google do not look favorably upon them.
But every now and then, some firms offering those services succumb to the temptation of using illegal means to achieve their goal. And, according to Fox News, California-based Rexxfield is currently being accused of belonging to that group.
As Darren Meade, a former CEO of another California-based company, tells it, Rexxfield owner Michael Roberts shared with him his intent of buying and using hacking code to surreptitiously modify websites containing negative comments and make them drop down in search results.
The code in question allegedly allows users to inject a “noindex” tag into the source code of these sites, which makes search engine crawlers skip indexing them and, thus, effectively hiding them from the great majority of users. Roberts even demonstrated to Meade the effectiveness of the code in question by hacking Ripoff Report, a popular online consumer complaint site.
Meade also claims that he was present and that he has taped a meeting with Roberts and various Rexxfield employees during which other morally questionable ideas for executing online reputation damage control were considered, including a fear based marketing campaign for their services.
Roberts denies the accusations, Google sources say that they have not encountered such hacks, and the Arizona attorney general’s office hasn’t commented on whether they are investigating the matter, so for the time being, Meade’s claims remain just that.
But whether they end up being true or not, there’s no denying that some online reputation management do use unethical (or even illegal) means to make a buck.
Ripoff Report warns about digital extortion schemes perpetrated by these companies against firms that have hired them in the first place, and says that some of them even pretend to work on behalf of the site when contacting them with offers.
“Ripoff Report recently uncovered a reputation management scheme, that actually involved injecting unauthorized code into the website — a criminal offense,” they say, referring perhaps to Rexxfield’s actions. “The companies who paid for that service not only contributed to the crime but their listing also ended up right back at the top of the search engines once the illegal code was removed.”
The site also offers a few tips for those who are bent on using ORM services in order to avoid being duped.
Update: February 2, 2012: Rexxfield issued a response.