The Volokh Conspiracy
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"Fraudulent Lawsuits and Illegal Hacks to Silence Online Consumer Complaints"
A new story from Fox 11 (L.A.).
Some of it may be familiar to our readers (see here for my brief on the "fraudulent lawsuits" side of the analysis), but there's a new item, too:
[Aaron] Minc advertises himself as an internet defamation attorney, capable of "removing damaging content from the internet."
He can be seen in an advertisement with a man named Pierre Zarokian, who runs a reputation management company called Submit Express. "We've helped many companies get rid of Ripoff Report, and we've been successful in doing this," Zarokian says in an online video. In 2018, the FBI [charged Zarokian] with felony conspiracy after he was caught paying an international hacker in [Cyprus] to remove Ripoff Report complaints for his clients.
A FBI search warrant obtained by FOX 11 reveals chat logs between Zarokian and the hacker, in which Zarokian provides Ripoff Report links for the hacker to remove.Federal documents reveal that hacker used brute force methods to get into Ripoff Report's system and remove over 100 complaints in total…..
Zarokian [has] pleaded guilty to his felony charges. In a sworn statement he signed with the feds, Zarokian admitted to paying the hacker $1,000 per complaint removal, then charging his client a removal fee of between $1,000 and $5,000.
[UPDATE 7/10/20, 7:46 am: I originally quoted the Fox L.A. story as saying that the FBI had "arrested Zarokian and charged him," but it appears that Zarokian was charged, and pleaded guilty, without being arrested; I've edited the story excerpt accordingly.]
Check out the whole story, either in text or on video (at link). Here's an excerpt from the Zarokian plea agreement:
I, Pierre Zarokian, worked with Joshua Polloso Epifaniou during October 2016 through May 2017 to obtain unauthorized access to Ripoff Report (ROR)'s database and delete information. ROR is a company based in Phoenix, Arizona, that hosts a website where customers can post anonymous complaints about people and businesses. I operated a search engine marketing company in California that offered "reputation management services/ including the removal of negative customer complaints from ROR. In Octooer 2016 Epifaniou—a computer hacker living in Cyprus—gained unauthorized access to ROR computer servers in Phoemx, Anzona, and then contacted me. In furtherance of the conspiracy, and to achieve the object of the conspiracy, Epifaniou and I committed an overt act—namely that I paid him $1000 per complaint removal and then charged my clients a fee for removal between $1000 to $5000. I knew that Epifaniou was deleting the records through unauthorized access to the ROR computer servers, and I acknowledge that the ROR computer servers were used in and affected interstate commerce.