articles in my "misinformation" series1
have focused on detailing types of purposeful misinformation on the Internet
and how to protect yourself. Primarily this involves double- and triple-checking
any Internet source of information, questioning the impartiality of legal,
financial, medical, and other sites that look to provide you with information,
checking disclaimers, terms and conditions, etc. In this article we are
going to look at remedies: getting mad, getting money, and getting even.
If you have already been the victim of fraudulent information, omission
of information, misinformation, or fraud on the Internet, it is small consolation
that there were ways to have prevented damages — even if only to your pride.
I have listed organizations
that certify reliability of information, honesty of the Web site provider,
and/or that protect your privacy, as well as government agencies that will
investigate and may prosecute on your behalf. In addition I have listed
non-governmental groups that advocate for consumers on the Internet and/or
provide alternative dispute-resolution forums.
What You Can Do If You Rely
Place to Complain
The first place
to complain is to the source. Whether the misinformation came from a broker,
an investment e-newsletter author, a charity, a corporation Web site, or
an e-mail message containing information that you believe defamed you or
your organization — please, go to the source.
First, make sure
that the Web site belongs to the person, organization, or company you think
it does. One of the most surreptitious methods of deceiving and misinforming
Internet users is to "cybersquat" on a corporate or trade name (take a
real company or product and register a Web site using that name with a
"dot anything" extension), or similar misrepresentation. In my article
on charity and non-profit misinformation I described the "give.org" site
run by an admirable charity watchdog organization. If you accidentally
go to "give.com,"2
you will find a commercial site looking for advertisers for its "E-Philanthropy
Through E-Commerce" promotion. Other misleading domain names are based
on common misspellings of legitimate corporate and non-profit organization
names. This practice is called "typosquatting."
To verify a Web
site's ownership, check for a live link to the Better Business Bureau's
(BBB's) Reliability Seal, try going to http://www.checkdomain.com,
or go to http://www.internic.net.
(Although I did not find this last site particularly helpful, techies might.)
Key in the URL address of the offending Web site. It will show who has
registered the site and may also give the address, contact name, phone
number, etc. One particularly helpful site dealing with domain name disputes
is the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Cybersquatting and Internet Address
& Domain Name Disputes" archive [http://www.eff.org/pub/Intellectual_property/Internet_address_disputes/].
If the misinformation
came from a posting or e-mail message, you can respond to the sender. However,
with anonymous mailers, the return address that you think belongs to PersonA
may really be PersonB making his message look like a message from PersonA.
Domain names are not the only things that can be deceiving.
When you make contact,
keep a copy of your correspondence (either hard copy or saved e-mail archive).
Describe the problem; give the offender an opportunity to correct the information.
Take notes [see the SEC form for taking notes on phone calls relating to
Internet activity at http://www.sec.gov/consumer/callform.htm].Talk
to someone higher up in the food chain if you are not satisfied, e.g.,
the branch manager, regional director, or compliance department. Ask them
to respond to you in writing within 30 days or 24 hours — whatever — but
next step need not be hiring an attorney, though if the sum at issue were
significant, that would be a good investment.
There are several
services that support the resolution of disputes without litigation. The
Better Business Bureau has a Dispute Resolution Division described at http://www.bbb.org/complaints/aboutResolution.asp.3
Training in conciliation, arbitration, and mediation are all provided to
local BBB dispute-resolution programs. Go to the http://www.BBB.org
Web site or contact your local BBB.
program is the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Process (UDRP) from
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Designed
to quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively resolve cases of alleged
cybersquatting, UDRP can save a minimum of 3-4 months to get a legal resolution
— and lots of money, as well. "In fact, the tack appears to be highly effective.
More than 80 percent of the 2,000-plus UDRP complaints filed have resulted
in either the transfer or cancellation of a domain name," reports Zak Muscovitch,
publisher of the Domain Name Law Reports, a volunteer organization that
helps legal experts research UDRP cases effectively. "Put the ball in the
respondent's court and they buckle," Muscovitch adds." As the author notes,
however, "To prove a person has wrongfully registered a domain name under
the UDRP, the owner must prove all of the following:
1.The domain name
is identical or confusingly similar to a company's trademark; 2.The respondent(s)
has no rights or legit interest in the domain name; 3.The domain name has
been registered in bad faith." "Proving bad faith is the toughest of all
three," says Joelle Thibault, eResolution's vp, (sic) mediation and arbitration
Using this system,
"a trademark owner brings action against a domain-name holder through ICANN
and chooses one of four ICANN-approved arbitration providers: The World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), eResolution, the National Arbitration
Forum, or CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution. Filers typically incur
costs that range from $750-$2,000 for each domain dispute and the cost
of an arbitrator from one of the four groups." That is less than the cost
of litigation and faster.
The services of
WIPO as an approved arbitration provider have become the most popular.
"WIPO has handled 1,500 cases filed by universities (e.g., University of
Nebraska, University of Oxford), celebs (e.g, Sting, Julia Roberts, Jimmy
Hendrix), sports figures (e.g., six members of the Dutch football team),
and companies (e.g., eResolution, AltaVista, Pizza Hut)," reports Francis
Gurry, WIPO's assistant director general and legal counsel. "Approximately
80 percent of WIPO's cases favor the trademark holder," says Gurry, "Fifteen
percent of all cases don't even require a decision — the respondent simply
gives up the name."5
If the direct approach
does not work, and dispute resolution is either unavailable or has failed
to meet your needs, you can complain to the misinformer's Internet Service
Provider. After an investigation, the ISP may remove the misinformation
or terminate the offender's access. It works about the same as going to
the advertising manager of a publication that runs a fraudulent or erroneous
ad — the advertising manager will investigate and take action.
If the information
still is not removed, you can consult an attorney about the possibility
of filing suit and seeking an injunction ordering the Web site to remove
the postings. This has occurred in cases where getting postings off of
a Web site mattered greatly to the subject of the misinformation. After
a libel lawsuit against a stock-discussion Web site was filed, the court
ordered the site to remove three postings made by the defendant, at the
request of the company that had sued the writer for defamation. Before
the court order was issued, the Web site had refused to remove the postings.6
Complaining to the Agencies
and state regulatory agencies, non-profit organizations, and others provide
forums for complaints, but effective help and action may not follow from
all agencies. Below I have assembled many of the leading organizations
to which you may turn if burned.
to responsible federal agencies if you suspect securities or corporate
misinformation, consumer, or mail fraud.
The SEC maintains
a Web site that includes a complaint form to report Internet fraud and
deceptive practices. [See http://www.sec.gov/consumer/jcompla.htm.]
If you are not online, then contact the Enforcement Complaint Center, U.S.
Securities & Exchange Commission, Mail Stop 8-4, 450 Fifth St. N.W.,
Washington DC 20549-0213, phone (202) 942-7040, fax (202) 942-9634, or
e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need a complaint form, call (800)
The National Association
of Securities Dealers (NASD) has a complaint program. Go to http://www.nasdr.com/2100.htm
to get two types of forms:
The states have agencies
that enforce securities regulations. Locate the agency for your state and
contact their complaint department by visiting the North American Securities
Administrators Association (NASAA) [http://www.nasaa.org/regulator/us/Default.htm].
The NASAA is made up of the regulators from all 50 states. The NASAA Web
site includes the names, office addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers,
and Web site addresses for the appropriate agencies and, usually, even
the e-mail addresses of the appropriate persons.
The "Customer Complaint"
form for customers or persons acting on their behalf who feel they have
been subjected to improper business practices involving their broker or
The "Regulatory Tip"
forms for investors, industry members, or professionals aware of instances
of unfair practices, fraud, or abusive conduct involving brokers or brokerage
to responsible federal agencies if you suspect trade, retail, or consumer
misinformation or fraud.
The Federal Trade
Commission [FTC] [http://www.ftc.gov]
has many powers and a number of possible actions that it can take, including
court action for consumer redress.7
The complaint form is located at https://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm.
to non-governmental agencies and organizations.
Watch at the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center
accepts complaints from consumers and has a special area on its Web site
for scams against businesses. The complaint form is at http://www.fraud.org/info/repoform.htm.
4. Bring in
A relatively new
Internet Fraud Complaint Center [http://www.ifccfbi.gov]
solicits e-mail complaints from consumers. The site is designed to take
complaints from consumers and other Internet users, determine jurisdiction,
and identify the best agency/agencies (local, state, federal, administrative,
etc.) to investigate and prosecute fraudulent schemes on a national and
international level. This is the modern day cavalry. And it is not
just the FBI, but the National White Collar Crime Center, which involves
the 50 state Attorneys General, the FTC, local law enforcement, over one
hundred Better Business Bureaus, the National Consumer League's National
Fraud Information Center, and Fraud Watch, as well as Canada's "Project
Don't forget that if the mails were used, there might be criminal actions
for mail fraud, etc.
It isn't up to
you to discover all the laws that might have been violated by the purveyor
of misinformation — the government and other agencies are perfectly capable
of using every piece of ammunition of which you are aware and some you
never heard of. According to the Web site at https://www.ifccfbi.gov/strategy/wn050800.asp:
Victims can go
directly to the secure IFCC Web site to submit complaint information, making
it a fast and efficient forum to file an Internet fraud complaint. IFCC's
trained personnel log complaints filed online, analyze them to determine
the jurisdiction of the complaint, conduct the appropriate level of analytical
and investigative work that is necessary, and disseminate the information
to the appropriate local, state, and/or federal law enforcement agencies
for criminal, civil, or administrative action, as needed. The IFCC will
adequately identify and track new fraudulent schemes on the Internet on
a national and international level.
"The IFCC has been
developed to identify, track, and assist in the prosecution of fraudulent
schemes on the Internet on a national and international level. This partnership
will allow law enforcement and the private sector to address and eradicate
this growing problem," according to FBI Director Louis Freeh. As of the
deadline for this article, "A new Web site is currently under development
for the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC). This new site should reduce
your efforts to file a complaint and better allow us to serve you."
Remember, the IFCC
doesn't promise to investigate every case, just to forward the complaint
to the most appropriate agency. IFCC's interest lies in investigating and
stopping those who defraud — not in providing individuals with a satisfactory
I will not give
you a mini-law school session on tort theories9
of recovery, the necessary elements of different causes of action, elements
of proof, etc. If you have been harmed, and it is significant enough in
your mind to justify a lawsuit, I strongly recommend locating a lawyer.
A lawyer can:
Do we have compassion
for the business or other Internet entity that is the defendant in an action
based on misinformation or fraud? What if they look like a pauper in a
back room with a computer and a phone line? After all, not all information
comes from sources that look like Lexis-Nexis.
Evaluate the facts
you have and conduct a preliminary investigation to gather any other facts
needed to determine the following:
and which court (state or federal) may have jurisdiction over the defendant
(i.e., where the defendant can be sued).
Determine what law
will be applied.
under the statutes and cases, you do or do not have a cause of action.
Assess whether filing
a lawsuit will be worth the time, money, and aggravation.
Today there are
insurance policies for Internet-related risks10.
Chances are that a business has a policy against such risks — whether Internet-related
or not — and whether the business appears profitable or not. Individuals
may have supplemental liability insurance or may be covered under a homeowner's
policy rider. If you have been harmed, your business has been damaged or
you have lost money, do not let a "poor-looking" defendant deter you from
investigating the merits of filing suit. How the defendant will pay restitution
is not your problem. Your attorney can discover hidden assets and insurance
So, can you sue?
Sure, anyone can file a lawsuit. The real question is whether you can recover
— or even get your case heard in your local courts — or whether you will
have to travel halfway across the world to present your case.
As one author commented,
"Having a Web site is dangerous because people can sue businesses located
anywhere. With the explosion of commercial activity on the Internet, both
business-to-business and business-to-consumers, courts across the country
are facing the challenge of adapting established jurisdictional principles
based on notions of territorial sovereignty to new technologies not limited
by geographic boundaries. Businesses using the Internet risk suit almost
anywhere in the world."11
If the source of
the misinformation is not from your state (check the Web site for national,
branch, regional offices, affiliated corporations, local offices or stores,
etc., for any reference to doing business in your state), check the terms
and conditions, disclaimers, etc., on the Web site. I won't go into how
you should have checked these before relying on Internet information.
At this point you want to find anything that limits your right to sue in
your local court of choice: Choice of forum and/or binding arbitration
clauses are but two types of contract provisions that you should look for.
Bring prints of these with you when you go to your attorney. It will help
speed the analysis of whether and where you can sue. If there are no such
clauses, or they were not brought to your attention at the time you relied
upon the information, look for evidence that the company intended to do
business in your state or jurisdiction — or not. A passive Web site with
static information is not likely to be amenable to suit outside of its
own jurisdiction. However, an active Web site that takes orders online,
does not block orders from your state, provides an "800" number, and so
forth just may be subject to a lawsuit in your jurisdiction. Here are other
elements the court may look to in determining whether it has power to bring
the defendant to your jurisdiction: the volume of business and/or the number
of "hits" from your state. However, since you probably won't have access
to this data, you will usually have to file suit before you can get this
kind of information out of the defendant.
If no terms and
conditions or disclaimers or provisions exist relating to "not doing business"
in your state nor any jurisdictional limitations on where suit may be brought,
you can go to whatever expense you feel necessary. Certainly if you have
been significantly harmed and can prove it was due to purposeful misinformation,
deceit, or fraud, you should go for the gold in a civil suit. Significant
harm or not, you can report the transaction to government agencies (FTC,
FDA, IRS, SEC, etc.), industry groups (trade and/or self-regulation organizations)
to which the perpetrator might belong (e.g., Better Business Bureau, TrustE,
etc.), and criminal prosecutors.
You would definitely
want to go to the government, industry, and criminal bodies first — before
going to trial in a civil action, because a prior reprimand, consent decree,
injunction, fine, or conviction would help prove your civil case. Aside
from being probative of wrongdoing, you could take advantage of the investigations
done by the agencies and/or organization(s) to help gather your own facts
and proof. These investigations, especially if performed by the government,
could be much more far-ranging and technologically sophisticated than what
your own resources could provide!
may reveal a pattern of deceit involving many potential plaintiffs. In
such a case, a class action might be warranted, and through such disclosure
you would discover the names and contact information to reach these potential
plaintiffs — something you could hardly do on your own. This is doubly
important if, because of a forum clause, you must file suit in the jurisdiction
where the defendant is situated. You might find it difficult to know where
to turn for legal advice and/or specialized high-tech investigators if
the suit takes you far from home, not to mention additional travel and
phone expenses during the investigation.
for first pursuing complaints through federal and state agencies is that
the agencies can order restitution and may be able to proceed against a
foreign defendant on your behalf12.
In many cases you could be made whole and not have to worry about how or
where to bring a civil action. In addition, the perpetrator could be subject
to fines, injunctions, IRS investigations, and/or prison, besides having
to make restitution to you and others similarly situated. Talk about getting
even! And then some!!
Get an attorney.
Expect to bring in all of your records, including the "terms and conditions"
and disclaimers of the offending Web site.
You will need much
more information than I have indicated here. This is just a "lite" overview.
You will need to weigh your options (up-front fee or contingency, class-action
or individual suit, go to the agency first or first have the attorney contact
the person passing the misinformation).
Remember that people
who act as their own attorneys have fools for clients — because they most
often lose their cases. If you or your company has been seriously harmed,
you cannot afford not to get an attorney.
Revenge Web Site
Check the Web
for a "get even" Web site against a company that you feel defrauded you
as a consumeror mistreated you as an employee. But think twice before starting
one yourself. While the romance of revenge may sound like it would taste
sweet, companies now do more than give people money to take down such sites.
Sometimes they just ignore them as the exercise of free speech. More often
these days, they are suing where "the communication are defamatory, disseminate
confidential or proprietary information, violate trademarks, use copyrighted
material or constitute false advertising.... Company attempts to control
these sites may backfire from a public relations standpoint, also."13
So, you can turn
the federal, state, and/or local law enforcement agencies on a company
that has defrauded you, then use the results of the criminal prosecution
in a civil suit to establish that you (and maybe others) were indeed defrauded
by the company and prove up your damages. If the company has assets, the
lawsuit is a better remedy, because you may be able to seek more than mere
restitution, you can sometimes go for punitive and other damages. The revenge
Web site is the last resort. If you are mad as heck and all else has failed,
and you still need to vent, it may be second only to picketing the business
yourself. However, it is a poor course of action because it gets you nothing,
and costs you time, aggravation, Internet fees, and opens you up to a lawsuit.
I only mention
span remedies here because several of the agencies and organizations that
I have mentioned are already involved in this mechanism for misinformation.
The Federal Trade
Commission is very interested in spam (defined as unsolicited commercial
e-mail). As one possible remedy, you can forward a spam message to UCE@FTC.GOV
and let the FTC investigate the sender. Don't forget the Direct Marketing
which can help take you off a variety of junk mail lists (electronic and
The best idea,
however, is prevention. Do not sign up for contests. Do not send or receive
cute "electronic greetings." Read the privacy and anti-spam terms and conditions
on sites that you visit, listservs to which you subscribe, catalogs from
which you place orders, etc.15
Most have "partners" wanting to share products and services with you and,
all too often, one "click" on some agreement without reading it first and
you are committed.
from charities are a specific problem. A number of sources can provide
information, such as the National Charities Information Bureau's Web site
[www.ncib.org] and the Better Business Bureau's "Tips on Handling Unwanted
Direct Mail from Charitable Organizations" [http://www.bbb.org/about/tipsmail.asp]
as well as "What You Should Do About Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail" [http://www.bbb.org/library/email.asp].
Finally visit http://www.give.org/artwggmain.cfm
for information on how "to cut down on the number of solicitations you
receive," among other helpful topics. One of the easiest ways of ending
phone solicitations, by the way, is to use the magic words: "please move
my name to the 'do not call' list." If nothing else works, file a complaint
with the NFIC (National Fraud Information Center), which shares its reports
with appropriate federal, state, and/or local law enforcement agencies,
including the National Fraud Database. These agencies will prosecute "spammers"
who defraud consumers16.
Countering a Cybersmear
What if you or
your company is targeted by a revenge Web site or malicious postings of
misinformation on the Internet?
disinformation, and rumors posted daily on Internet Usenet groups and World
Wide Web pages cost corporations money. A company can spend millions of
dollars trying to repair its reputation in court, for example. Everywhere
you look in cyberspace, disgruntled consumers, interest groups, and competitors
are bad-mouthing some company. Sears, Roebuck and Co., General Electric
Co., AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp., K-Mart Corp. and Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc. have all been hit. Companies that fail to monitor Internet
traffic may be headed for a public-relations disaster."17
As another author
notes, "The falsehoods fall into four principal categories. Intentional
fraud — as in the Bloomberg case [wherein a former employee posted a false
press release allegedly from Bloomberg, to affect the price of a particular
company's stock] — seems to be relatively rare. Malicious gossip is far
commoner: Mean fictions that once would have circulated in a small group
now spread across the world instantly through forwarded e-mails and newsgroups.
Mariah Carey, a pop singer, has been one of the principal targets.... Then
there is slovenly reporting, which happens because the standard of accuracy
on the Internet is low, and the speed of dissemination is high.... Lastly,
there are Chinese whispers, which make the Internet such a perfect vehicle
for urban legend. Somebody puts something on the Internet, and, somehow,
it turns into something else altogether — often something intriguing18.
Vigilance in checking
the Internet for reputation-damaging libelous postings is as much an imperative
as checking for press clippings from newspaper and magazine articles about
your company. The Internet can reach millions of customers and potential
customers. So constantly monitor your company and product names on the
Internet, familiarize yourself with the newsgroups, mailing lists, Web
sites, and chat rooms that discuss your organization and its products,
so you know how and where to respond.
If you or your
company is the victim of a smear campaign full of libelous information,
there are a number of tactics you can take19.One
tactic is to ignore the site. It may get so few visitors in any month that
it just isn't worth the trouble. On the other hand, a letter to the site's
owner probably wouldn't hurt.
First ask the owner(s)
of the site to remove it and/or post a retraction in the face of a libel
lawsuit. Send a private e-mail and be polite in your request. Document
all communications. If you can prove to their satisfaction your innocence,
veracity, etc., you will have won half of the battle. Perhaps they really
were harmed by misinformation. If so, compensate them to the extent that
they were in fact harmed — and find out why their complaints were never
addressed by the company in the first place. Somewhere a local dealer,
customer complaint "800" line operator, or "write the Webmaster"20
representative may have failed to handle a valid complaint, been rude or
unsympathetic, or just failed to listen and/or investigate. Alert all
of the risks of misinformation, arrogance, failure to respond to complaints,
etc. Point out the costs to the company when misinformation, deceit, or
fraudulent information appears on the Internet, and the costs the company
incurs in investigations long after the complaint first comes in, the costs
of litigation, public relations repair, etc.
Once you have resolved
the problem, let the complainant know the steps your company is taking
to prevent the same thing from happening again.
If your company
has done nothing wrong and the Web site won't retract or remove the libel,
then check your company's insurance policies for Internet risks coverage
or a duty to defend against this type of business risk. If you have threatened
suit, follow through with the promise. File suit, go for a cease and desist
order or an injunction. However, since the issues involve free speech,
don't pin all your hopes here. If nothing else, a lawsuit might deter the
next Web-skilled person considering a revenge site. Of course, if the alleged
cybersmears are true, the suit will be thrown out or have to be withdrawn21.
If the site, Usenet
thread postings, or e-mails are truly libelous, go to the Internet service
provider (ISP) of the perpetrator and request the removal of the offending
posting under the Communications Decency Act. Notify your own ISP, the
government, and self-regulation groups that are (or might be) in an oversight
position with the perpetrator. While a customer cannot hold ISPs responsible
for every Web site or posting, an ISP is liable if it fails to respond
or investigate when copyright violations, libel, and other defamatory or
trade libel incidents appear on their service and are brought to their
attention. In some cases ISPs will cut service to a customer who causes
problems and complaints.
If the posting
is to a Usenet or other news group, post a message yourself to set the
record straight. Deny the false accusations. These groups can self-police
their members. If they believe you, they will challenge anyone who re-posts
the false information22.
If that doesn't
work, you can create a "hot" link from a banner on your own Web site to
counter the damaging misinformation on the offending site, with press release(s),
links, facts, and contacts for the media. Take your case to the court of
public opinion. Post your response on the Usenet newsgroup or other thread-postings
on listservs — wherever you find the misinformation. The truth will set
you free, if you are truly innocent of the charges. After all, the revenge
site or malicious postings may have come from "plants" recruited by a competitor
— not a real consumer at all.
The Internet court
of public opinion is also an opportunity to confess. If those posting the
revenge Web site are correct, inform your customers of the misinformation
or lack of information and the remedies the company is providing (such
as recalls, as Ford and Bridgestone23
did on their Web sites following the Ford Explorer tire news). Be sure
to include the steps your company will take to make sure it never happens
again. A public apology with true contrition and significant action just
may stop the bashing, if not turn the tide of public opinion altogether!
Here is the best
advice I can give you: If you have been seriously harmed, please see a
lawyer who has some familiarity with these types of cases, the remedies
available, and experience in pre-trial procedures, such as establishing
jurisdiction over a defendant who probably does not reside or operate in
your state, special discovery procedures, etc.
Government Agencies and Non-Governmental
that certify or uphold standards for reliability of information, honesty
of the Web site provider, and/or work to protect a searcher's privacy:
Certification for businesses and consumers; Privacy Certification (including
Charity Information Bureau
for Web publishers and Web users.
Government Agencies (Many
with Online Complaint Forms)
Futures and Trading Commission
File a complaint
or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (TDD 1-202-326-2502).
Fraud Complaint Center:
Drug Administration (FDA)
Fraud Complaint Center
Association of Attorneys General
Association of Secretaries of State
List by state
at www.nass.org/members/members.htm Find your state's site and look for
its complaint form.
Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
For a complaint
form, click on Enforcement, then Cyberfraud.
and Exchange Commission (SEC)
form, go to http://www.sec.gov/consumer/jcompla.htm.
List of State
agencies regulating charities
Find your state's
site and look for its complaint form.
but don't forget you can go to your local Postmaster.
Industry and Self-Regulation
for Investor Education
For a state-by-state listing of private and government agencies supervising
or otherwise involved with non-profits, go to http://www.bbb.org/library/outsideresources/state.asp.
Futures Trading Commission
reparations Request form at http://www.cftc.gov/proc/reparations.html.
or phone (888) 848-6907.
Find out what
to do if you suspect wrongdoing by a nonprofit at http://www.nonprofits.org/npofaq/16/06.html;
How to help the Attorney General Handle a Complaint at http://www.nonprofits.org/npofaq/17/00.html.
or call (703) 276-1116.
Association of Securities Dealers
and instructions at http://www.nasdr.com/2100.htm
Dispute Resolution at http://www.nasdadr.com/.
Charities Information Bureau
Coalition for Prevention of Economic Crime
link to "How to Report Fraud." This organization also battles telemarketing
Fraud Information Center (Internet Fraud Watch)
fraud incidents at www.fraud.org/internet/intset.htm or call (800) 876-7060.
File a complaint
White Collar Crime Center
and handles complaints. Complaint form at http://www.bbb.org/bbbcomplaints/pasform.asp.
for Securities Complaints
Find your state
on the list, click on it and look for a complaint form on that site.
Even with a Revenge Web Site: A Dangerous Approach
So, what if you
feel burned, frustrated by the perpetrator, but can't or don't want to
bring suit for some reason, and you are unsatisfied with the responses
of government agencies and business self-regulation organizations? Well,
I suppose the final battleground for alleged misinformation on the Internet
is the "revenge Web site."
The revenge Web
site has been used in a number of cases. For instance, the "flamingFords.com"
Web site maintained by the Goldgehns was created after Mr. Goldgehn watched
his Ford Ranger pickup burn to a twisted pile of metal on his driveway
because of a faulty ignition switch. After researching the switch defect
and learning that Ford conducted a recall of Canadian cars with the switch,
but not American cars, he got really mad. The Web site contributed to a
recall of over 8.7 million cars and trucks in the United States that cost
In another case,
Carla Virga, a secretary and mother of four, set up a Web site at http://www.syix.com/emu/index.htmto
complain about Terminix, the nation's largest termite and pest company,
and its mishandled inspection of her home in Yuba City, California. In
addition to her Web site, Mrs. Virga contacted state regulators and posted
other consumers' complaints against the company. Terminix filed suits against
Virga in her home state of California and in Tennessee, alleging that she
engaged in trademark violations, deceptive practices, and unfair competition.
The company sought to bar her from using the names of Terminix and its
sister companies to steer traffic to her Web site. To date, the actions
were either dismissed or withdrawn25.
While revenge Web
sites are a strategy, the sites won't get you remuneration for damages
caused by misinformation or fraud. Revenge site creators have been sued
— in multiple jurisdictions — by their targets, and litigation is not a
cheap thrill. However, it obviously makes some people feel better to join
or create a forum to vent their frustrations and to share the complaints
of others in some kind of cyber-bonding experience.
I don't recommend
this route. However, I can sincerely advise you to double- and triple-check
your information, refrain from hyperbole, avoid defaming the trade name
of a business or the reputation of individuals, and otherwise avoid becoming
the defendant in the target's suit for misinformation, libelous information,
or fraud — by you! If you insist on being this brave, remember to be fair
e-mail address is email@example.com.
See Carol Ebbinghouse, "Deliberate Misinformation on the Internet!? Tell
Me It Ain't So!," Searcher, May 2000, pp. 63+, Carol Ebbinghouse,
"Avoiding Charity Fraud and Misinformation from Non-Profits on the Internet,"
July/August 2000, pp. 58+, and Carol Ebbinghouse, "Medical and Legal Misinformation
on the Internet," Searcher, October 2000, pp. 18+.
See "Web Site Addresses ... Are We Weaving a Tangled Web?" at http://www.give.org/artwggweavtw.cfm.
The site describes the different types of dispute resolution, how they
work, and gives contact information. The dispute resolution services are
described: "Dispute Resolution (DR) is a term used to encompass
many different techniques for resolving conflicts. Better Business Bureau
DR is informal, low cost, and user-friendly. In conciliation, the
BBB collects information from both parties to a dispute and works to encourage
open communication between them. BBB staff can effectively present the
customer's views to the business and offer the business' viewpoint to the
customer in a neutral way. Many disputes can be ended simply and quickly
this way. In mediation, a professionally trained mediator helps
the parties to work out their own mutually agreeable solution to the dispute.
Mediation is confidential, effective, and can offer win/win solutions to
difficult problems. In arbitration, parties state their views, offer
evidence at an arbitration hearing, and agree to let an impartial, professionally
trained arbitrator make a decision that will end the dispute. Individual
BBBs operate dispute resolution programs for companies and customers in
their service areas. Over 100 Bureaus participate in BBB CARE, a standardized
dispute settlement program coordinated by the CBBB. The CBBB also operates
national level programs for large corporations.
See the article in the World Organization of Webmasters newsletter: "Cybersquatter
Problems? Here's Your Cost-Effective Way to Handle 'em," WOW Newsletter,
December 2000, pp. 3+ at http://www.joinwow.org/newsletter/16/fa5/.
Besides the dispute-resolution information, it reviews direct steps to
take with a cybersquatter, from politely asking for the domain name back,
to offering to pay for it, to taking legal action. A list of the UDRP arbitration
providers, with links and their fees, is also included.
A detailed list of UDRP complaint filing steps appears at http://www.icann.org/udrp/udrp-rules-24oct99.htm.
See Aaron Elstein, "Silicon Investor Deletes Posts in ZiaSun Cyber-Libel
Case," Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, February 7, 2000.
for an enumeration of investigations and other options for pursuing consumer
and also Christine Winter, "Groups to Share Mail, Net Gripes; Cyberspace
Complaints to be Added to Database," Sun-Sentinel, May 11, 2000,
Try your county law library or local law school library to locate books
on the subject. One looseleaf title I can recommend is Internet and
Online Law (Law Journal Seminars-Press 1996-), by Kent D. Stuckey.
Chapter 3 of the book is dedicated to "Factual Misstatements" and theories
of recovery, defenses, damages, and tort theories as well as First Amendment
See "One Cover or Many?," Reinsurance Magazine (June 1, 2000, pp.
16+). The author describes two types of e-commerce risk: "The first stems
from carrying information on the Internet, giving rise to exposures such
as liability to a third party for the infringement of intellectual property
rights; misuse of statutory information, breach of confidence or infringement
of privacy; the transmission of a virus and cyber-vandalism" — where a
Web site is fraudulently altered. Secondly, there are the risks of undertaking
actual business transactions. "This is in addition to traditional publisher's
liability, crime-related risks and/or business interruption by fraud or
See Randy B. Holman, "Global Reach: E-Commerce May Be an Economic Boon,
But It Comes with Its Own Set of Risks and Boundaries... or Lack of Them,"
& Settlements, January 7, 2000.
See Michael Schroeder, "Fraud Charges Are Brought Against Touters Using
the Web," Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2000. Among a number
of other SEC actions, the article notes, "The SEC also is bringing more
cases against foreign nationals who target U.S. investors." The article
proceeds to discuss the cases of German residents who, among other things,
"agreed not to violate U.S. securities laws, to disgorge their profits
plus interest, and to pay a civil penalty of $50,000 each" following an
See Mary-Kathryn Zachary, "Technology and Employment Law," Supervision,
vol. 61, March 1, 2000, pp. 19+. There are a growing number of articles
directed at corporations to assist them in planning and dealing with Internet
rumors about products, services, employment practices, revenge Web sites,
hackers and other issues. See also, to name a few, Boyd Neil, "Crisis Management
and the Internet," Ivey Business Journal, vol. 64, January 1, 2000,
pp. 13+; "Protecting Your Good Reputation," Business Week, March
27, 2000, pp. F24; Jane Arney, "Web Rumors Battled by the Wounded; Rights:
Constitutional Protection of Free Speech Has Left Companies Vulnerable
to Internet Rumormongers," The Baltimore Sun, March 19, 2000, p.
Be sure to request specifically whether you want your name removed from
the commercial mailing lists, the nonprofit soliciting organization lists,
and/or theTelephone Preference Service. You may contact the DMA at Mail
Preference Service, DMA, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
According to the DMA site, should you receive sexually oriented advertising
at your home, you must go to the U.S. Postal Service and ask for Form 2150
or Form 1500 (depending on whether you know the company sending the mail).
Jason Garon of Mission Viejo, California, pleaded guilty to Internet forgery
and may face up to 7 years in prison for redirecting millions of unsolicited
e-mails (spam) through the Market Vision graphic studio (of Irvington,
NY). According to District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, who brought the action
in Westchester County, New York, Garon used Market Vision's system to hide
the real source of the mail campaign. He used it out of fear that his Internet
service provider (ISP) might interrupt his service if he was found out
as the sender of the porn and get-rich-quick scheme e-mails. He had targeted
millions of America Online (AOL) subscribers, disguising the messages to
look like they came from IBM's Internet service provider, IBM.net. The
level of traffic crashed the Market Vision Company's internal network.
Sentencing is scheduled to occur in March. See Erich Luening, CNET News.com
(December 12, 2000).
See Steve Ulfelder, "Lies, Damn Lies, and the Internet: Misinformation
about Companies," Computerworld, vol. 31, July 14, 1997, p. 75.
See "Gossip on the Web: Truth, Lies and Cyberspace: Use of the Internet
for Misinformation," The Economist (U.S.), vol. 351, April 24, 2999,
pp. 84+, which includes misinformation incidents involving PairGain company,
an alleged Bloomberg Web release, Mariah Carey, Tommy Hilfiger, Monica
Lewinsky, Pierre Salinger, and Kurt Vonnegut.
See WOW Newsletter article "From the Front: PR Pros Share Their Lessons
to Handle Rogue Web Sites and Assaults on Their Brands," The Monthly Newsletter
for Web Professionals from the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW),
vol. 3, December 2000 at http://www.joinwow.org/newsletter/16/in/.
It provides guidelines for victims of rogue Web sites, as well.
See "From the Front: PR Pros Share Their Lessons to Handle Rogue Web Sites
and Assaults on Their Brands" in WOW Newsletter. vol.3, Issue 16, December
2000 at http://www.joinwow.org/newsletter/16/in/
discussing United Airlines. "Although it offers customer service e-mail
links on its own site, it apparently ignores customer complaints coming
from other sites. Enter Untied.com, United Airlines' most heavily trafficked
rogue site to date. The site's run by Jeremy Cooperstock, a professor at
Montreal's McGill University. Four years ago, he suffered what he thought
to be shoddy service from United Airlines. His first letter of complaint
got no response; his second brought only a form letter. And that's all
it took for Cooperstock to launch Untied.com, a now-popular forum for disgruntled
airline passengers. The site generates close to 20,000 visitors per month
and has gotten a lot of media coverage, including the Chicago Tribune,
The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. In addition to posting
unflattering news about the company and customer complaints, the site encourages
visitors to complete an online complaint form with the opportunity to be
anonymous. The site forwards them to UAL's customer relations director
See Aaron Elstein, "'Cybersmear' Suit Is Dropped Against Message-Board
Critics" in Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, April 13, 2000. The
article details the withdrawal of Hitsgalore.com's lawsuit against message
posters who claimed that the company's president was a felon, and the company
was "a classic pyramid scheme" among other things. Moral of the story is
don't bring suit if the alleged libel is true.
This tactic worked for Tommy Hilfiger against misinformation about an alleged
appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show that never occurred. See Steve Ulfelder,
"Lies, Damn Lies, and the Internet: Misinformation about Companies," Computerworld
, vol. 31, July 14, 1997, p. 75.
See Karen Lundegaard, "The Internet Is Playing a Principal Role in Recall
of Bridgestone/Firestone Tires" The WSJ.com (August 16, 2000).
See Steve Ulfelder, "Lies, Damn Lies, and the Internet: Misinformation
about Companies," Computerworld, vol. 31, July 14, 1997, p. 75.
and Richard B. Schmitt, "Terminix Lawsuit Aims to Mute a Web Critic" Wall
Street Journal Interactive Edition, December 3, 1999.