Friday, 28 August 2015

Fiverr Horror Story - Gig leads to Negative SEO & Brand Damage threats, Racial Abuse, DDOS Site Attacks and revealing of confidential information provided for Press Release to a Seller.

Upfront Disclaimer

First of all, we used this site once for a 'design brainstorm' among 20 sellers a couple of months back and the response was fabulous and way better that the results we received with a professional agency to whom we paid the big bucks. This site has a bunch of great talent and this rant is not general in nature but is aimed at highlighting one specific bad case. We just happened to have come across the wrong one at the wrong time. So, this story is about one BAD incident that became worst so much so that it is worth mentioning or picked up by media.

FTC Complaints and Law Enforcement Complaint filed and Legal Action commenced against this Seller. 

****How it all Started ***

Wow, we are still still surprised how we got ourselves into this and our team is still recovering from this. We were testing this gig as were surprised with a super low cost for a service for which we recently paid 300 Bucks. We wanted to experiment but got more than what we bargained for ! BTW -

We ordered a Press Release from one of the TOP RATED Fiverr Seller from Philippines who claims to be associated with a leading PR agency to see the difference between professional press releases and the ones offered here through the same Media Company.

Not directly relevant here, but it not difficult to imagine how these hackers in the inside trading case probably got into the Press Release companies Server. Read here.

The seller claiming to be from  the above PR Agency took the order and all went well till she contacted me on the last day of the order delivery and told me that the PR Editor has changed the Title. I provided her an alternate title but she never responded back. When Fiverr marked the delivery late and when the Title was not as per what I specified, I left a negative feedback.

PRBuzz had nothing to do with this seller and were unaware that their name was being used. They promptly blocked the Seller's Account, however the seller setup a new one as she continues to advertise on the site. 

****Negative Feedback came with Extortion and Intimidation of Negative SEO ***

You must have heard about negative SEO Emails. If not read here.  Such threats normally come from anonymous untraceable people but this time, the threat came from a Fiverr Top Seller. Negative SEO can be pretty harmful for all businesses but many people in the world are particularly interested in harming North American business (like our Fiverr Seller - See screenshots below).

The threats were explicit and a combination of Negative SEO + Brand Reputational Damage 

Here comes the first threat of Negative SEO, Extortion and Threats of Causing damage to the brand and the founder name. The seller and their people are involved in providing SEO services on Fiverr and she has extensive online footprint, so also reported to Google and hopefully FTC will take further action this person.

The Good Luck was the final warning :) as if - Watch your dont know what we can do !

Basis this, we received threats from her that they know how to sub optimally use my name and company name in a unfavorable way. Apparently the Seller has a team of people outside North America working on providing SEO Services so have kind of figured out how to harm businesses using the same knowledge. She also made racist claims that I must be Indian so that is why I left a negative feedback. The seller then released my full name and company name in her response to my negative testimonial with racist remarks. She deleted those remarks but screenshots were captured in Real Time.

This seller was aware that making threats against a North American Business and explicitly intending to harm the brand and reputation and then extorting a 5 Plus rating is a CRIMINAL MATTER in North America but continued to threaten and follow up with her THREATS by released Confidential Information. Apparently, as we are finding out, the Seller has some US connections. I cautioned her but she continued with her threats and follow up on her threats. 

Here she follows through with her threat by releasing my name and company name which was provided to her only for press release. She also makes a racial remark.

****Seller tries to cancel the Order atleast 5 Times *****

Incidentally, I get multiple site visits from Phillipines (sellers country) and they scout around on team page, I get Linked In Anonymous Searches and activity peaks up. My colleagues based out of West Coast also start seeing activity on their profiles. Our office email recieves atleast one suspicious file with an attachment from an unknown I.P.

Then the site goes down and my server company is unable to figure out what happened. It was quick, whosoever was behind this was neat and thats when server monitoring started and we carefully started monitoring our IT systems.

After I made complaints to the CS and the PR Agency, the Seller tried to cancel the Order atleast 5 times all of when I declined the request. Apparently, the Seller has found a way to remove negative feedback by cancelling the Gig. Without any warning, Fiverr cancelled the Order and the seller deleted the email communications where threats were made, but I had captured live video logs as well as screenshots for future use which have been forwarded to FTC.

Fiverr policy states that if a threat is made and feedback is extorted, the user will be banned, however no action has been taken against the user. 

Here is the cancellation screenshot.

Fiverr CS team took immediate action to ignore the threatening messages but did not show the same enthusiasm in blocking the account of the seller as per their own policies. A Top Rated seller going offline causes significant revenue loss so we understand the lack of urgency.

[PR Agency] replied to me that the seller is actually not associated with [Media Company] and is probably a customer and . [PR Agency] was surprised to find their name was used here so they have terminated the account of this seller.

A complaint has been filed with FTC as well regards this issue w.r.t a North American Business receiving EXPLICIT threats of harm to business by way of negative SEO or other ways. We cannot attribute the DDOS attacks to the seller just yet, but as they happened in close proximity as events, we have our reasonable unproven suspicions.

**** Icing on the Cake - DDOS Attack from three countries within 1 Hour - Site Crashed **** 

We don't know whether she and her team were responsible for the DDOS attacks but coincidentally within 1 hour of her threats our site started receiving massive volumes of spam traffic from three countries and the site crashed. After monitoring for another couple of hours, we found that all the traffic was coming from three countries (one of which was the Seller's country of business). My IT security teams are monitoring alongwith Trademark Monitors for any negative feeds being published by the seller online.

The Fine Print 

The PR company that was involved in this case is now in the process of removing all previous press releases as it was a violation of their Terms and Conditions, so retrospective work completed does not come with any guarantees.

People can hide behind anonymity here but the information you share with them comes with no guarantees that it will not be disclosed. In this case, as we are finding out, we have almost identified the Seller, so the safety of online anonymity is not working for her. In addition, what we learnt was that you will inevitably have to share your information with the sellers and while many of them genuinely respect this trust and confidentiality common denominator, the unscrupulous ones will not hesitate to explicitly threaten you with misuse as they did with us.

Fiverr is a platform where buyers and seller meet, so if one lands up in harms way between sellers and buyers, its every man/women to themselves. People who are genuinely trying to make a living here may not have the resources to go after high level resolution so we feel for even the sellers who meet unscrupulous buyers.

**** Update - The seller is still active on Fiverr. My complaint to Fiverr has not yet been responded to and an FTC complaint has been filed. due to FTC rule violation where testimonials are being sought under duress or most of her testimonials could be fake or created by own friends.

If you want to read more on negative SEO, read the below posts.

Amazon files Lawsuits against multiple Fiverr Seller

California Attorney tells you How to Spot Negative SEO 

Negative SEO - Have mercenaries been hired to torpedo your search engine rankings

Negative SEO Lawsuits Coming 

Spam Friendly Hosts and NSEO Extortionists 

Negative SEO Lawsuits coming soon