I used all of these steps and got a full refund plus expenses from a company within 3 months of implementing this strategy.
Why I Decided to Ruin a Business Online
This is the story of how I got my money back after a business ripped me off and refused to give me a refund. I did this using guerrilla tactics to "ruin" them online—or rather, I used the publicness of the online platform to persuade them to do the right thing.
I wrote this article to help empower consumers to hold a business accountable online for their wrongdoings. I believe that the internet empowers the consumer. If utilized responsibly, it can be used to hold scam artists accountable and force them to do right by the consumer or face damage to their business.
Reverse Online Reputation Management (ORM)
It is absolutely possible to ruin a business online, but only in certain circumstances. There is an entire industry based on protecting online reputations called online reputation management (ORM). If you understand how it works, you have the ability to make an online reputation manager rip their hair out. This is called reverse ORM or negative SEO.
Please only utilize these tactics if a business has genuinely ripped you off.
The first step is to identify the weaknesses in the business's online reputation. A good online reputation manager will have things under control, but most businesses do not employ ORMs because, let's face it, a lot of business owners still believe the internet is silly and that it cannot hurt them. They are wrong. So, so wrong.
Which Businesses Are Vulnerable to Online Pressure?
In order to understand if you should try to ruin a business online, you should first take stock of that business and its online presence. You will never bring down a multi-national corporation such as Walmart, Disney, or Apple. If the business you are upset with is a major corporate player, it is best to stick within normal channels and try to work out your grievance within their system. You can even hire a professional mediator.
Small Business or Large?
You have the best chance of recovering the amount they refuse to refund if you are dealing with a small business. A business like this is also more likely to work with you when you are unhappy with their product or service. So the good news is that you can probably get your money back without resorting to extreme tactics. This is good because ruining a business online is actually a lot of work.
Things to Remember About Ruining a Business Online
- Your goal is to get satisfaction for your complaint. You do not really want to ruin a business online; you just want your money back. You're only going to take this as far as you must in order to get your money back (or whatever the desired result is). Play fair.
- Assess the real value of your complaint. If the business in question sold you a $10 item and you were unhappy, then you should be realistic. Do you want to spend two months of your time and maybe $100 seeking justice for a $10 rip-off? If the amount was small, I suggest contacting the business owner and trying to negotiate a return. If that doesn't work, write some bad reviews and move on. (The business I went after took in excess of $2,000 from me, so it was worth my time and money to pursue the complaint.) However, if you want to spend money ruining a business online out of principle alone, then make sure you go in knowing the costs.
- Make credible threats. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do. And when this is the case, you should probably just give it up. If contacting the business does not work, then write some bad reviews, contact the Better Business Bureau, and move on with life. There are some things you can do as a consumer to take the power back. Just be realistic about what you can do and don't threaten anything more.
How to Destroy a Business Online and Get Your Money Back
Before ruining the online reputation of a business, give them a chance. The measures I am about to outline here take a lot of time and commitment on your part. You should only do this if all traditional measures fail.
Step 1: Call the Business and Explain the Problem
Before you resort to other tactics, you should try to get your money back in the easiest way possible: talk to the business.
In my case, I sent the business an email. I politely outlined what I felt that they had done wrong and asked them to take a few simple steps in order to make me feel better. At this early stage, what I asked for would have cost the business nothing. I was simply asking them to right the wrong that I felt had been perpetrated against me. I have found that in most cases this works. In this particular case, I did not even get a response from the business.
Step 2: In a Letter, Explain What Solution You Want and Warn Them of the Actions You Are About to Take
If talking to them or corresponding via email does not work, the next step you should take is to write a letter. On paper. (I know, right?) Explain your complaint again. Very clearly, tell them exactly how they can resolve the problem. This is giving them a second chance to right the wrong they have done to you. However, this time you are also going to tell them what happens if they decide not to honor your requests.
After you outline your wants and needs for the second time, outline the steps you will take if they do not comply with your requests. Make sure to give them a deadline. "If you have not returned my money and/or done XYZ by July 2, I will take the following steps..."
Read More From Toughnickel
Send this letter via certified mail. Give the business a reasonable amount of time to respond. Between two and four weeks is best, depending on the circumstances. Remember that the goal is to get satisfaction for your issue, not to ruin the business online, which should be seen as a last resort. Give them ample opportunity to satisfy your requests before you declare an online reputation war.
Step 3: Begin Your Online Campaign Using Reversible Tactics
If the designated timeframe comes and goes and you get no response (or an unsatisfactory response), then they are calling your bluff. The first thing you want to do is take actions that you can reverse or undo if they continue to refuse to refund you. Using reversible tactics, you are still giving them a chance to redeem themselves. (Remember that your goal is to get the business to fix the problem, not to destroy them.)
Social Media (Twitter and Facebook): Take to Twitter and Facebook and other social media channels. Post on their Facebook wall, and Tweet @ them. Let other people online know why you do not recommend this business.
At this stage, you will be an annoyance. You may get a response from a social media manager, and you may not. Depending on what you ask for, they may just give you your money back to shut you up and get you out of their hair. Great! Read my article about experiments I have done to test social media business response and crisis management for more ideas.
Yelp and Other Professional Industry Sites: If that does not work, leave reviews on websites like Yelp and other professional industry-specific sites for the business they are in. When you write the reviews, make sure you clearly articulate the problem and the response you got from the company regarding your complaint.
Be factual. Just tell your story, do not say that the business "sucks" or that you hate them, etc. If you are bitter, then you may not be taken seriously by the business or by other customers. You want to hurt them where it counts: at the bank. Writing overly nasty reviews is the best way to get people to disregard your opinion.
Step 4: Register Their Names on Social Media
Register Facebook, Google+, and Twitter accounts in the business's or business owner's name. If their Twitter is @foodmart, then try to get @foodmartstores or some other variation.
Step 5: Register Their Names as Domain Names
At this point, it is time to invest some money to pursue your cause. In my case, the name of the businessperson who wronged me was available as a domain name. I registered his name (name.com) at GoDaddy for about $8. I also registered a variation of his business name (businessname.com).
When you register these properties, try and get a dot com (rather than .net, .org, or something else). If your grievance is against Acme Widget Company and their domain is acmewidgets.com, then register acmewidgetcompany.com, acmewidgets[your city].com, or something similar.
Step 6: Create Complaint Posts and Pages Online
Once you have acquired similar usernames and domain names, begin posting on social and create a very simple blog page for your new URLs using a low-cost web hosting service like WordPress.
Again, be levelheaded. Tell your story, give updates about the complaint you have filed, and do not use profanity or other bitter words. Think of yourself as a reporter: you are only giving the facts of the case as they unfold. Link to new reviews and other people's unhappy reviews, and ask other customers for their opinions and feedback. Whatever you can do to generate content. You can even ask for submissions from other wronged customers.
Step 7: Use Disclaimers
As a precaution, be sure and add a disclaimer to your blog: "I am not a representative for Acme Widget Company, I am not affiliated with Acme Widgets, I am simply telling the story of how Acme Widgets ripped me off." Make sure you do the same for your social accounts. The bios can be similar: "NOT the Real Acme Widgets Company."
Step 8: Update Your Content
After you have secured all of the properties you can at a reasonable price, then continue to update them. Often. Search engines love fresh updates and new content, so you should update all of the channels and web properties you have as often as possible.
Your goal here is to get their attention. Link to the company's actual website, Facebook profile, etc., as much as you can. When writing, always use the name of the business and call out responsible parties as much as possible so a Google search for that company will pick up your site. You want their attention! Make sure and stress that the business is welcome to contact you at any time to make it right.
Step 9: Keep It Up
Continue to update these sites on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Give the company time to notice you and respond before you do more. After two months of doing this, I had actually been able to outrank the business in Google search results, and people were finding me before they found them! I had hundreds of visitors to my website. I'm unsure about what the cost was to their business, but I do know hundreds of people in my area were made aware of my grievance.
Step 10: Resort to Using Irreversible Tactics
So, up until this point, all of these actions can be undone. If the company you are targeting has a brand manager or an online reputation manager, he or she will be encouraging the business to give you whatever you want to make you stop before you go nuclear.
Going nuclear will cause irreparable damage to the business. If you have followed the previous steps, you should have been able to get the website(s) you created to rank on search engines. When I did this, my complaint website and Twitter posts would pop up each time someone performed a Google search for "Acme Widgets" or "Acme Widget Reviews." This is a nightmare for online reputation managers, which is why going nuclear should be your very last resort. The business will already be feeling pressured to accede to your demands. You are holding them hostage.
Ripoffreport and Pissedconsumer: If you are finding no satisfaction and you decide that it is time to go nuclear, go to sites like ripoffreport.com or pissedconsumer.com to leave reviews. You can leave as many as you want, even link to them on your website to give your complaints authority and ranking in search engines.
Note: Beware that sites like these refuse to remove their reviews after they have been posted. Even if you get your money returned to you and ask nicely, these sites will never take down your reviews. Use these sites with caution because they will keep permanent records of your complaints and will not take them down.
Going Nuclear Is Your Last Resort
Do not destroy the business online too soon. If the business contacts you before you go nuclear, you can agree to turn over the domain names and/or other social accounts in exchange for your refund, plus expenses. Everything up until this point can be undone for a price. And as soon as you cause irreversible damage to a business online, you have lost your bargaining chip.
Think carefully before taking this extreme step against a business. Since it cannot be undone, it may mean that the company will never give you the refund you were after. Posting on these sites is giving up and throwing away all of your bargaining chips. Please do not take these irreparable steps until you are certain that no amount of internet destruction will get your money back. On behalf of brand managers everywhere, please do not file this kind of report without warning the company and giving them ample opportunity to respond without leaving a scar on their permanent internet record.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Cindy on December 26, 2018:
great read. I was just ripped of by an online company. I ordered one thing, they did not send it, they sent some knock off in its place, and then refused to issue an RMA. The person answering the phones stonewalled me in speaking to the boss, said she has"the power of the boss" ect.. I told her I either get an RMA due to a Truth In Advertising scam, OR I will be filing on the company for deceptive marketing practices. She then replied "Go ahead and file you are never getting your money back".
So I filed, FTC, BBB, and The Oregon DOJ.
I then told her to stop communicating with me unless she was going to issue an RMA, these agencies are now acting on my behalf concerning the complaints. She bombarded my email address with all this crap trying to prove her side. I emailed her back 3 times telling her to stop emailing me. Finally I told her I would file on her for harassment as well if she kept it up.
I will be filing another report tomorrow with my DOJ in my state, and submitted proofs of the deceptive marketing. If all this fails, its off the small claims for us. 2K sale.
This lady was so brazen, so completely confident in her ability to bamboozle it made me want to just bring her down. I will do all I can to make life so difficult for her her life is smashed to bits.
POed on September 22, 2018:
The best defense is offense. Go thermonuclear.
Anastasia Varianichenko on July 18, 2018:
Good article. I will try to do it. May be author has some additional advices to update the information? Thank you
Zeeshan Ahmad from pakistan on June 21, 2018:
good article it will help the new people in online businees
GreenWald on February 06, 2018:
Remember, if a company ripped you off they have no respect for you and thought of you as a chump.
Giving them a chance is NOT an option. If the want to refund your money then fine, but still destroy their reputation to teach them a lesson. (they ripped you off and didn't care, so now why should you?)
They count on you showing mercy, they know full well what they are doing when they rip people off, they just don't think the person has any power to stop them. ...well thanks to the internet the power is in the consumers hands again!
Lesson for businesses: Watch how you treat people, treat them with respect at all times or you may draw the ire of someone who will be hell bent on seeing your business reputation destroyed. Its simple, give respect , get respect. Too many businesses now think they are better than their customers, when in reality they are only as good as the customer allows them to be.
outragged on September 01, 2017:
How can a company delete a negative remark left on facebook? My comment had posted and two days later was deleted. How can a business do that?
Juggle Jack from Indonesia on July 24, 2017:
It is wasting time to do that.
Do you get any pleasure from doing that?
Ripped off consumer on June 08, 2017:
The company agreed to a settlement. They mailed a check a week later then put a stopped payment in the check after I signed and notarized the settlement agreement. The company still has a piece of my furniture. I filed a claim and 3 months later no response. This Moving company is a rip off. Spartan Moving Systems, Miami FL.
Sam on April 11, 2017:
I would like to hire someone to do this for me. Do you have any recommendations?
Vindictive on October 29, 2016:
Thank you ma'am I'm about to go nuclear.
Edwin B Lowry from PA on October 02, 2016:
Nice work, and now I know what to do if I ever get ripped off.
Akramul Haq Sagar from Chittagong on September 01, 2016:
Hope so it will help to new online entrepreneurs
relentless2016 on April 29, 2016:
Really good information. I have a few questions though.
How can I reach the author for just 2 questions?
Cynthia on April 20, 2016:
Thank you for this very informative article.