Realtor-complaints.com is no longer offering a recently launched online service, purportedly for consumers to file reviews and complaints about real estate agents.
An investigation by real estate trade association attorneys found evidence the site appeared to be in the process of shaking down real estate agents for cash to get reviews of questionable origin removed from the site.
Earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) posted a warning about the site, after the New Jersey Association of Realtors raised a red flag over the operation.
The New Jersey association investigated Realtor-complaints.com after a string of suspicious complaints popped up against its members. All the complaints contained similar wording, according to NAR’s warning.
When real estate agents named in the “complaints” contacted the site about a complaint, the site pitched them a for-pay service to have the complaint and their name removed from the site.
Earlier this week, DeadlineNews.Com contacted the web site several times for an interview about what appeared to be extortion and fraud. No one responded to the request, which remains open.
The Realtor-complaints.com URL now points to one of those ubiquitous domain name-holding web sites, primarily comprised of scores of links. The links point to still more pages of realty industry links, including links to bona fide, major real estate web sites.
Stacey Moncrieff, editor-in-chief for NAR’s Realtor Magazine and managing director of publishing for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported NAR’s legal staff checked the WHOIS record for the now closed site and discovered that it was hosted on servers located in the Seychelles, an island nation off the east coast of Africa, due east of Somalia and Kenya.
According to NAR, the questionable web site made dubious claims that it had been around since 2002, but according to the WHOIS record, the site was first registered on Jan. 1, 2013.
Moncrieff reported NAR attorneys were continuing an investigating and, if necessary, would take steps to shut down the site, which apparently got the message.
Their efforts, along with those by the New Jersey association, appear to have paid off.
Moncrieff said it’s important to “approach with caution any service that claims to either track or burnish one’s reputation.”
That applies to real estate agents, others operating a business or even consumers subject to online reviews.
The online review market, for better or for worse, is a growing business sector without specific set of standards or guidelines.
Virtually every review site plays by its own rules.
Most well-know review sites operate above board and provide a useful service, but there are review sites with errors, dubious content and questionable intentions.
There are steps anyone can take to be sure online reviewers get it right.
Preventing online review fraud
• Update - Maintain professional profiles on social media sites, at Realtor.com and other sites to keep your information complete, up to date, and consistent.
• Seek legitimacy - Proactively ask for reviews in legitimate forums, such as Yelp and LinkedIn.
• Search the web – Regularly search Google and Yahoo for your name and your company’s name. Bookmark those searches and check them regularly. Get emailed alerts so you know when your company or name pops up on the web.
• Get alerts - Google Alerts will email you a notice whenever your name, company name or any term or phrase you designate shows up on the Internet.
The alert will point you to where the information is posted for your inspection. Set the alerts for variations of your name, company name or other keywords you want to track.
You’ll need a Google account for the service. The account is free, the service is invaluable.
• Investigate - Ask customers where they’ve gone to search for information about you, other professionals and real estate in general. Point them in the right direction.
• Correct mistakes - Quickly correct errors you find in searches or alerts. If you dispute information you find, immediately contact the website and be willing to provide documentation to prove the correct information.
• Don’t get taken - Never succumb to requests for cash to have information removed. That’s a red flag the site isn’t up to snuff.
• Turn them in - Report flagrancies to your local real estate association, consumer advocate, state attorney general, the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission, which has a cross-boarder complaints service against entities in other countries.
• Get legal help - You may have to hire an attorney if a stubborn operator refuses to remove incorrect or unnecessarily scathing information.
Also see: “How to find a real estate agent”