A site that had allegedly been posting false complaints about Realtors and then offering to remove them in exchange for money has been shut down, according to the National Association of Realtors.
NAR and several state Realtor associations had been investigating the site, Realtor-complaints.com, for misuse of the Realtor trademark, said Stacey Moncrieff, editor in chief for Realtor Magazine and NAR’s managing director of publishing, in a blog post.
On Jan. 10, NAR posted a warning about what it called a "scam complaint site," alleging the site purported to post consumer complaints about real estate professionals, but the complaints had been found to have similar phrasing and were therefore suspected to be fake.
In addition, agents who contacted the site were offered the "opportunity" to have their name and the complaint removed from the site for a $99 fee, according to the Ohio Association of Realtors.
The association posted a copy of the wording used in an email to multiple agents in Cincinnati. The subject line read "Listing my home for sale."
My daughter’s friend hired your agency a couple months ago (and I believe you as the realtor). Her home sold very quickly and I’m interested in hiring you to list our home as well.
Would you mind sending me a couple references from past clients of yours? The only concern I have is this bad review I found on realtor complaints..
(It includes a direct link to the realtor-complaints.com site)
I look forward to hearing back from you,
Bill Hays, a broker in Encinitas, Calif., reported getting a nearly identical email on Jan. 12.
"At first, you read the email thinking you might have a lead, but then it starts to become clear that the email is a scam," Hays said in a blog post. "Click on the link and it goes to what appears to be a complaint about me — but my name is clearly taken from an old database as I don’t use my formal name like that nor have I been affiliated with the brokerage listed for many years. Anyways, if you click on the choices to either respond or erase, you are taken to a PayPal page to PAY $49 or $99 dollars to respond or get the complaint removed."
The site’s WHOIS record indicates that, although the site had claimed to have been around since 2002, the domain name was first registered on Jan. 1, 2013, NAR said. The trade group also found the site’s servers were hosted in the Seychelles, an archipelago located east of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
In the warning earlier this month, Moncrieff said NAR’s attorneys were investigating the site and would take steps to shut it down if necessary. On Jan. 23, the site’s home page indicated the site had been sold and would relaunch on May 1.
Screen shot of Realtor-complaints.com home page taken by Bill Hays on Jan. 23
On Jan. 24, the domain was suspended, according to the WHOIS record. The site now only displays links to scores of real estate websites.
Screen shot of Realtor-complaints.com home page taken today
"That is encouraging," said NAR attorney Mike Thiel on the trade group’s website, "but we are trying to find out what that means going forward."
Moncrieff noted that reputation trashing is growing and suggested several tips for agents to manage their reputation online, including maintaining consistent and up-to-date online profiles, asking consumers for reviews in legitimate forums such LinkedIn and Yelp, and signing up for Google Alerts to get notified when their name appears in a search.
It’s "important to approach with caution any service that claims to either track or burnish your reputation," she said.
And if a website posts inaccurate information, agents should contact the site to correct those errors quickly, she said.
"But there’s one step you should never have to take: paying money to have false information removed from a site," she added.