back to article FYI: Faking court orders to take down Google reviews is super illegal

A New York business owner will be spending the next nine months behind bars after he was convicted of forging court orders to take down unflattering online reviews. Michael Arnstein, who at the time was running a gemstone and jewelry company in Manhattan, was sentenced today after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy …

  1. jameshogg

    "FYI: Faking court orders to take down Google reviews is super illegal"

    Unless it's a baseless DMCA.

  2. Michael Hoffmann
    WTF?

    How was he found out?

    I'm curious: did Google routinely check back with the supposed judge or court and they said "we have no record of this"?

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Re: How was he found out?

    Maybe a bad copy machine? Black splotches, lines, etc. are dead giveaways. Or, the judge was long dead and buried? It's Google... they have powers we mere mortals can only dream of... oh.. and lawyers.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: How was he found out?

    It was probably reported by one of the people who wrote the reviews. I'd be surprised if Google cared enough to check.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Re: How was he found out?

    Nope, Google doesn't give a shit. Look at all the Youtube takedowns where there was no actual court order. They don't verify a thing. You don't even have to forge a document... just send 'em an email.

  6. Herring`

    Re: How was he found out?

    Possibly he'd just scanned the one legitimate court order and then shopped in the other review URIs - leaving everything else identical. Which, had Google decided to look at them, would've been pretty obvious.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    and gave him 6 months. (out in 2??)

    A really solid deterrent, when it's still cheaper and faster to do it illegally. I'm sure this will never happen again.

  8. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Federal sentences of less than 12 months result in the prisoner serving 100% of the time (although any pre-trial detention time counts towards the total. This is per the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

    For sentences of more than 12 months, "85%" of the sentence must be served, but after that the prisoner can be paroled if their behavior was good. The average is length of stay is, apparently, 88% of the sentence.This is largely because the federal Bureau of Prisons ignores the plain text of the statute -- 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b) -- and uses random percentages instead of the 54-days-per-year in the text. This callous disregard by the BOP was challenged, and upheld, by the Supreme Court, so instead of 54-days-per-year, the actual credit for good behavior is 47 days. (OK, so the rationale is not wholly insane, but the dissent in the case - https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-5201.pdf -- is a lot more rationale for people who can both read *and* count!)

    So a judge sentencing someone to "a year and a day" may actually be doing the defendant a favor, as a 366 day sentence works out at 319 days in prison, while a 365 day sentence requires 365 days in chokey!

  9. jake Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Remember, anyone searching on his name will find this story from now into eternity. Would YOU purchase anything of value from him?

  10. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Remember, anyone searching on his name will find this story from now into eternity.

    Not so fast, Einstein. He's going to get Google to take down search result(s) about him and jail time. Not sure if he's going to do it legally or not.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Who said anything about google, Kemosabe?

  12. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    "So a judge sentencing someone to "a year and a day" may actually be doing the defendant a favor, as a 366 day sentence works out at 319 days in prison, while a 365 day sentence requires 365 days in chokey!"

    And that's what happens when lawyers are not required to be numerate.

  13. GBE

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    For sentences of more than 12 months, "85%" of the sentence must be served, but after that the prisoner can be paroled if their behavior was good.

    Is it really parole? Where the released prisoner is still under court supervision and subject to re-incarceration if certain behavior restrictions are violated?

    Or is it just a sentence reduction? Where the sentence is completely served, and the released prisoner is not under court supervision?

    Everything I've read refers to it as a sentence reduction.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    while I agree, in principle, how many people (percentagewise) check the seller? They feel savvy when they check amazon rating, unaware they're mostly fake...

    And please remember, the Register readers are a TINY minority of those, who generally question reality, and only some of us, (oh, the Superhumans), go down the "trust, but verify" path...

  15. Valerion

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    He got fined $20,000 but apparently spent "$30,000 fuckin thousand dollars" - which is $30m, which seems a lot.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Some of the most obvious fake reviews seem to be if the reviewer is a 'top 500' or such like reviewer.

    See a small amount of reviews with a number of these reviewers being in there and the review is usually based on free goods 'not in any way in return for a favourable' review.

    These top x reviewers on Amazon actually make me think fake straight away rather than the intended reaction, I guess.

  17. Steve Aubrey

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    "lawyers are not required to be numerate"

    My favorite quote from Innumeracy (check your local bookstore), from a kid who got a math assignment:

    "Hair just doesn't grow in miles per hour!"

    Maybe he grew up to be a lawyer.

  18. jake Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    A friend once asked how much water could be put through a 5/8" hose.

    I answered "All of it!".

    He didn't understand. Thirty years on, he still doesn't understand.

    He owns a rather large law firm.

  19. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    "Remember, anyone searching on his name will find this story from now into eternity."

    Until he invokes his "right to be forgotten"

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    Val noted, "...which is $30 Million..."

    Our hero wrote, "...b/c I spent $30,000 f**kin thousand dollars..."

    Perhaps his "court order" was written to the same standard as his other prose, making it rather obvious to anyone reading it that it probably didn't originate from someone with an education.

  21. jake Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    "Right to be forgotten"? In New York? What colo(u)r is the sky on your planet?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    "Would YOU purchase anything of value from him?"

    The trying to scam Google wouldn't phase me.

    The negative reviews might not phase me, that would depend on how many vs how many positive reviews, and what caused them to be negative eg the reviewer was an idiot who was in the wrong and couldn't get their way, or a yelper trying to get more than their fair share (see South Park). How a store handles negative reviews can tell you a lot about their character.

    The trying to hide negative reviews - that's a totally different story with me. If I catch you hiding one I know you have the will to do it, and now I can't know how often you've done it before.

  23. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    gave him 6 months

    Nine months, according to the article. And as has been pointed out, he'll have to serve them all. Though, frankly, even two months in a prison seem pretty unpleasant to me - probably unpleasant enough to discourage most people from doing something as stupid as continuing to forge court orders just to silence some critics.

  24. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Re: Sooo, they fined him less than he spent to do it legally

    That is one of the curiosities of American (perhaps Anglo-American) law, and has been around for a long time.

    Have a gander at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1949/08/27/old-eight-eighty-i.

  25. gurugeorge

    It’s turned out well for him. Has a 5* google rating sure that’s brought in tens of thousands a month.

  26. Daniel Gould

    And how long is that going to last now then? I imagine that trolls will be on to that pretty quickly :-)

  27. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    He should have simply faked his own reviews

    After all that's what everyone else does and it's completely legal.

  28. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Re: He should have simply faked his own reviews

    After all that's what everyone else does and it's completely legal.

    Yep, any modern internet savvy individual knows, best way to deal with bad press is to bury it in made up (just maybe best not to use fake judge references).

    ...Worked for the FCC in it's net neutrality consultation...

  29. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: He should have simply faked his own reviews

    "best way to deal with bad press is to bury it in made up "

    "The Big Lie" pinciple. It's what outfits like Reputation.com reply on to "sanitise" your internet records (which brings up the point that when looking someone up, it's worthwhile going to at least page 2 or 3 of the results to see if there's a marked change in what's being said)

  30. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: He should have simply faked his own reviews

    After all that's what everyone else does

    Bite your tongue. Real IT professionals use machine-generated fake reviews. Writing your own is for the noobs.

  31. Graham Cobb

    How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    It has been very easy, for over 20 years, to electronically sign documents. How long do we have to wait for courts to implement this?

    Every judge should have a signing key and so should every court. Every document produced by the judge should be signed with both keys. All other documents involved in a case should be signed by the court (and probably also the submitting lawyer). It should be trivially easy for someone to check the electronic signature is valid (a website to do it for individuals and small companies; large companies could build it into their own systems).

    I know it involves changes to court systems, but why wasn't the work started over 10 years ago and completed 5 years ago?

  32. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
    Devil

    Re: "why wasn't the work started over 10 years ago and completed 5 years ago?"

    Because Crapita has only had the contract for 15 years. Project plan due soon.*

    *PS: Don't hold your breath

  33. jake Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    How long? Well, consider that I personally know many lawyers (and a couple sitting judges) that call email a "twix". Also consider that a couple of the above still have (and USE!) TELEX machines ... and I don't think I've ever stepped into a law office that didn't have a standing order for bulk FAX paper. So I'd say maybe around the turn of the next century. Note the "maybe".

  34. Khaptain Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    I work with lots of hospitals that absolutely refuse certain communications unless they are sent by fax... And I work in what's called a very modern society...

  35. Ledswinger Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    I know it involves changes to court systems, but why wasn't the work started over 10 years ago and completed 5 years ago?

    In the US presumably it's complicated by the number of different state systems plus whatever the Feds use?

    In the UK the answer is a lot easier: Because the Ministry of Justice & Home Office couldn't find their own arse without assistance, and every IT related project they touch turns to (expensive) ash.

  36. TonyJ Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    Re: Faxes.

    I am not sure if this is still true, but for a long time (at least I was lead to believe this), fax was considered a legally-admissible format for a document but other electronic means such as email were not due to the possibility (however small) of being compromised in-flight.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    But why bother with (a separate system for) electronic signatures in this case? The court orders are nearly always public, so just put them on the court's web site with a static URL that people can send to Google (or anyone else) instead of sending them scanned documents.

    Same argument applies to other situations in which the document to be authenticated is public and the recipient can be expected to have an Internet connection.

    I presume the court orders would be marked as not to be indexed by search engines. And if any search engine did index them, the Court could apply to itself for an order to...

  38. Norman Nescio Bronze badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    There is a good reason that lawyers still use Telex. Telex machines have an identification code, known as an answerback, programmed into them that is exchanged with the far end at both the beginning of a message and at the message's end as a sign-off. The sender of a telex message can reasonably assume that if the exchange of answerbacks successfully completes at the end of the message, then the message has been successfully received by the recipient. There is a fair amount of legal precedent in the law of England & Wales, and the USA, dealing with this and related issues. As a result of the legal precedents, telex documents have certain legal advantages over faxes and emails. In common parlance, telex messages are 'legal documents' in a way that faxes and emails are not.

    Wikipedia: Entores Ltd v Miles Far East Corp - decision in contract law on the moment of acceptance of a contract over telex

    Obviously, organisations can use emails and public key cryptography to authenticate messages and demonstrate delivery and acceptance, but AFAIK the international legal framework around such practices is still being constructed. For example, here is El Reg reporting on the service of a writ by email: The Register: High Court approves service of a lawsuit by email in 2006.

  39. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    "fax was considered a legally-admissible format for a document"

    Supposedly on "interception" grounds.

    However when faxes start going to wrong numbers, things can get "interesting".

    If you think the scam of emailing to a target to change the bank account number they're paying their builder on is new, then you haven't been around long (It goes back at least as long as the Spanish Prisoner scam). The first 419 scam I ever saw was hammered out one character at a time in ALL CAPS on a telex in the early 1980s and we'd already seen fax fraud by then.

  40. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    fax was considered a legally-admissible format for a document but other electronic means such as email were not due to the possibility (however small) of being compromised in-flight

    IANAL, certainly, but in the US the 1997 UETA (adopted by 47 states and DC) applies to "business, commercial ... and governmental matters", and the 2000 ESIGN Act establishes the validity of electronic signatures for interstate commerce, including things like contracts.

    I have in recent years electronically signed numerous legally-binding documents, such as real-estate contracts. No faxing was involved.

  41. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    If you think the scam of emailing to a target to change the bank account number they're paying their builder on is new, then you haven't been around long

    Yes. What electronic communication has done is lower the unit cost of sending malicious messages, and the cost of discovering potential recipients.

    Of course this fits a broader trend of decreasing cost of communication, benign or otherwise, that goes back centuries. Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe is a good, if dry, survey of the process in Europe for the early modern era (as you may have guessed), and Yates's Control Through Communication is an engaging look at it in the US from 1850 to 1920, when many key innovations happened.

  42. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    Telex???? It must mean something else where you're from.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telex

    In the USofA, it was an antiquated 5-level teleprinter service, last offered, I think, by Western Union (who is now solely a money moving company, I believe)

    Funny thing it, the Telex system *did* have answerback. I used to repair 8-level teleprinters and that super-secure answerback you refer to is merely a string of characters, spit out from a primitive PROM (a rotating drum with 5 or 8 levels of tabs; break off the tab for a "1", leave it on for a "0") in response to receipt of a "WRU" character. NOT hard to spoof.

    In college, I had a KSR-33 in my dorm room, the answerback drum was coded with my "username, CR. password, CR", so to log on, all I had to do was hit the HERE IS key.

    Now, getting yourself ON a Telex network (if they still exist) might be well-nigh impossible. But, once you're on, you could spoof to your heart's content with a microprocessor and a UART (if you can find one that still does 5-level characters)

    CR CR LF LF LTRS LTRS

  43. jake Silver badge

    Re: How long before the courts move into the modern world?

    Not telex-proper (subscriber telex lines are no longer available in the United States). Rather I typed "telex machines" ... look up telex over IP for more. Last time I checked, iTelegram still offered the service.

    Radiotelex is still a thing.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets say I'm looking at reviews for something. I search for that something with review then search for that something on the review site.

    How is removing the reviews from google going to help anyway? The moment you click through to any review you see them all anyway.

    I also take review sites with a huge pinch of salt and like Wikipedia I research a lot before forming an opinion or judgement.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Released 1 week later

    It will be funny if this guy is released in a week, due to a newly signed court order instructing the prison to let him go. :)

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Released 1 week later

    That scene from "Idiocracy"...

    Pvt. Joe Bauers: "Excuse me, but I'm actually supposed to be getting out of prison..."

    Guard: "You're in the wrong line."

  47. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    Or he could have just used the money to make his business not so crap

    Just saying.

  48. DavCrav Silver badge

    Re: Or he could have just used the money to make his business not so crap

    To be fair, it's not clear from the article if, like the court orders, the reviews themselves were fake. Slagging off your competitors, as well as planting fake positive reviews of your own business, is now standard practice in the raw sewage that is the Internet.

  49. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Re: Or he could have just used the money to make his business not so crap

    There's no indication that his business is crap or that the derogatory reviews were real and genuine. That may all be true, but based on the information given, they are just assumptions. For all we know he's a just a small honest trader being victimised by competitors or some keyboard warrior with a grudge. On the other hand, he could be a slimy shit trying to rip off customers and hire their honest and genuine complaints.

  50. EveryTime Silver badge

    Re: Or he could have just used the money to make his business not so crap

    > "For all we know he's a just a small honest trader being victimised by competitors or some keyboard warrior with a grudge. "

    That's possible.

    But few honest businesspeople think it's a good idea to forge a judge's order.

    Fair and honest people stop there -- it's obviously unethical and illegal. They don't even get into the trade-off between the benefit and the chance of being caught.

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