December 9, 2010
E-retailer charged with cyber-bullying and fraud
The owner of DecorMyEyes.com was arrested Monday.
Vitaly Borker, the owner and operator of online luxury eyewear retail site DecorMyEyes.com, was arrested today in Brooklyn, NY, and charged with four counts of defrauding customers and threatening them when they complained, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has announced.
Borker was the subject of a long article in the New York Times Nov. 28 in which he was depicted as bragging that he goaded unhappy customers into posting complaints on online review sites, believing that would raise his ranking in Google search results. Google responded a few days later by announcing it was taking steps to lower the rankings of merchants that consistently provided poor service, including Borker’s.
According to a complaint filed Friday in federal court in New York City, Borker since January 2007 has sold counterfeit or damaged goods from DecorMyEyes.com, made unauthorized charges to customers’ credit cards and that, when customers tried to return or exchange merchandise “a campaign of aggressive, obscene and intimidating conduct followed from a representative of DecorMyEyes.com.”
The complaint, filed by postal inspector Douglas G. Veatch of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, details several instances in which Borker allegedly threatened customers and their family members by telephone and e-mail. In one case, Borker told a customer “I know where you work” and “I can hurt you,” and then sent an e-mail to the customer’s workmates accusing him of dealing in drugs and homosexual practices.
"Millions of people shop online and rightfully assume they are dealing with legitimate and honest vendors, Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara said in announcing the arrest. “Online consumers should never be in fear for their safety simply because they have chosen the convenience of Internet shopping. But that is what allegedly occurred in this case. Vitaly Borker, an alleged cyberbully and fraudster, cheated his customers, and when they complained, tried to intimidate them with obscenity and threats of serious violence. Especially during this holiday shopping season, today's arrest should send a message that we will protect online consumers and that victims of people like Borker are not alone.”
The complain charges Borker with one count each of cyberstalking, making interstate threats, mail fraud and wire fraud. The cyberstalking and interstate threats charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison; the mail fraud and wire fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
DecorMyEyes.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The federal complaint says Borker was sued in federal court in 2006 for allegedly selling counterfeit goods and settled the case in September 2007, agreeing to pay a $300,000 judgment and to stop infringing on the trademarks of luxury brands. The current complaint also says there have been over 200 complaints made against DecorMyEyes with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
In the New York Times article, Borker is quoting as saying that the complaints made against him on various web sites improved his standing in Google. That prompted a broad discussion among search engine optimization specialists about whether such complaints in fact helped DecorMyEyes.com earn front-page positions in Google natural search results.
But close examination by SEO experts suggest that the postings to complaint sites did not boost the search results of DecorMyEyes.com. In most cases, the sites hosting those consumer comment took action to prevent poor retailers from benefiting from complaints, such as by adding no-follow tags to links to DecorMyEyes.com that tell search engines that the site does not vouch for the linked site.
Ironically, one of the links that did help DecorMyEyes.com was from a New York Times article that mentioned a particular model of Versace eyeglasses and linked to a page at DecorMyEyes.com that had a photo of those glasses, says Byrne Hobart, a marketing consultant at online marketing firm Blue Fountain Media. Hobart says DecorMyEyes.com also used so-called “black hat” methods, such as creating web pages with random text containing links to the retailer’s site and perhaps paying other sites for links.
“The DecorMyEyes story is entertaining, but it’s really two stories in parallel,” Hobart wrote in a blog post last week. “One is the story of Vitaly Borker, jerk par excellence, who browbeats his customers into accepting ripoffs. The other is the story of DecorMyEyes, a typical low-quality e-commerce site that used a combination of black-hat techniques and dumb luck to rank well.”