UPDATE FOR 23 AUGUST 2015
The site exposingjohns.com is down. It is impossible to know if this is permanent or temporary. If you've read my previous blog on this topic, the site went offline for a period of time, only to reappear again soon afterwards.
According to exposingjohns.com's registration information, the site's registration expires on 15 April 2020, so that may not be the reason.
However, I also learned that someone had posted a job offer on Hackers List for a takedown of the site on 27 July 2015.
hackers needed for a new project check out https://t.co/S87MvjBgjK http://t.co/cNif4hivzh. #hackerslist— HackersList (@HackersList) July 27, 2015
*****End of Update*****
So much about the ExposingJohns.com scam has changed in recent months that I'd have to go back and rewrite my entire original blog post to accommodate it all. Rather than do that again, I'm just going to write this one.
First, while the registration for the site remains with Net4India, the involvement of Palladas appears to have been discontinued. The Palladas-linked address http://188.8.131.52/ has gone offline and I don't know to where it has been moved.
People have mentioned being unable to get a response when they send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org but also to have received text messages demanding payment to have their names removed from the site. So, while getting no email response, they'll receive text messages.
Furthermore, I haven't seen new names being added to the site in quite awhile. Yet, entire pages have been removed. Many of the older pages didn't have names on them, just phone numbers and city of residence. It's possible that the names that were removed didn't have names attached, so were of no use to ExposingJohns for the purposes of blackmail. This gives the appearance that whoever is behind it all has decided to simply use the names they've already got and try to squeeze them for cash. They already have thousands of names, so the potential for profit still exists.
Stymied for new information, I decided to try my hand at contacting them myself and sent two emails to email@example.com to see what, if anything, would happen.
Using a spare account with a fake name, I sent the first email on 14 May 2015 and the second on the 16th. I waited for a few days (the site says that they'd respond within 24 hours) but got busy with personal affairs and gave-up, figuring that I'd have the same luck as everyone else who had tried: None, whatsoever.
Imagine my surprise when I received two emails in response to mine.
The first arrived on 20 May 2015, but not from ExposingJohns. It was from another site called LawRep.org and reads as follows:
Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 4:49 AM
Subject: ExposingJohns Removal
Your email address was given to us by our associates at removenames.com
We have reason to believe that you were posted on exposingjohns.com . If
you weren't posted on exposingjohns please reply with the word
If you were posted on exposingjohns, the problem you have is it shows up
on Google for everyone to see. You have to get the page deleted
so that it drops off Googles search engine. We can represent you and get
the post deleted. If you want our help contact us.
- So, who is LawRep.org? Well, it's an anonymously-registered site (of course) and the registration is out of Kirkland, Washington. They claim to be professionals in the business of online reputation management, though they aren't lawyers, which is odd for a site called "LawRep". If you're not a lawyer, you're not a "law rep", you're just some guy with a laptop. Their offer to "represent" me is spurious, since only a licensed attorney could represent me in legal matters.
They even take partial credit for helping to take down two sites, predatorwatch and potentialprostitutes, but are simply making the claim without providing evidence that they had anything to do with it. They could have, but it's just as likely that they are simply taking credit for other people's work, including mine. It is unlikely that they had anything to do with it, since their website was only created in April 2015 and both of those sites were long gone by then.
Their website provides contact information, including an address and phone number.
The address 2637 E Atlantic Blvd #32763 Pompano Beach, FL 33062 seems to be a mail drop. The phone number is (800) 210-6587 and that phone number has been associated with such things as Cosmetic Garments SmokersRx and Tummy Tuck Recovery, whose website tummytuckrecovery.com used the exact same servers, Softlayer, as LawRep.org does. Also, noteworthy is that LawRep's mailing address is in Florida, just like ExposingJohns former address and they're both in the area of Miami, Florida.
Now, that's a rather odd coincidence, don't you think?
They didn't say exactly how RemoveNames even got my email address. As far as my fake name being listed on ExposingJohns, it isn't and they would have known that if they'd bother to check. It looks like they just went through ExposingJohns' inbox and sent the same reply to everyone who had contacted them.
Okay, I did mention that I received two emails in response to mine. The first was from LawRep, but the second actually came from firstname.lastname@example.org! I was so excited that I nearly kissed my neighbor's ugly cat.
Sent: Saturday, May 23, 2015 12:17 AM
Subject: Re: Question Regrading payment
We do not post edit or remove profiles. That is between the poster and
the individual who was posted.. We do not give out any information on
the poster, they are anonymous.
If you have the thousands of dollars you can try a lawyer.
Your best option for removal is Googling exposingjohns removal.
Reputation companies like internetreputation.com ,lawrep.org ,
defamationremovallaw.com can get you removed or go directly to the
removenames.com directory and pick one of the many reputation management
companies, they can help.
An IP trace indicates that this email may have originated in Germany, using the servers of United Gameserver Gmbh, which is a gaming site. They could have masked their actual originating IP or they could have hacked into the servers. Either way, it doesn't matter.
Okay, they listed websites by name to "help" me get my fake name taken off their own site:
- InternetReputation.com the company that used to advertise on their site;
- LawRep.org the guys who sent me the first email;
- DefamationRemovalLaw.com Attorney Aaron Minc, Esq is a Cleveland, Ohio-based lawyer who specializes in online reputation management. He is a real lawyer and is part of the law firm Dinn Hochman & Potter, LLC. Here is his profile page on the firm's website. Mr Minc has positive reviews of his work and I could find nothing negative said about him in my searches. He seems legitimate and I don't believe that he is part of this scam in any way.
- RemoveNames.com which is the source that LawRep.com gave for how they got my email address. Just like LawRep.org, their site is anonymously-registered.
I was surprised to learn that what ExposingJohns and sites just like them are doing is perfectly legal. Here's an article from Mr Minc's website that explains why these site are not, in fact, breaking any laws.
What should leap right out at you from the email I received from ExposingJohns is the statement that they don't remove profiles. It's not that they cannot, they will not. So, when they say "Good Luck", they actually mean "Fuck You".
The worst thing about all this is that with the names, phone numbers posted online, any scammer could try to cash-in on ExposingJohns, even if they had nothing to do with posting them online in the first place. Get the number, send a text demanding payment and let the money start rolling in. Seems like a scammer's wet dream.
But, you're not completely helpless here. Here are my suggestions:
- if you receive a text claiming to come from ExposingJohns, file a police report. This might not do any good, since they don't appear to be breaking any laws;
- change your phone number. If they can't call or text you, they are out-of-luck in trying to harass you by phone. Your friends and family will quickly forget your old phone number;
- set your Facebook profile so that people looking for you cannot use your phone number to find you. It would be better to not link your phone number to your profile. This is how the ExposingJohns got your name and other details in the first place.
- set your Facebook profile to private so that only people you approve will be able to see your information. If you're not active on Facebook delete your profile;
- go to the ExposingJohns profile you're listed on to see the picture of you they are using and then remove that picture from your Facebook profile. Use something else, like the logo of your favorite sports team;
- if anyone asks about all these changes, tell them you're being harassed by telemarketers. If your boss or prospective employers mentions the ExposingJohns profile, tell them that you were being harassed by telemarketers or by somebody who got mad at you over something you posted on the Internet and you had to change your phone number as a result. Since online trolls are known to be particularly mean-spirited, they'll probably take your word for it.
Since the information is already on the Internet, there is no taking it back. Even if your profiles gets taken down, there is no way to know if someone has simply saved the information on their computer and would just repost it somewhere else. That's why I think that paying a company to delete your profile seems to be a waste of money. You may notice that many of these companies offer online monitoring services for a few months after the initial takedown. Once it expires, then what? The scammers who put it up initially could simply put it back up or another group of scammers could do the same thing. How much money are you going to spend and for how long?
Just follow the suggestions I've given above and you should be okay.