Timothy Sabre, the convicted hacker and former party promoter who claimed to have unlocked the secrets of Google's algorithm, has been stripped of his Google accreditation.
The action follows numerous complaints that his firm Publicity Monster has failed to deliver on pledges to guarantee top 7 rankings on Google Local/Places.
Despite the complaints, NSW Police say it's a consumer protection authority matter, while NSW Fair Trading and Consumer Affairs Victoria refuse to divulge what they are doing. The AFP isn't commenting.
As details emerge of Sabre's criminal history, involving computer hacking, customers have discovered another of his sites called howtobuywebsitetraffic.com. It purports to offer 100,000 human visitors for $119.99.
Know more? firstname.lastname@example.org
Sabre was sentenced to 450 hours community service on a three-year good behaviour bond on April 27, 2001 after being found guilty of the offence "destroy/erase/alter data stored in computer". He had allegedly paid someone to hack into and wipe website designer Hollie Bell's PC and websites. She had worked for one of his businesses in 1999 and says the damage cost her $10,000 and jeopardised her career prospects.
Sabre then declared bankruptcy on December 10, 2001.
The police officer who charged him, Rick Giardini, told Fairfax Media that Sabre was one of the first to have been convicted of computer crimes in Australia.
"From memory he was one of those types that would have walked over any person that stood in his way which is evident when you look at the offence he was convicted of [in 2001]," he said.
Authorities dragging feet
For some time now there have been allegations that Sabre has been ripping off customers, and consumer protection authorities refuse to confirm whether they are investigating.
NSW Fair Trading said it had received 113 complaints about Publicity Monster - 78 this year.
Consumer Affairs Victoria said it was conducting further inquiries after receiving less than 10 complaints.
It's understood many complainants are being sent by consumer protection authorities to state tribunals (28 have been listed in NSW, 6 in Victoria) as Publicity Monster has been uncooperative in mediating many customers' issues with the authorities and customers.
The consumer watchdog, the ACCC, declined to reveal the number of complaints it had received about the SEO firm because, it said, it "treats complaints confidentially".
It also declined to confirm or deny whether complaints had been received, although Fairfax Media has seen at least one made to it.
NSW Police said it was not a police matter but one for consumer protection authorities. The Australian Federal Police didn't respond to a request for comment.
Shown a link to last week's story, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said it did not appear Publicity Monster was selling or offering a financial product, in which case it "would have no jurisdiction to investigate".
Complaints against Publicity Monster so far include that it:
- Doesn't rank many clients' chosen keyword/s in a top 7 placement
- Changes clients' chosen keyword/s to a far inferior one throughout contract
- Doesn't make clear that refunds must be claimed between days 90 and 100
- Refuses to pay refunds in many cases
- Sends debt collector Dun and Bradstreet after clients' invalid debts
- Hides terms and conditions via an obscure URL on its website
- Threatens those who complain with legal action or suspension
- Employs contractors to avoid paying entitlements
- Removes Facebook posts on its official page that are negative
Known also as Timothy Said, Sabre has previously been convicted for carrying an illegal firearm (uncovered by police when they seized his PC over the computer hacking matter), for which he was fined $200, and has had his driver's licence suspended for 12 months for driving an uninsured and unregistered car, which both attracted $200 fines.
ICQ chat logs recovered by NSW Police and submitted to the court from Sabre's PC after it was formatted (because he claimed it had been infected by a virus) show Sabre, known online in the late 90s as "The Designer", having conversations with another hacker. (Sabre told police in an interview that he called himself The Designer because he used to design kitchens and bathrooms.)
He asked the hacker if they knew of a "good" hacking website, the chat records show. "I wanna f--- this chick over," Sabre said.
"I gave her money to do my website and she didn't finish it. f-- I trusted her … but I wanna f--- her for good, she doesn't know I'm pissed … I'm gonna take advantage of that."
Soon after Sabre spoke to them, ICQ logs recovered from Bell's computer show ICQ user "DJ Shockwave" sending a file to Bell, who opened it and was then told by the user that her computer would no longer work.
The user, the logs show, asked if she knew a user named "The Designer". Telling him yes and then asking why, Hollie was told: "He has paid me to hack into your computer. I know it's sad, but it's my job."
NSW Police alleged in court documents that they also found conversations between Sabre and numerous other people where he "frequently speaks of hacking computers and brags about being a professional hacker".
Google accreditation stripped
Google acted quickly following Fairfax Media's report last week, announcing at the weekend that Publicity Monster had been suspended from its partner programme "... for violating one or more of the ... terms and conditions for qualification". The terms say partners are not allowed to "guarantee top placements in Google".
Negative web buzz gains momentum
Whirlpool, one of the only web forums left online for customers to talk about their experiences with the company, has more than doubled in size since last week, reaching 157 pages deep. It had taken just over 3 months to reach 77 pages without media attention, but reached 154 pages deep only one week after publication of Fairfax Media's original article exposing many of Publicity Monster's negative customer experiences and Sabre's past business ventures.
Sabre said he was "happy to defend everything" that Publicity Monster did but refused to talk to this reporter for a response to this article. His lawyer failed to return calls and emails requesting comment.
This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb