Vitaly Borker’s online reign of terror, once used as his SEO strategy, has earned the failed entrepreneur four years in federal prison. The former owner/operator of DecorMyEyes.com was also ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in restitution and fines as a result of his use of threats of rape, murder, and dismemberment to boost his Google rankings.
Borker told the New York Times in 2010 that negative publicity had vaulted his site to the top of Google’s organic rankings. “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment,” he explained. “So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
It worked, for a while. DecorMyEyes.com did enjoy the coveted top organic position on Google for many terms, allowing Borker to repeatedly swindle and con consumers who believed the listing was a reflection of site quality and trust. What they received on ordering through the site were counterfeits.
When customers complained, as Clarabelle Rodriguez did after receiving knock-offs and having her credit card overcharged, they often faced the wrath of Borker using one of his various aliases. In Rodriguez’s case, it meant harassing phone calls and threats of sexual assault. Borker had her address from the online order and even went so far as to tell her in an email (as an alias, Mr. Russo), “I AM WATCHING YOU.”
Borker was sued in 2006 by two luxury manufacturers for selling counterfeits. In one case, he and two other defendants were ordered to pay $300,000 to Chloe and Montblanc.
Unrepentant, he continued his scams at DecorMyEyes, hiring an SEO consultant before realizing the negative buzz generated by his shady business practices was actually helping him rank higher on his own. In a 2010 interview, he showed a NYTimes reporter his top ranking for the term, “Christian Audigier,” laughing that he outranked the designer’s own website. “Why am I there?” he wondered.
Indeed. As his harassment of Ms. Rodriguez escalated, Borker began phoning her in the middle of the night and continued emailing threats. Exasperated, she took her complaint to his banks, police, her credit card company, IC3, and even the New York state attorney general’s office. “This might sound like exaggeration, but I feared for my life,” she says. “I was actually looking over my shoulder when I left my apartment. Because I had no idea what he was capable of. Psychologically, he had gotten to me.”
Shortly after the NYTimes first drew the nation’s attention to Borker’s bizarre and frightening behavior, Google released a statement condemning him on their blog.
“We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience,” wrote Google fellow Amit Singhal. They quickly worked to resolve the problem, he explained: “... in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.”
By May 2011, Borker’s gig was up and he pled guilty to charges of fraud and sending threatening communications. Still, the case raged on for eighteen months, as Borker denied aspects of the allegations and his lawyer tried (and failed) to prove he was mentally ill.
At his sentencing last week, Borker sobbed openly in court, saying “I had a big mouth and I couldn’t control it.”
Defense lawyer Dominic F. Amarosa pleaded for leniency on the basis that “He threatened, horribly, 25 people,” as if the fact it was a tiny fraction of DecorMyEyes customers somehow excused the behavior. In one instance, Borker threatened to cut off a customer’s legs.
“The fact is, these were vile threats,” the judge told Mr. Borker. “You were terrorizing people.”
In addition to his four year federal sentence and fines/restitution, Borker was sentenced to three years probation, during which time he will not be allowed to use a computer.