My Lawsuit from RL360 Insurance

Interesting Frivolous Lawsuits against Mr. Money Mustache – Round 3!

In February 2016, I received note from Bluehost (my domain registrar) that a company had submitted a subpoena against this website.

The email included the following PDF:

subpoena

I found this pretty interesting, because while I had never heard of the company myself, a quick Google search indicated that a discussion in the Forum section of Mr. Money Mustache was right up there at #3 in the search results:
RL360

Clicking that result to visit my own forum, I saw that some MMM readers had gone through some very bad experiences with the company:

RL360 Insurance – I dun Goofed

Even more interestingly, there was another website called “How to Retire Early” in those search results that stated: “I have taken down the contents of this page due to an ongoing legal procedure against me.” Update: since I wrote that, RL360’s attorneys pressured him to take down even the page saying that he took the original article down! 

The original title of the article was apparently “The RL360 scam – my $15,000 Investment lesson”, and an older version of the text is still available on archive.org.

I have since spoken with the owner of this website – he’s a Mustachian himself and was just trying to share his experience with the company to help others avoid making the same mistake he did. He took down the stuff because he didn’t feel it was smart to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys just to keep one article up on his website.

On the other hand, I will gladly spend the money to make sure this issue is not buried.

Searching the web a little bit, I see exactly this same company mentioned in the UK Telegraph:

Exposed: the rip-off investment ‘advisers’ who cost British expats billions

Update: My attorney has dug up the complaint behind this subpoena – sure enough it is alleging that the commenters on my forum (and on other websites) were writing “defamatory” statements. You can see the full complaint in PDF form here.

Update 2: On March 31st, justice Douglas Gerlach dismissed RL360’s case because they had failed to explain if they even have any business presence in Arizona (Royal London 360 is registered as an Isle of Man, UK company). But they still have the option of amending the complaint and trying again.

Want to Take Action?

If you happen to disagree with this business practice or this use of the US legal system, you might send a letter with your own opinion to the RL360 contact page.

If you’re a blogger or a journalist, mention this issue in your own writing. If you’re a lawmaker or an attorney, bring the issue to your own peers. If you use Twitter or Facebook, share the story with anyone who might be interested.

I’d also encourage the attorneys who take on clients like this to be more discriminating in their choice of business in the future. It is my opinion that business works best when nothing is kept secret, whether it is bad reviews of your product, or who you choose to accept as a paying customer.

The Bullshit Field of “Reputation Management”

There is a whole category of companies that regularly review their own search engine results, and if they see something they don’t like, they send lawsuits to the owners of the offending websites. The practice is so common, it’s called a “Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation” (SLAPP). The practice is illegal in many states, but not all of them yet. Federal laws are needed to prevent it on a US-wide basis.

The goal of these lawsuits is to scare the website owner into taking down the content. That won’t work here at Mr. Money Mustache, because the site has enough attorney readers (and income) that it can afford to publicize and defend against any suit.

A while back a couple of other companies else tried the same thing. I wrote this article about it the first one:

MMM Receives Legal Threats  <-from a company called “Kiss Trust”. Never heard from them again, perhaps because they didn’t like the bad publicity.

Then a second $500,000 lawsuit showed up from an “Everest Wealth Management”. That went more amicably – the CEO dropped the suit when I suggested that he just share his own perspective with forum readers instead of suppressing them. While I strongly disagree with their initial actions (the lawsuit), I think their revised method of answering questions openly is a good approach.

Later, I saw in the news that the Maryland Attorney General was seeking to shut down Everest. While there probably no connection between this event and the several thousand Mustachians who happen to be practicing attorneys in Maryland, it sure seems like a bad idea to attack a popular website in the name of “protecting your business”. This is because of The Streisand Effect.

So in other words: I sure hope you’re not trying to suppress the free speech of these readers, RL360.

I’m going to keep this issue documented publicly, including any actions RL360 makes against other websites.

If you run this company and have now realized that your strategy was not a good one, contact me and I’ll give you a chance to publish a public apology and vow that you have given up this practice for good. Then you can allow your product to speak for itself, whether the reviews are positive or negative, just like every other honest company.

I will keep this page updated as time goes on.

News 1: A fellow Colorado site owner who runs the gun site AR-15.co has seen many similar threats decided to take up the cause, just because he finds these threats annoying as well. He posted a taunt to RL360 in his forum, to share the story with the sizeable readership of AR15 and with search engines in general.

News 2: I’ve hired Santon General Counsel’s Kate Santon, a veteran of Dorsey & Whitney who now has her own firm, to represent my company in this case, because she has specific experience in winning anti-SLAPP (US internet freedom of speech) cases. Special thanks to free-speech activist attorney Marc Randazza for his help and advice early in this case.

News 3: Thanks to Search and Tech Guru Matt Cutts for sharing this with his 500,000 Twitter followers, and the many people who retweeted it from there.

  • The Vagabond February 29, 2016, 3:32 pm

    Allow me to be John Doe #1 on this post. ;)

    MMM, thank you for this. This kind of malignant suppression of free speech is a cancer, and you are just the doctor to treat it.

    Reply
  • The Vagabond February 29, 2016, 3:48 pm

    MMM, question– per this map:

    http://www.anti-slapp.org/your-states-free-speech-protection/

    Arizona (where the lawsuit was filed) has anti-SLAPP legislation. Any clue on why the lawsuit has been filed there, or whether it having been filed there will give you a means of defending yourself more vigorously?

    Reply
    • The Vagabond February 29, 2016, 3:49 pm

      Ah, I see that the AZ anti-SLAPP legislation is limited to:

      ARIZ. REV. STAT. §§ 12-751 – 12-752 (2006)
      Statements that are all of the following: made as part of an initiative, referendum or recall effort, before or submitted to a government body, concerning an issue under review by that body, to influence government action or result are protected.

      Making it kind of toothless.

      Reply
  • James Roloff February 29, 2016, 3:51 pm

    Two approaches to reputation management online:
    1. Embrace your communities and try to help people with bad experiences.
    2. Try to quiet people who say bad things by paying fancy lawyers.

    Which one do they think is actually going to work?

    Reply
    • Kristen February 29, 2016, 6:39 pm

      Right? Why not just, say, try to run a decent and upstanding company? Then people won’t be writing horror stories about you on the internet.

      Reply
  • Jed February 29, 2016, 4:06 pm

    I just googled “rl360” from Spain using both google.es and google.com and unfortunately the MMM forum result is no longer even appearing. Somehow this has already been removed from Google’s results?

    Reply
  • Tyler M February 29, 2016, 4:24 pm

    Huh? I don’t understand. I didn’t read the entire forum exchange, but it didn’t seem like defamation. Seemed like people were just asking about the company and getting advice. It’s not like you sent a bunch of bots to spam every financial website warning of the ills of their company. Should be interesting to see where this goes.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 29, 2016, 4:27 pm

      You got it, Tyler – it’s NOT defamation. And neither were the forum discussions that triggered my other two lawsuits. That’s why I consider the legal threat process to be absolute bullshit.

      However, since I haven’t received the actual lawsuit from RL360 yet, I can’t offer my opinion on what they are up to yet. That’s why this post is just sharing the facts I know so far.

      Reply
  • James February 29, 2016, 5:48 pm

    Oh my. I contributed to that forum thread so this strikes close to home. I was surprised to hear that the thread was moving down in the google listings, so I did a search for “rl360 scam” and found the link to the forum thread and clicked through. There were also some other interesting links that caught my eye, like ones to “pissedconsumer.com”, so I took a look at those and they also have these recent notices in the comments section like the one in the link below:

    http://royal-london-360.pissedconsumer.com/avoid-royal-london-360-at-all-costs-20150528641684.html

    The comment reads:
    ” subpoenanotice Feb 26

    Please take notice that RL360 INSURANCE COMPANY, LTD (the Plaintiff), has initiated an action in the Superior Court of the State of Arizona in and for the County of Maricopa, Case No. CV2016-004485 (the Action).
    In the Action, the Plaintiff seeks to subpoena Consumer Opinion, LLC for your contact information, IP address, any other information which would identify you, and any other messages that you have posted on the website known as PissedConsumer.com, under Review #641684, or any other review posted by you about the Plaintiff.
    If you do not respond within 10 business days with your true and correct contact information to our law firm via email (kwpostcompliance@gmail.com) or by telephone (480-588-0449), we will subpoena the records as outlined above.
    You may have a right to file and serve a response to the subpoena anonymously. If you intend to file and serve a response, please do so, or notify us of your intent to do so, on or before March 11, 2016. ”

    So it looks like they are starting a clean-up process across the web for sites that are complaining about their product. There are some other links on pissedconsumer.com about rl360 and they have the same “subpoenanotice” comments.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 1, 2016, 9:31 am

      Thanks James, that makes this case even MORE interesting. This company seems to be very systematic in their approach. But ironically, each subpoena leaves a permanent mark on the Internet so the information really isn’t disappearing.

      I’d love to hear from more people who have had experiences. Arizona and Colorado attorneys are welcome to get in touch with me if you want to help guide this research project.

      Reply
      • The Vagabond March 1, 2016, 9:40 am

        Interesting to note that the case number at pissedconsumer is the same as that on your subpoena. My guess is that they are hitting everyone en masse and that by virtue of the discussion in the forum, you got caught up in the spidering.

        Of course, it’s also very likely that you are the only one with the means to aggressively defend yourself in the matter. I also wonder whether you are the defendant at all, or if they are simply subpoenaing your records in an attempt to build a case against a third party (possibly one of our forum community).

        Reply
  • Mr I. Accountant March 1, 2016, 2:31 am

    Best of luck to you with this one MMM. Justice will prevail, but hopefully that doesn’t take too long or cost too much.

    I’ve never been sued and I’m essentially anonymous compared to you (so no one would want to sue me anyway!), but I would hate to be involved in any legal action (let alone ridiculous legal action like this seems to be).

    I see too many clients pi$$ their money away on divorce lawyers for no good reason, and nothing good ever comes of it for either side. I don’t see how this legal action can be good for anyone either!

    Reply
  • John D March 1, 2016, 2:40 am

    It would be an interesting experiment if a significant amount of bloggers in the personal finance community started to link to this article with the word “RL360”

    Reply
  • Chris March 1, 2016, 7:11 am

    They obviously don’t know who you are. They will likely not press too hard because they know they can’t win actual litigation. It’s just a threat and they’re hoping you will succomb to it. Noone should. It’s easy to find attorneys who will defend and file counter-suits (and likely win) for no charge up front. The counter-suit is easy money for them.

    There needs to be some standard letter that every blogger could use to respond to such baseless charges. Just something that says, “Hey I know my rights and IF you decide to pursue this I will use XYZ law firm to sue YOUR dumb assess. If you’re not familiar with them, here are all of the similar cases they have won along with the disclosed settlement amounts. Take care bitches!!!”

    Reply
  • Steve March 1, 2016, 8:25 am

    Keeping lawyers gainfully employed one frivolous lawsuit at a time.

    Reply
  • UrbanMoto March 1, 2016, 8:25 pm

    I think at some point if you do go to court, you can serve them with a giant fucking discovery motion and uncover a LOT about their business practices.

    (Not a lawyer but I did work in IT at a huge NY law firm and I’ve seen firsthand the results of that type of discovery. I’m sure there are some actual lawyers on this site who can correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Reply
    • John D March 2, 2016, 8:51 am

      Imagine the costs to do that though. RL360 is a company in the Isle of Man, sounds like a logistics nightmare to coordinate a discovery from the US?

      Reply
  • Foxtrot March 4, 2016, 3:29 pm

    Not a logistics nightmare. They hired a firm to open an Arizona State case… which has a complete lack of jurisdiction in the matter as to any imaginable defendant. 1) International company has to use the federal court system. 2. State court does not have subpoena power or jurisdiction to command any individual (businesses are individuals) in another state, an attorney using that subpoena is potentially exposing themselves to liability as they are abusing their position as an officer of the court, e.g. the subpoena has no binding power.

    At any time those issues could be raised (motion for judgment upon the pleadings, motion to dismiss, etc.) and there’s not a case anymore. 0% chance of success in their suit. If those motions were made with an attorney, most jurisdictions guarantee attorney fees.

    Then, if they opened a Colorado or Federal action, a person could just do a C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) motion (or F.R.C.P. 12), and dismiss it again for failure to state a claim in which relief can be granted, guaranteeing attorney fees again.

    *This post does not constitute legal advice, only attorneys can provide legal advice and I am not representing myself to be an attorney*

    RL 360 just hired a craigslist version of better call saul with an internet degree, apparently.

    Reply
    • Frugal Bazooka March 16, 2016, 10:43 am

      Great Post Fox

      Reply
  • John March 10, 2016, 7:50 am

    Good for you MMM – I’ve bumped into this crowd all they way down here in South Africa and they are essentially snake oil salesmen peddling expensive, complex and ultimately useless products. Run as fast away from them as possible. Good work publicising this threat from them – the very opposite of what they’re trying to achieve.

    Reply
  • Jacob March 24, 2016, 11:08 am

    What about the other side of public participation? Theoretically a person could publicize negative reviews of a company, product, restaurant, or whatever… on the internet, for their own gain. The incentive to do so is huge. For example, if the restaurant across the street happens to be better than yours, you could just go on the internet and tear that other restaurant a new one – now their honest competitive advantage is not so threatening. It could be even simpler than that – one could go around posting negative reviews of all sorts of things, then see if anyone will pay you to take them down. At some level, shouldn’t companies be protected against this? Or be able to defend themselves against false claims?

    **In no way am I claiming any opinion on RL360 insurance. I’ve never dealt with them and have no idea products they even sell.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 24, 2016, 2:57 pm

      You’re right – it is possible to deliberately mislead the public by making false reviews and claims. But the laws are often abused.

      In fact, I feel the law is a poor tool to use in this case. Instead, a company should go directly to the conversation and address the comments with open and honest discussion. You’ll notice that reputable companies like Republic Wireless and Betterment follow this practice: they either ignore negative claims about them, or make polite responses.

      As another example, there are thousands of negative, untrue things posted about me, my family and this blog all over the Internet. I could spend my life fighting them, or I could concentrate on my real goals of running this blog to the best of my ability and being an honest person. This second course of action is much more effective.

      Reply
      • Jacob March 24, 2016, 6:45 pm

        Well said. I agree, the law is a poor tool to use in such a case.

        Reply
    • Jhon doe March 24, 2016, 11:39 pm

      Jacob, check the forum thread and the “rl360 scam” article on webarchive. You will see that former customers of rl360 attempt to measure and explain how expensive their product is, using official documentation from rl360. RL360 are not only trying to shut down “reviews” but to kill explanations clarifying the fees they charge. Vastly different IMO.

      Reply
  • Stephen April 4, 2016, 1:41 pm

    MMM,

    You should go over to Popehat (www.popehat.com). It’s a 1st Amendment protection website. They have a common practice of getting pro-bono representation from good lawyers for SLAPP type threats all over the country.

    Reply
  • peter stock April 5, 2016, 1:38 pm

    Interesting timing. With everyone going crazy about the Panama Papers your situation MMM pinpoints one of the few smart reasons for using offshore companies and anonymous bank accounts (a point that almost every news report has missed): Making yourself judgement proof in the event of litigation, whether reasonable or frivolous.

    If you (or Gawker for that matter) had everything you own registered offshore and out of reach, you could ignore the RL360 letter completely, not have to hire a lawyer, not suffer the anxiety that all litigation brings and continue to live your life in peace.

    In the meanwhile, good luck with this. But litigation almost always sucks.

    Reply
  • Sam April 6, 2016, 11:28 am

    Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to hire a good marketing company to do some search engine optimization to bury the bad reviews on the next page of a internet search?

    Reply
    • John D April 6, 2016, 11:57 am

      Pretty sure they’re doing both, based on some reading I’ve done about the lawyers they have hired in the US and the UK.
      Taking the pages down + improving their general ranking. Very recently they added a business page on google, a linkedin profile, they started sponsoring some sports even to get in the news. They’re aggressively improving their SEO in parallel to trying to take down pages that send a bad light on RL360 quantum, with bogus legal claims like this one

      Reply
  • brian April 7, 2016, 7:11 am

    Awesome MMM! Way to be willing to stick your neck out to try and put a stop to this crap. Well done.

    Reply
  • Brendan O'Connor April 11, 2016, 3:57 am

    I’d get in touch with their holding company: Royal London Group, customer.relations@royallondon.com.
    They are the largest mutual insurer in Great Britain with £84 billion in assets. They could probably live without the publicity.

    Reply
  • Archon October 25, 2016, 3:04 pm

    Is there a reason this post doesn’t show up on the “all posts since the beginning of time” page?

    Reply
  • Roger April 25, 2017, 2:36 am

    The link to dun goofed’s forum post is broken. Looks like it needs to be 301’d to https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/investor-alley/royal-london-360-i-dun-goofed/

    Reply

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