As our digital reality expands, public personalities have increasingly turned to online reputation companies to counter false claims and manage threats. According to leaked documents obtained by Forbidden Stories, Spanish reputation management firm Eliminalia has taken this service in a darker direction by weaponizing copyright law, manipulating online service providers and threatening journalists – all to hide the criminal records of their clients.
Smoke Screens for Shady Clients
Founded in 2013 by Diego “Dídac” Sánchez and managed with his business partner José María Hill Prado, the company – which reported roughly $2.9 million in sales in 2020-21 – operated in 50 countries across five continents at the time of the recent investigation. The duo also runs 50 other global companies, including two surrogacy companies facing litigation for child trafficking, according to a recent article in Haaretz.
Eliminalia claims to remove “unwanted and erroneous information” for clients, but they really worked for at least 1500 scammers, spyware companies, torturers, convicted criminals, and members of the underworld to hide public interest information.
The recent leak of some 50,000 internal documents revealed they had provided services for bad actors such as a medical doctor who reportedly operated a torture center in Chile, bank official accused of money laundering for corrupt Venezuelan officials, a Brazilian associated with a global prostitution network, and many clients linked to organized crime.
They received generous compensation for their services. For example, AMR Bauxite, a French mining company accused of tax evasion, paid almost $165,000, while Adar Capital Partners, founded by a banker accused of laundering money for Hugo Chávez’s regime, paid over $400,000. According to Eliminalia’s website, it has offices in a dozen countries, including the U.S., Italy, and Turkey.
Weaponizing Data Protection Regulations
Those who have studied Eliminalia’s strategy identified a pattern. When an article that included unpleasant truths about one of their clients appeared, the company began by sending takedown requests to the journalist, usually through a team member employing a false persona. If the journalist refused to remove their article, Eliminalia went after hosting providers, often weaponizing data protection laws such as the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which was created in 2002 to protect copyrighted content, and the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), an EU privacy and human rights law, to push the provider to take down the material.
To exploit the DMCA, for example, they would copy an article, publish it on a third-party website with a falsified earlier date than the original and then claim the real article infringed on the law. Contesting a false claim of DMCA is not easy, leading to long and expensive legal battles many journalists are unable to afford. In 2020, for example, Mexican investigative journalist Daniel Sánchez was forced to remove his well-documented article about corruption by video surveillance company Interconecta because an Eliminalia employee, posing as a marketing professional, filed a false copyright claim against him. Tricked by the company, his hosting provider pressured him to remove it.
Investigators found that if these methods did not work, Eliminalia would then try to hide the material through “deindexing,” which attempts to fool Google into hiding search terms from web results.
Throwing ‘Digital Atomic Bombs’
Eliminalia has used the strategy of “open redirects,” links that appear to drive traffic to legitimate websites but redirect to other fake sites. In July 2022, the online message board of the Black Student Union at Massachusetts-based Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) was flooded with thousands of comments that included links with such redirects. When students unknowingly clicked on the links, they were redirected to fake websites created to launder the reputation of Eliminalia’s clients.
At least 622 such websites have been identified. To make the sites appear legitimate, the company mixes content from real sources with positive information about individuals with the same names as their clients.
This method seems to have been successful at influencing Google’s search results, effectively making articles that include allegations against the company’s clients disappear, while replacing them with positive spin. Thus, according to Google, Andrea Formenti of the company Area S.P.A has invented a flip phone, but information about his company selling surveillance equipment to Libya is no longer easily available. To accomplish this switch, uninvolved parties – such as the QCC students – are often targeted and used.
“If all you have to do is learn how to game Google and you can fix all your reputation problems, that’s going to be a problem,” Katherine Trendacosta, associate director of policy and activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was quoted.
Comprehensive Due Diligence as a Solution
Eliminalia continues to operate under its new name, Idata Protection, and their rebrand has included a shift in strategy as they adapt to their methods having been outed. But questionable reputation companies will not simply cease operating as a result of media coverage.
That is why Interfor, staffed by highly skilled investigators and fraud examiners, specializes in verifying data through leveraging a blend of AI and human intelligence. Our investigations cut through the fraudulent smoke screens and false credentials to provide comprehensive background information about business relationships, prospective partners, investments and more.
Interfor always advises clients to conduct multi-faceted due diligence before entering any transaction, sooner than later in the deal process. We also assist with post-fraud investigations for those who wait too long. When you have knowledge on your side, you know you are protected both before and after any business transaction.