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CBS News Investigation: Fake court orders used to change Google search results

CBS News found more than 60 bogus court documents.
Credit: AP
FILE - This Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, file photo shows Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The U.S. Justice Department is readying an investigation of Google’s business practices and whether they violate competition standards, according to news reports. The search giant was fined a record $2.72 billion by European regulators in 2017 for abusing its dominance of the online search market. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission made an antitrust investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Small businesses are paying thousands of dollars to reputation management companies that help make negative search engine results disappear online. But, a CBS News investigation found some of the companies hired to clean up Google searches might actually be committing crimes.

A judge's order is one way to get Google to permanently remove a link from search results. But, as CBS News investigators sorted through thousands of court orders, they discovered an issue: dozens of the court documents were fake. Forging a court document, of course, is illegal.

"Part of it is just how brazen it is. They take a judge's signature and they copy it from one order to another order and they pretend something is a court order," Eugene Volokh, an internet law expert and UCLA professor, explained to CBS News. "It's cheaper and it's faster -- if they don't get caught."

Working with Volokh, CBS News was able to identify more than 60 phony court orders that were sent to Google. 

"Some are obviously fake, like one with a case number of '1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9,'" CBS News explained. "Others are more sophisticated, and appear to be drawn from nine different federal courts across the country. The most recent fake court document we identified was submitted in April."

During the investigation, CBS News discovered fake court documents submitted on behalf of two convicted child sex offenders who wanted their crimes to disappear from Google results.

According to CBS News, Google declined an interview request. However, Google told CBS News it worked hard to spot people trying to game the system.

CBS News' reporting has caused law enforcement officers to take action.

"The court clerk in Hamilton County, Ohio launched an investigation into those 60 fake documents and handed the matter to prosecutors," the news network said. "CBS News has also learned at least two referrals have been made to the FBI."

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