Ben Stein’s sleazy paymasters

By Felix Salmon
September 18, 2009
predatory bait-and-switch merchants. They're also litigious bullies.

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Ben Stein’s paymasters Adaptive Marketing, the owners of, aren’t just predatory bait-and-switch merchants. They’re also litigious bullies.

An anonymous blogger, going by the name “flâneur de fraude”, added a lot of corporate information to my Ben Stein post, mostly about Adaptive Marketing’s owner, Vertrue Inc. It was interesting stuff, and I linked to it, and that seemed to be the end of that. Certainly no one at Adaptive or Vertrue ever tried to get in touch with me or with Flâneur.

Then, out of the blue, Adaptive filed a lawsuit in Connecticut, of all places, saying that the allegation that they were running a predatory bait-and-switch campaign was actionable on the the grounds of “defamation, trade libel, and tortious interference with contractual relations and business expectancies”. I’ve uploaded a copy of the suit here. There’s lots of stuff around it, but the complaint itself is only three pages long, and doesn’t even allege that anything Flâneur wrote was false.

The really weird thing about the lawsuit, however, was the defendant: not Reuters, not Flâneur, but Yahoo. The suit wasn’t a libel suit at all, you see: it was just a way of trying to get Flâneur’s real name out of Yahoo. (She uses an email address at

When Yahoo didn’t turn up to the court hearing 2,576 miles away from its headquarters, the Connecticut Superior Court found in favor of Adaptive, and said that Yahoo would have to turn up in court on September 21, presumptively to reveal Flâneur’s identity.

At that point, Flâneur sprung into action, and got the Public Citizen Litigation Group involved. They have now filed a monster 43-page brief with the Connecticut court, and after reading it one has difficulty imagining that any judge will compel Yahoo to unmask Flâneur. Public Citizen’s press release is here, and the headline sums it up: the blogger who criticized, it says, has the right to remain anonymous.

Adaptive has never complained to Flâneur, to me, or to anybody else, as far as I can tell, about any of our characterizations of their business. They never asked for any of our blog entries to be updated or edited, and they were conspicuous by their absence during the brouhaha over Ben Stein. If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so — not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.

Instead, knowing that Flâneur values her anonymity, they decided to try to unmask her in Connecticut court. I hope and trust that now, with the intervention of Public Citizen, they will fail miserably.

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13 comments so far

If possible, please let us in on how this case turns out!

Posted by Jared Rice | Report as abusive

I just got taken by those guys. I had used intellius to background check myself. Got a worthless product from them and 3 days after started getting charged by ‘value max’. I didn’t notice for 6 months. Luckily I was able to challenge 4 months worth. Still they stole $40 from me.

Check your statements kids.

Posted by zach | Report as abusive

Sadly, Connecticut seems to be home of a number of “hidden charge fee” sleazoids, based in the Norwalk – Stamford area. They specialize in getting people signed up [usually without their knowledge] for monthly service fees, for some vaguely-specified service … typically discount home, travel or automobile clubs.

The actual usefulness of these companies is virtually nil. Their business models are entirely based on scamming people who don’t check their credit card bills monthly. This is very similar to the telephone “cramming” schemes, which cause small charges to appear on your monthly phone bills.

When you see one of these unknown charges on your bills, dispute them early and often!

Posted by HB | Report as abusive

Our brief makes the point that even thoughAdaptive had Flaneur’s email address — in fact, that is why Adaptive seeks discovery from Yahoo!, which does not host the blog, but provides the flaneur email address as noted on the blog — it did not make any effort to notify Flaneur of its attempt to take away her First Amendment right to speak anonymously. But your point that Adaptive has not objected to Flaneur (or to you — nice to know that fact) about the content of the posts may be even more important from a policy perspective, as well as providing a window into Adaptive’s motives here. Thanks for this observation.

I’m very happy that you bring stuff like this out in the public’s view. Fraud is so widespread, we definitely need to do something about it. Great job!

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

“If they had any problem with the blog entries, that was the time to say so — not now, when the whole episode is already half-forgotten.”

Which law compels them to contact you or the author of the comment first?

Posted by VS | Report as abusive

VS: Why should the court compel them to receive information regarding a blog post that was so inflammatory that they… didn’t bother to contact the author for over a month?

Posted by Unsympathetic | Report as abusive

“I just got taken by those guys. I had used intellius to background check myself. Got a worthless product from them and 3 days after started getting charged by ‘value max’. I didn’t notice for 6 months. Luckily I was able to challenge 4 months worth. Still they stole $40 from me.”

One way to avoid this is to get a credit card that allows you to generate on-demand sub-account numbers, and then limit the sub-account to the exact amount you’re charging for a one-time on-line use such as Intellus. You can also manually delete the sub-account once it’s been used. AT&T’s Universal MasterCard (via Chase) offers this feature, for example.

Posted by James Howard | Report as abusive


Give me cockroaches any day.

Posted by Eric Kodjo Ralph | Report as abusive

Felix and others shouldn’t confuse “pseudonymity” and “anonymity”. From a polite behavior standpoint, not a legal one, I see nothing wrong with principled pseudonymity; anonymity is more troublesome.

Posted by Warren Terra | Report as abusive

Glad to see the puncturing of the Stein pinata. I wrote a blog entry once about how a desperate-to-please-evangelicals Stein equated scientists with genocidal Nazi figures.

Here’s my short post: ben-stein-and-new-york-times.html

Posted by David H. | Report as abusive

You are writing on a page advertising Michael Parness get rich quick products. Forgive me if I find your indignation a little suspect

Posted by RJ | Report as abusive

I just got taken by those guys too. They promise a free credit report, but charge $60 to the credit card anyway after seven days. Since Bank of America doesn’t consider them fraudulent, it refused to protect me against further charges. As a result, I was forced to cancel by Bank of America credit card to prevent future unwanted charges.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive
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