Updated March 1, 2021

Would you trust a thief with access to your online store and data?

Would you trust an app that posted fake positive reviews and attacked competitor apps with fake negative reviews?

In a store in the digital world, criminals with access to your store can steal or exploit customer data, delete your themes or apps, and damage your business. And that’s just an entry level person or app with minimum access.

Read on to see examples of Shopify partners caught stealing and being fraudulent + tips for keeping your store safe.

I’ve been a Shopify partner for 8+ years. Shopify is great. This post is about shady Shopify partners + solutions to the problem + tips for merchants to protect your store.

In this post

Why am I writing this?

1. I care about Shopify store owners and the integrity of the Shopify eco system.

2. I think criminals that hurt people and businesses should be held accountable.

3. Digital crimes damage everyone but often get ignored when reported.

4. Honest Shopify partners are frustrated with this issue and the lack of repercussions.

5. I hope that by starting a public list, it will discourage bad actors from stealing content and committing fraud.

Our mission is to help level up Shopify stores through our apps, services, and content.

Since Shopify became popular I’ve noticed an increasing trend in criminal activity within the eco system. This hurts store owners and legit Shopify partners, and as an active member of the Shopify community I feel a responsibility to help solve this problem.

⚠️ Working with known criminals puts your business at risk and supports illegal activity that hurts honest businesses.

I’m starting with my own experiences, but would like to get more feedback from Shopify + other partners to work on a solution together.

Shopify Partners Caught Stealing and posting fake reviews

I’ll share a few examples here from my own experience, maybe later we can create some kind of repository for the Shopify community where others can submit public complaints or proof of theft, attacks, and shady behavior.

πŸ’© CRIMINAL 1: OSC Professionals

Crime: Copyright infringement + plagiarism

Additional offense: Breaking Shopify partner terms of service

Recommendation: Do not work with them, definitely do not grant them store access

In 2020 alone I’ve discovered 11 pages / articles on their site that they stole from us. Eleven!

So basically they just comb through our blog and rip off anything they felt would benefit them. Disgusting.

I saved screeshots of 11 pages they stole from our original content:

This is a Shopify partner, so I think it’s worth defining what Shopify considers intellectual property:

Intellectual property refers to something produced as a result of creativity. This includes tangible and intangible works, such as books, text, code, images, videos, logos, and slogansFrom their Copyright and intellectual property doc

I’ll share 3 examples of intellectual property theft here.

Example 1: Plagiarizing our lazy loading article (and stealing content)

Preview of the crime:

See the full side by side comparison of the crime here.

They stole most of the article word for word. Except they conveniently left out references to our posts and tools, sometimes comically so.

They also stole our case study screenshot and falsified the data to try and make it look original (it’s clearly not).

⚠️ If a company steals blatantly like this they’re obviously dishonest, and probably unskilled. That means the clients they work with are at risk of business security and low quality work (which in web development can damage your site).

Example 2: Directly copying our home page and branding, often word for word

Competition is obviously fine, but stealing word for word or slightly altering is illegal and immoral. Especially when it revolves around brand identify.

They copied word for word our core brand description:

“We’re a collective of Shopify Experts focused on making your store faster and more profitable”.

See the full side by side comparison of the crime here.

That is stealing from a trademarked brand. And it’s not true at all of them – they’re clearly not experts, and that’s clearly not their focus. They literally just copy / pasted.

Example 3: Stealing images and title, loosely plagiarizing

I actively help people in the Shopify forums.

I noticed that a lot of people accidentally break their website layout by editing their live theme. So I thought, “I’ll write a guide to help people edit their Shopify theme safely, and teach them how to inspect code to see what to edit.”

Well, this gang of thieves decided they would steal this article as well. They also used the exact same title, and even stole our code examples.

See the full side by side comparison of the crime here.

In this case, it’s loosely plagiarized – what they did is open my article in 1 window, then write theirs in another window, copying the content but changing some words around here and there.

Well they got lazy and stole some images of course.

In that side by side you’ll see a funny example where they thought they were being sneaky by changing the color of a CSS rule in a screenshot of my code from red to blue. Funny thing is it’s clearly an altered image because the font doesn’t even match up.

There are countless examples of them stealing our images (I have all 11 screenshots of comparison). Usually they just steal our image and put it on their site exactly as is, sometimes they modify it to try and cover up the crime.

Why wouldn’t you just link to our article if you wanted to help people? Because they want to hurt people instead so they steal from us + others and then modify their articles with bogus information just to try and get some SEO. Nice one guys. πŸ‘

Wrapping up Criminal #1

Review of OSC professionals: 1 star, dangerous to work with.

Think about that damage: they copy our content so that it doesn’t rank as well. They steal customers by stealing our content that we spend time and money to create. They devalue our brand by duplicating our guides. They put their clients at risk by hiring thieves that have access to client stores.

By damaging our brand they’re damaging the thousands of people that regularly rely on our apps, tools, services, and guides.

Why not create actual value? Why not have some self respect and integrity? Why not be a good human?

They know we are the actual experts of Shopify optimization, that’s why they directly copied all our content. Yet with that knowledge and stealing our content, they don’t even mention us once on their site. They clearly are committing the crime intently and do not care about their client’s best interests.

πŸ’© CRIMINAL 2: Cork Labs apps

Crime: Posting fake reviews

Additional offense: Breaking Shopify partner terms of service

Recommendation: Do not trust their reviews or use their apps

This company has 3 apps in the Shopify app store: Order Fulfillment Guru, Curbside Pickup Guru, and Low Inventory Alert Guru.

They posted fake positive reviews on their apps and fake negative reviews on competitor’s apps… for all of their apps (theirs are in green):

These were shared by one of the other victims. Thank you!

Would you trust an app company that commits fraud like this, and give them access to your store data? Do you think they should be allowed to operate in the Shopify app store? (please comment at the end of the post)

Could these reviews be a coincidence? I doubt it, but since my team owns one of the apps attacked, I had access to additional data.

Here’s a preview on our listing (on our app Order Automator):

And to see the full side by side screenshots of both app listings and multiple fake reviews click here.

How do I know they’re fake? When someone leaves a review on your app you can see their url + the actions they took on your app. In both cases, the url led to a non-active store, and they didn’t activate or open the app (they “installed” it, but you can’t access a paid app without first activating it).

Also I know our apps are built well, people use them every day and we take pride in doing quality work. We test extensively. That random 1 star review showed up, the store owner didn’t respond when contacted, so that rose a red flag and started this investigation.

⚠️ Did you know that installing a Shopify app grants them access to your store’s data? An app developer lacking integrity can damage your store, sell your data, and hurt your business. Only install apps by people you can trust.

It looks like they did this by creating bogus stores, installing the app, and leaving the reviews without actually activating the app or using it.

Posting fake reviews is an FTC violation. The FTC vows to protect consumers and thankfully they now consider fake reviews as an offense punishable by law. Here’s an example.

I anticipate more cases like this and (hopefully) policies by Shopify to enforce punishment when the evidence is clear like this.

Review of Cork Labs: 1 star. They commit fraud and deception, they’re not good people, dangerous to work with.

πŸ’© CRIMINAL 3: Ecom Gurus

Crime: Copyright infringement

Additional offense: Breaking Shopify partner terms of service

Recommendation: None required, looks like they’re out of business (big surpise 🀑)

They stole our home page banner image. You don’t steal a brand’s hero image come on man. Then they used it to promote Shopify optimization, which is our core service.

I purchased graphics for that banner + customized design to make it unique to our brand.

Ecom Gurus decided it was easier to steal from us than invest in creativity.

After finding this, I contacted them to report the theft and they removed it within 1 day.

I appreciate that, but how much damage was done before I discovered it?

Copyright Laws

Notable snippets from Chapter 5, section 504 of US copyright law. Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits

An infringer of copyright is liable for either (1) the copyright owner’s actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer or (2) statutory damages.

The copyright owner is entitled to recover the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the infringement, and any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages.

Full reference: Copyright Law of the United States (copyright.gov).

For honest folks: If a business has stolen your intellectual property, you are entitled a retribution of lost profits that they gained by stealing your work.

If you find yourself battling a thief, look into the laws, they vary by country.

We’ve had a few companies from India steal from us so in my research I found official documentation for India: copyright.gov.in/Documents/handbook.html

From that document:

Copyright infringement is a criminal offence. Any person who knowingly infringes or abets the infringement of the copyright in any work commits criminal offence under Section 63 of the Copyright Act.
The minimum punishment for infringement of copyright is imprisonment for six months with the minimum fine of Rs. 50,000/-. In the case of a second and subsequent conviction the minimum punishment is imprisonment for one year and fine of Rs. one lakh.

Spread the word and call people out. Intellectual property theft sucks!

Intellectual property theft is bad for everyone

Except of course the greedy scumbag that is stealing from you.

Creators work hard, you know that if you’ve ever created something original.

Think about the large scale effects by taking 1 example. My team and I create original guides, tools and apps, case studies, and strive to innovate in the optimization field. We produce a lot of free tools and content that tens of thousands of people benefit from.

Then you get a company like OSC (Criminal 1 above) that steals our property and rehashes unnecessary posts on their site. This provides no value + damages our content and brand. This forces us to spend time policing this. That time is now wasted, not providing value or creating more free guides and tools.

Tips for keeping your store safe

βœ… Be careful who you work with. Check their website and do a google search on them.

βœ… Only grant access to the areas of your business required for the work to be completed. Never grant full store permissions.

βœ… When you’ve completed a project with a Shopify partner, remove their collaborator access. You can also re-grant it later on if you work together again.

βœ… Keep good backups. I like Rewind for Shopify stores, it makes automatic backups so you don’t have to worry about your store data being lost or deleted.

βœ… Think about where the company you’re working with is based. If they intentfully damage your business or leak your data, would you be able to take any legal action or report them to authorities?

I’ve lived in 3 different continents and travel a lot, so I hate to say it because I love people everywhere, but the reality is there are countries where intellectual property and common sense privacy / security is generally not respected.

Shopify and Shopify Partners: How can we solve this problem together?

I’ve been working with Shopify since 2012 and I believe they value integrity so I brainstormed some ideas to solve the problem:

  • Important: punish thieves and partners committing fraud. If you don’t punish them, they’ll keep doing it and it invites others to do the same
  • Don’t let bogus stores leave reviews on app listings
  • If a store is closed or hasn’t launched yet, put a flag like “this store is not active”
  • Create a portal to submit instances of copyright infringement or review abuse
  • Take action when there is proof that theft, attack, or gaming the system has occurred
  • Pursuing legal action is a pain in the ass. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a community focused legal outlet that your merchants and partners could use to help fight intellectual property theft?

Shopify: is there any chance you could create a portal to report crimes like this? Submitting to Shopify partner support has proven ineffective (I’ve talked with multiple partners to confirm it wasn’t just me).

Update: You can report trademark infringement to Shopify here and copyright infringement here.

Shopify partners: I encourage you to post your experiences like this to help keep the community safe and discourage fraudulent partners from hurting store owners and legit partners.

Maybe we can start a repository somewhere with cases that show proof of these illegal activities, and promote it as a place for store owners to research partners and apps before engaging in business with them.

Help raise awareness so we can all focus on providing value to the community instead of wasting resources protecting the livelihood of our families and our teams. If you’ve been the victim of illegal and fraudulent activities by other Shopify partners, make it public, post in the forums, comment on this post, report it to Shopify.

Business idea anyone?

What about an app / service that automatically monitors your content and searches for copies across the web and notifies you when stolen content / assets are found. Maybe call it something like Brand Guard.

Maybe you could form partnerships to refer lawyers that specialize in IP theft and fraud. You can build content around protecting your online assets + education on why intellectual property theft is bad for business (on either side).

You could start as a monthly subscription service monitoring and submitting complaints (to Google, Shopify support, etc), then after getting traction and feedback from customers, build a SaaS app to help automate the service.

Anyone who wants to start that business, I’ll be your first customer. πŸ‘

Shopify merchants deal with this bullshit too (I know first-hand, I’ve had a store where people stole product images). So that means your audience could be Shopify merchants + Shopify partners if you wanted to focus on the Shopify niche… or you could even make it a service for any website owner in the world.

Final thoughts

I’ve been thinking about writing this for a couple years, usually I’d end up saying “nah it’s just a waste of time.”

Then I kept seeing the problem get worse. I talked to other partners and feel their pain. I also continued wasting time protecting our brand and assets and policing copy clowns and shady partners.

It’s clear that it’s a growing problem.

I thought maybe by making a public post, it will help bring more attention to the issue within the ecosystem and generate some discussion and tools to help store owners and honest partners avoid these issues.

Intellectual property theft stunts the growth and health of our civilization by hurting creators and innovators.

Please don’t support businesses that engage in intellectual property theft and fraudulent behavior.