The Real Rip-Off Report

It's not exactly easy to book an interview with Ed Magedson, the self-described consumer advocate and creator of the wildly successful www.RipOffReport.com.

Not because he doesn't want to talk. Magedson loves talking, especially when the subject is his beloved Web site.

It's just that he's so incredibly particular. Arranging one simple meeting is an exercise that captures, perfectly, why Magedson is so good at getting results — and why he's infuriated the CEOs of several midsize companies to the point that they accuse him, flatly, of extortion. He overthinks every detail. And it would never occur to him to stop pushing before he gets what he wants, even if he's not sure what that is.

First there's where to meet. It has to be a public place. A dog park? A restaurant? Even after Magedson decides on lunch at Chompie's, he calls back with instructions about which bank of booths to pick. He's planning to park in the handicapped spot, he says, and from the right booth, he'll be able to keep an eye on his dog.

After discussing that issue for 15 minutes, he calls back to clarify: It can't be just any booth near the window. It has to be the one closest to the servers' station, to allow both dog-seeing and laptop use.

In the end, the dog is basically ignored, and Magedson doesn't even bring his laptop into the restaurant. (Yes, he parks in the handicapped spot. And, no, he's not disabled. He has a handicapped sticker, but it belonged to his late father. "I'm not perfect," he says.)

But he does get his booth of choice. It opens up just as he walks in the door.

"Things like this always happen to me," he says, beaming.

Throughout a three-hour meal of bagels, lox, and whitefish salad, Magedson runs his servers ragged. He needs butter, which doesn't come with his order, and another container of cream cheese, even though he isn't done with the one he has. Then, despite a bowl of creamers on the table, he asks two different waiters to bring him more, only to seem confused when the table ends up with three bowls' worth. And only after the bill arrives does he remember that he needs hamburger for his dog. After that bill arrives, as it turns out, he needs orange juice. And when the juice arrives, it's too small, so a waitress is dispatched to bring him a second one.

He's relentless — and he's not even out of sorts. On the contrary, Ed Magedson is enjoying himself immensely. It's just that he's so used to agitating, to throwing everything he can at the wall, just in case something needs to stick. He doesn't know how else to behave.

He's the postmodern Columbo, a shambling figure who eventually gets his way not because he's slick or charming, but because he wears people down. He is a nitpicker, a fighter, a squeaky wheel who's mastered the art of getting grease.

He's exactly what you'd expect of a self-titled consumer advocate, with one key difference.

Thanks to the Internet, people actually have to pay attention to him.

Before the rise of the Web, the powerful could write off gadflies such as Ed Magedson. But the Internet provides a bully pulpit that Magedson has harnessed with startling success — and woe to the business owner who tries to ignore him.

The Rip-Off Report has become a boon to the disgruntled, who've posted complaints taking on everything from poor business practices to deadbeat dads, ofen without a shred of proof. For Ed Magedson, it's been an even bigger gift. It's made him powerful, and it's made him money — although certainly not a dot-com millionaire.

Magedson won't remove posts. He's not interested in evidence that would offer vindication.

But if you're willing to pay, Ed Magedson just might be willing to talk.

Magedson guards his privacy maniacally. His business address is a post office box. The house where he lived until recently was owned by one of his limited liability companies — and he had to move, he says, when his enemies figured out his location, despite his precautions. Even his car and utilities are registered in a way that renders them untraceable.

To Magedson's credit, people only know how hard he's worked to hide because they've tried just as hard to find him. He says they want to kill him. (They say they only want to serve him with lawsuits . . . although they're certainly not above posting information about him on the Internet while they're at it.)

But despite his efforts to live off the public-records grid, there's plenty you can know about Ed Magedson without even talking to him: the legal battles, the allegations of extortion, even his parents' death certificates and the paperwork from that old 1970s pot bust.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske