The Real Rip-Off Report

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Magedson had his run-in with City Hall when, as a college drop-out in the '70s, he started a coast-to-coast network of street-corner flower stands. He found himself embattled in every town, and at every turn: "I was dealing with all these government agencies, and the lies that the bureaucracy would tell you. The city would have staff members, so-called staff members — most of the time, they're a bunch of liars."

Even though city bureaucrats caused his flower business to fail, he says, he was left with a small fortune. So he moved to upstate New York and invested in HUD housing.

Once again, the town fathers used every trick in the book to stop him, he says. They redrew the regulations for low-income housing; people called him a slumlord; the police harassed him.

He sued them, but he lost.

Wanting to be near his elderly parents, Magedson moved to Mesa. He started an indoor swap meet at a strip mall at Gilbert and Main. Again, he says, city inspectors did all they could to drive him out.

Again, he sued; again, court records show, he lost. The appeals court refused even to hear his case. And when Magedson's landlord sued him for back rent, court records show, he ended up owing more than a few grand.

It was only after that fiasco that he met Mesa attorney Dale Thorson — and discovered his second act as a consumer advocate and Internet entrepreneur.

Thorson was doing estate planning for Magedson's parents, and got to chatting with Magedson. Thorson was impressed with tax work Magedson had done for another family member and told him so. "The kid is brilliant," Thorson says. "Just very, very intelligent."

Magedson asked Thorson if he had any clients who needed help. Living with his parents, his expenses provided for, he wanted to use his skills to get justice for people who needed it.

Thorson asked him to take a look at a case involving an elderly couple who'd been screwed by a rug cleaner. Magedson ended up recouping their entire investment, Thorson says, and the couple was grateful to have avoided a court case.

As for Thorson, he was thrilled by the energy Magedson devoted to his task — and that the fledgling advocate refused to charge the people anything for his services when he was done.

In no time, Thorson says, he was asking Magedson to assist a number of people who'd come to him needing help. "He's not this slick guy," he says. "He's the Columbo guy" — like the TV detective played by Peter Falk, whose awkward manner can conceal a sharp mind and an uncommon persistence.

"There isn't a challenge he didn't take on," Thorson continues. "I can't think of one where he didn't get positive results. Sometimes the client didn't want to keep going on the case, and they'd drop it. But it was never because Ed wanted to give up."

Magedson began distributing a flier, promising, for $250, to help people fight against a corrupt City Hall or companies that had screwed them. He says he never actually charged the fee; instead, he used it to weed out people who weren't serious about pursuing their claims.

He began to hone a process of just how to fight The Man, to develop a formula that really worked. He was planning to write a book. (Today he sells that book, a slim paperback, from the Rip-Off Report for $21.95. Not to give away a trade secret, but the formula basically comes down to threats to picket, and then picketing.)

One day in the mid-'90s, visiting a shop owned by some of his former swap-meet tenants, he says, he met a woman who designed Web sites. Hearing about his unusual line of work, she asked him, "Why don't you make a Web site?"

And that was the start. Before that, Magedson says, "I didn't even know how to turn a computer on." But the site, a simple ad for his advocacy services, took off: "I got people to call me. I thought, 'Gee whiz!' Because I didn't believe in the Internet."

From Magedson's initial foray into online advertising, the Rip-Off Report may seem like an obvious outgrowth today, with everyone doing business on the Web.

But Magedson was ahead of the curve. In 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal first became public on a Web site called the Drudge Report, many Americans didn't even know how to access the Internet, much less use it to their advantage.

But that's the year Magedson registered the Rip-Off Report Web site. And like the Drudge Report, another early online juggernaut, www.RipOffReport.com wasn't just a static presentation hawking a business. It was the business.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske