WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - David Topping got arrested when he was 19 years old for securities fraud. He said at the time, he was a naive kid with an ambitious business plan, and just got in over his head.
Now, he's a convicted felon, looking for a fresh start. He's launched a new reputation management company in Wilmington, helping people with a past get a fresh start too. Despite evidence he is providing the services he charges for, Topping’s criminal history has spooked some of his customers.
Topping made headlines in 2014, when he was arrested for obtaining property by false pretenses, and securities fraud. He was running a different business at the time, Stark Innovations LLC, importing computer equipment from China and selling it here for a significant profit. He took on investors to grow his company, guaranteeing them a 6.24 percent return on their investment.
Topping said he did not know at the time that he had to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before taking on investors and promising a return. After he’d taken in over $100,000 worth of loans from local investors, he got arrested.
“I was not properly licensed to give people return on their money. I personally saw it as a loan,” Topping said, explaining his mistakes as procedural ones, not fraud. He said if investors lost money, it’s because authorities seized all of his assets and means to repay them.
“It was completely mismanaged, and I clearly did not do the amount of research that I needed to do ahead of time. Now I have multiple lawyers that look over absolutely everything I do for that reason,” Topping said of his latest business venture.
Topping said he was facing up to 80 years in prison for the charges against him from 2014, and after 2 weeks in jail, he accepted a plea deal rather than risk a much longer stay behind bars if his case went to trial. He pleaded guilty to felony charges, and got off with community service and 5 years probation.
“I really learned from [my experience] and it is the whole reason DTopp got started. So I am very thankful for that, Dtopp has grown so fast and we are still growing and we are doing great things,” Topping said of how his early struggles inspired his new business, DTopp LLC, which recently moved into a 5,200 square foot office space in Downtown Wilmington.
From burying negative online reviews to mugshots, DTopp will help clean up your internet profile for a fee. Topping said information he learned about search engine optimization (SEO) while improving his own internet profile inspired the concept for DTopp.
Far from hiding from his past, Topping’s new company is named after him, and Topping advertises that he’s a convicted felon on DTopp’s website.
“I try to motivate people who feel like they’re at a disadvantage…” Topping said. “I don’t let that bring me down, I actually let that boost me up, use that as a rocket fuel to just keep going and just ignore the noise that’s around you, everyone telling you [that] you can’t do it.”
His company charges $150 to delete a negative review about you or your company, $499 to suppress a mugshot, and $999 to suppress a news article.
While Topping embraces the lessons he’s learned from his past, his criminal record makes some customers leery. We first learned about Topping’s new company from a customer of his in Charlotte who realized after he’d hired DTopp that Topping was a convicted felon.
That customer, who asked not to be named, wanted a mugshot suppressed. He’d been arrested last year for trespassing and resisting an officer. The charges against him were later dismissed, and his criminal record expunged, but a private website still had his mugshot posted online which was damaging this man’s professional reputation.
DTopp quickly improved this customer’s issue, and within days, the old mugshot no longer came up in the first page of search results when you entered his name into Google. But not before Bank of America called the customer to verify his payment via eCheck to DTopp. That prompted the customer to Google Topping’s name, and when he saw an old news article about Topping’s 2014 arrest for fraud, the customer got spooked.
The customer stopped payment on his check, afraid DTopp might be a scam. Even though the customer admits to WECT DTopp did the work he hired them to do, he still feels uncomfortable doing business with them and refuses to pay. The customer says DTopp has threatened to take him to collections.
A handful of other customers have also gotten cold feet. The same type of concerns apparently prompted one customer to back out of a contract with DTopp and then file a complaint with the NC Attorney General’s Office. Another customer complained to the Better Business Bureau.
Topping said that is a very insignificant number of complaints compared to the hundreds of happy customers they’ve helped. DTopp put us in touch with one customer who said he was very pleased with DTopp’s services, and Topping played us audio recordings of other customers who said the company’s success getting unflattering information suppressed allowed them to start looking for work again.
Because of the nature of what DTopp does, minimizing unflattering online information about their clients, none of these customers were willing to be named in this story for fear it would highlight the past they were trying to hide.
No credit cards
Topping’s past has also affected the kind of payment he requires for his services.
“Originally, we did it as a pay for performance, where you won’t pay us until after we got deleted,” Topping said of his business model. “A lot of people [were] ripping us off. By us, I mean me. And they would point out, ‘Hey you’re a felon, so I’m not paying you,’ as if that’s a defense for not paying.”
Topping said his own relatively recent criminal history also made it difficult to get credit card companies to work with him. He said the higher-than-usual rate of credit card charge disputes in the reputation management industry made credit card payments problematic as well.
A reputation management company may successfully have a negative review removed, but customers get upset when a new unflattering review is posted, and try to get their money back. Additionally, some of DTopp customers are criminals, with less than stellar credit history. For these reasons, DTopp requires electronic fund transfers or checks for payment.