WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - We never got the response we were promised from a local business owner accused of taking thousands of dollars from customers and failing to perform services.
David Topping told us via text on Thursday that he hoped to give us a comment by 3 that afternoon, in time for our story on complaints against his business, but said we’d have it no later than noon Friday.
That was the last we heard from him, but Topping did write an elaborate post on his own website, attempting to discredit his accusers, and telling readers that “WECT Can Not Be Trusted,” after our report detailing the growing number of customer complaints about his company, DTopp. He even took out a digital ad that briefly appeared on our website, linking to his post and claiming to “expose [our] lies.”
WECT first reported on DTopp in October, after receiving a complaint from his customer about the business. The complaint got our attention because Topping had made headlines for fraud before. He was arrested in 2014, when he was just 19 years old, accused of scamming more than $100,000 from customers through a different business in Brunswick County.
Topping pleaded guilty in that case to felony securities fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses, and is on active probation with the state. When WECT contacted him in 2018 after complaints surfaced about his new business, he said he only pleaded guilty to avoid a potentially lengthy prison sentence. He insisted that he simply made some rookie mistakes with his first business, and never meant to defraud anyone.
Topping’s new business involves online reputation management, helping people bury negative reviews and news stories about them on the internet. Despite several complaints from customers in 2018, Topping presented evidence that he had done the work he’d been paid to do, and said customers just got spooked after learning of his criminal history for fraud, and that’s why they tried to back out of their contracts.
In our story at the time, we showcased his new business, his criminal past, and reported that Topping was attempting to make a fresh start. But we also pointed out that “DTopp is too new for us to have a real gauge of customer satisfaction.”
Topping was very pleased with our October report, writing to us, “Thanks for a very truthful and honest article. Great reporting!”
In the months that followed, WECT was contacted again and again by customers complaining about their experience with DTopp, in many cases, that he’d taken their money but failed to provide the promised services. We also heard from several former employees of his who said they quit after Topping failed to pay them.
Because of the nature of the business, where people are looking to distance themselves from unflattering reviews or negative news coverage, most of the people who called to complain about DTopp declined to go on the record with their concerns.
But several weeks ago, a client was angry enough to publicly complain.
Michael Dippel paid DTopp $1,500 to suppress two internet news stories. DTopp gave him a 90-day guarantee, but that window is up. Dippel says the stories are in the same place they’ve always been, and DTopp won’t refund his money.
“To me, it’s fraud. It’s also obtaining property by false pretense,” Dippel said about why he thought police should be involved. “I’m going to request that they conduct an investigation into this company because I’m not the only person…that’s being scammed like this from what I’ve read.”
Before airing an update on DTopp January 3, WECT checked with the Better Business Bureau, who had eight complaints on DTopp, up from one complaint when we inquired just a few months ago. We also found out the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office is now investigating Topping’s company, after receiving 11 complaints about the company in the last several months.
In response to our new story, DTopp posted on their website that they “were shocked by the number of defamatory, misleading, and false statements they made.”
As for Dippel’s complaint, DTopp said they approved and issued a partial refund. DTopp said the check was “placed in a USPS envelope…. Apparently, he did not receive the refund check.”
Dippel told WECT he attempted to reach DTopp numerous times since the check was allegedly mailed December 12, to no avail. He eventually called us, and filed a complaint with the Wilmington Police Department.
In our January 3 report, we also interviewed a former DTopp employee, one of several who have reached out to us in the last few months to say Topping didn’t pay them money they were owed.
“I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else who goes to work for him or trust him or put their faith in that job,” Jacie Dykes told us of having to quit her job seven weeks after she started working for DTopp in late 2016, because she said she’d only received $100 of the salary she’d been promised.
In their online post, DTopp responded that Dykes had been paid in full. They also referenced a February 2017 letter from the NC Department of Labor (DOL), indicating that the department was unable to substantiate Dykes’ complaint, and had closed the case. The DOL tells WECT they closed the case because “there were no records that could be obtained and additionally, no contact information or whereabouts for the employer.”
Dykes told WECT that she initially pursued legal action to recover the money she was owed, but ultimately dropped the case because she feared it was not worth the time and effort involved and she had no guarantee she’d actually get paid. According to published reports, the NC Department of Labor routinely tells workers who did not get paid promised wages to hire a lawyer and try to get their money through the courts.
In their online post, DTopp announced plans to sue Dippel, Dykes, and WECT for giving “willfully false statements” and defamation, among other things.
The New Hanover County District Attorney’s office is encouraging anyone who believes they’ve been victimized by DTopp to contact the Wilmington Police Department to file a complaint, as investigators work to determine if a crime has occurred. DTopp believes this is a civil matter, according to their post. DTopp is located in downtown Wilmington.