|I'm shocked, shocked that SEO could occur here.|
Basically, some unknown entity put links to J.C.Penney's site on thousands of other sites, for terms like "area rugs" and "cocktail dresses". I'm having a hard time figuring out why someone would do that unless Penney's was paying them to do it. Of course, it's just a coincidence that Penney's fired its SEO firm after this came to light.
SEO can be done a right way, and then there's the way that will get you pushed down in the Google rankings or even completely erased from Google search results (AKA "the death penalty"). If you're marketing something, you'd be well advised to know the differences... and how not to cross the line.