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How to fight back against fake online reviews

New review extortion scam targets restaurants and small business

by Kurt Knutsson

As if the devastating impacts of the pandemic weren’t hard enough for small businesses, now restaurants and small businesses are facing a new scam to extort their hard-earned cash.

As inflation increases, many consumers determine where their dwindling disposable income goes by the reviews and ratings they see online.

One bad review may not seem like a big deal, but to one of our very own readers it nearly killed  her business.  She did not want to be named and shared her devastating path of one negative fake review that had the power to almost ‘shut down’ her business overnight.

That was just one bad review.   Several bad reviews is like an online version of an out of control fire burning down the entire business.

Over time, a slew of bad reviews can make certain that your business won’t even show up on most search results as most people aren’t searching for lowly-rated restaurants to frequent.  With consumers becoming more, and more wary of spending money, every customer counts.

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Today’s small business owners know that online reviews are the modern-day equivalent to ‘word of mouth’.   They move much faster and shape opinion instantaneously.  Fake negative reviews and now extortions scams are becoming a rampant problem.

Hoe the extortion review scam works

These extortionists are writing restauranteurs and small business owner, emailing a direct threat.  If they aren’t paid $75, cancerous fake negative review will be posted on any number of influential review sites.

Now $75 might seem a small price to pay to keep fake information from capsizing your business prospects, but once this demand is met there is no guarantee that they will cease their threats.  So if someone trying to extort you for $75 or a disgruntled customer or former employee writes a fake negative review about your establishment ….what is the recourse?

How to respond to fake negative reviews

Below we provide a step-by-step guideline on how to counter fake negative reviews for the Top 3 review sites, including Google, Yelp, and Facebook:

Take a Screenshot

Before you begin to panic at receiving such an email or seeing a negative review you know is fake, take a deep breath. The goal of most instigators is to rile you up to get you to react quickly. It is in that reactive state, you usually make errors such as giving into their demands or providing information that you don’t need to share with them accidentally. Take your power back immediately by taking a moment instead of reacting.

Once you’ve taken a moment, take a screenshot or save the email or fake review if it is already posted. This will help you keep track of correspondence should you need to provide evidence in your fight to take down the review.

How to take a screenshot on Windows:

  • On most full-scale keyboards, you can press ‘Print Screen’ or ‘PrtScn’(it is usually on the top right of the keyboard above the numbers keypad) and the ‘Windows’ key at the same time
  • It will take a picture of the full screen displayed when you press those key
  • The photo will show up in your ‘Pictures’ folder in the ‘Screenshots’ subfolder

How to take a screenshot on your Mac:

  • For Macs, you can usually hit the ‘Alt’ + ‘PrtScn’ or ‘Print Screen’ buttons on your keyboard OR you can use press shift+cmd+3 on your keyboard for the same effect
  • The image taken of your current computer screen view will show up on your desktop as a PNG file (image file)

Related: 7 Best Ways to Take Screenshots

Responding directly to the scammer’s email is not advisable because it will likely confirm your receipt of the email and that they have verified the identity of the business owner.  Paying the ‘ransom’ will likely accomplish nothing as there are no guarantees the scammers will just stop at one threat.

If the threatened review or fake review has been posted, below are instructions on how to flag the fake reviews:

 

How to Report FAKE negative on Google:

While Google takes all requests seriously and will verify that the review to see if it is indeed a violation of Google’s policies, if it is a genuine review from a customer, even a disgruntled one, Google will not remove the review as it does not believe it is responsible for settling disagreements.

Method 1:

  • On your web browser, sign in to manage your business profile
  • Google Business Profile
  • Select the review you’d like to report:
    • Go to the profile you want to manage, and click to open that profile
    • On the left sidebar, click ‘Reviews’
  • Click the 3 dots on the review you’d like to flag to get more info
  • Click ‘Flag as inappropriate’
  • Please note that Google might take a few days to investigate.

 

Method 2:

  • Go to Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps) Google Maps
  • Search your business name then click your Business profile (usually on the left side pane)
  • select businessOn your business profile, click the Google Reviews (it will be underlined because it is a hyperlink with the number of reviews)
  • select reviewsReviews will populate under the business information
  • Find the Review you want to report
  • Select the ‘More options’ or the three dots at the top right corner of the review
  • Select the ‘Report Review’ in the drop-down menu
  • report reviewSelect/Click the reason for reporting the reviewselect reason for report
  • In the next window, click ‘Submit’ & that’s it, the questionable review has been flagged.
  • submit reportPlease note that Google might take a few days to investigate.

 

How to Flag Fake Reviews on Yelp:

Unlike Google, which has a spam and bot filter, Yelp’s automatic filter removes about 25% of its reviews if they are found to be fake, biased, solicited or unhelpful. In addition to those offenses already listed, if a business hires a third-party to write fake positive reviews, it has some stiff penalties in place, including:

  • Ranking penalty (Yelp demotes the listing’s ranking for 6 months)
  • Stops the business from advertising
  • Monitors the business for deceptive practices
  • Remove listings or accounts

For business owners, the Top 3 reasons Yelp will remove reviews include:

  1. Conflict of interest – if the review is from a competitor, self-bolstering, or from a former employee
  2. Isn’t the reviewer’s own experience – if it doesn’t reflect one’s own experience at the establishment or describes extraordinary circumstances beyond the business’ control
  3. Inappropriate material – hateful, threatening, or lewd conduct, speech or language; or exposes private information about the employees or other guests

Ready to flag the fake review? You will need a Yelp business account in order to flag the removal of fake reviews. Otherwise, you will not see the options to report the reviews.

  •  Log into your account on Yelp Business Account using the email and password you used to create the account

loginto yelp

  • Locate the fake review under the ‘Review’ section of the business account
  • Click the three dots on the upper right corner of the review
  • Find ReviewIn the drop-down menu, please select ‘Report Review’
    report review
  • Select the reason for reporting the reviewselect reason

 

Yelp’s moderator will look into the review you flagged to see if it violates Content Guidelines, which may take several days.
You will be reached by email with a notification about their decision.

 

How to Report FAKE negative Facebook Reviews:

  • Log into your Business’ Facebook accountGo to Business Page
  • Find the review in question
  • On the top right corner of the review, click the three dotsreview
  • In the drop-down menu, select ‘Report Post’report review
  • In the next window, select the reason for reportingselect reason
  • Click ‘Submit’

Submit

Please note: At the moment, you can only report reviews that have written reviews, not just star ratings.

 

While you wait for the review to be looked at…

waiting for results

All in all, each major reviewing site does offer a process to flag these fake, negative reviews. But it does take patience and determination. While you wait, you can respond to positive and negative reviews as the business owner so other potential customers can see that you are proactively responding to customers and that the review in question may be fake. If after contacting the sites through their recommended procedures does not work, some restauranteurs have had to tag Google, Yelp or Facebook on Twitter or elsewhere on social media to get a response.

While it may not bring immediate relief to your issue or business, you can also report the scam to the FTC as well: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/

Another remedy: Use a review management tool

Another remedy to prevent and better handle fake reviews, is to use a review management tool like BrightLocal to get alerted to reviews, act fast to take action on negative reviews and protect your online reputation. The free two-week trial is worth the exploration.

If you’re not a business owner but you see fake reviews, you can also help by leaving a genuine positive one. While none of these options are an ideal and immediate solution, they can build positive momentum to counteract the negative reviews and build community.

Big tech makes it easy for criminals to extort you with fake reviews and super hard to resolve fake reviews.  There is such a one-sided relationship with a vast majority of review sites including Google, Yelp, Yahoo and Facebook.

One sided big tech companies need to act more fair

Try picking up the phone to any of those companies to get something wrong made right.   Their number is unlisted and the only path is a framework of tireless processes of filling out forms and waiting.   Meanwhile, your business or reputation takes a beating from fake negative reviews.   It is simply not fair – especially to hard working Americans who are already consumed with running their businesses.   Why are review sites so quick to allow anyone to post complete lies and garbage that hurt American businesses and anyone’s reputation without offering the same quick fix when they have it wrong?

Have you seen or been negatively impacted by fake reviews on your favorite sites? Tell us your experience and if you received a resolution!

Originally published: 7/10/22, updated 7/15/22

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1 comment

Lisa Zachau July 11, 2022 - 11:25 am

Regarding the restaurant reviews article on Google Reviewer extortion… I feel there is a 6th way to fight.

When searching reviews, I am well aware that negative comments could just be vindictive. What impresses and helps me change my mind is when the mgr/owner of the business replies back with a comment. These replies are for everyone to see, just as the complaints are. For example; giving the reviewer an apology and welcome them to contact the business to settle the complaint, but not with money. It then appears to me that the business mgr is obviously interested in improving the situation. That simple reply will ward off some of the public from taking the reviewer seriously.

It’s appalling that our society is at this point. I am a business owner (not restaurant) and would never pay someone to stop a bad review. I hope others will follow your recommendations, for they were priceless.

Comments are closed.

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