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There's A New Scam Ring Going On Where Restaurants Are Being Spammed With Negative Reviews And Extorted To Take Them Down

NY Times - In a new scam targeting restaurants, criminals are leaving negative ratings on restaurants’ Google pages as a bargaining chip to extort digital gift cards.

Restaurateurs from San Francisco to New York, many from establishments with Michelin stars, said in recent days that they’ve received a blitz of one-star ratings on Google, with no description or photos, from people they said have never eaten at their restaurants. Soon after the reviews, many owners said, they received emails from a person claiming responsibility and requesting a $75 Google Play gift card to remove the ratings. If payment is not received, the message says, more bad ratings will follow.

The text threat was the same in each email: “We sincerely apologize for our actions, and would not want to harm your business but we have no other choice.” The email went on to say that the sender lives in India and that the resale value of the gift card could provide several weeks of income for the sender’s family. The emails, from several Gmail accounts, requested payment to a Proton mail account.

The restaurant business is a wild game man. 

It's basically like whack-a-mole on a daily basis. You put out one fire, and 3 more pop up. It's always something to deal with. And it's never cheap to deal with them.

Between 2 years of lost or down revenue from Covid, inflation causing cost of goods to go through the roof, trimming razor-thin margins even thinner, and absolute pieces of shit treating staff like shit and leaving negative reviews online, this is the last thing restaurant industry needs on its plate. 

(Or a stolen car being driven by two 16-year-olds out of control down Wells St. and crashing through your patio and front door injuring 6 innocent people like what happened to my restaurant this past weekend. Thank God everybody is ok, expected to make full recoveries, and it wasn't much worse like it could have been.)

Now we've got online scammers, and probably bots, abusing a system that I've already been on the record for here, for years now, citing extorts business owners to begin with. 

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Yelp's entire business model is telling businesses they can pay to have negative reviews removed (and glowing reviews moved to the top, along with their search placement moving to the top) if they enter into a "partnership deal" with them. AKA pay a monthly fee based on a yearly contract. They hound businesses morning, noon, and night to do this. Even if you don't give a fuck about Yelp or don't intend to set up a profile on their site, they find you and set one up for you and let the armchair expert critics have a field day. It's a fucking joke. 

Now the crooks have gotten hip to this and are spamming the shit out of google reviews and hammering businesses to death. To then email the business demanding gift cards (untraceable and usable online) is fucking sinister. 

These people must be stopped.

And by people I mean the scammers themselves, and the companies allowing third party businesses' livelihoods to be affected on their platforms. 

How are lawsuits against the Google's and Yelp's for hosting these reviews, which can be attributed to loss of revenue pretty easily in court, not being filed up the whazoo? If you're a slimeball ambulance chasing attorney, this is a meatball for you. Jump on it. 

And for anybody asking "why don't people just contact customer service and ask for them to be taken down...

Giphy Images.

Clearly you've never dealt with google, or the facebook (meta)/instagram's non-existent "customer support" before.

“You’re just kind of defenseless,” said Julianna Yang, the general manager of Sons & Daughters in San Francisco, who has taken on much of her restaurant’s response to the messages. “It seems like we’re just sitting ducks, and it’s out of luck that these reviews might stop.”

For EL Ideas in Chicago, Google ruled Monday that one of the recent one-star ratings the restaurant reported as fake did not violate the platform’s policies and would not be removed, said William Talbott, a manager at the restaurant.

“This is another nightmare for us to handle,” he said. “I’m losing my mind. I don’t know how to get us out of this.”

Here's your reminder to treat service industry workers with a little respect and civility. There's a lot of shitty people out there.

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Let's keep these stories coming. Send them in on social or shoot over in email to dante@barstoolsports.com. Don't worry about needing to stay anonymous. Nobody's name will be used unless you ask.