Thursday February 09, 2023

Scammers are extorting restaurants across the US using one-star Google reviews

A few high-profile, Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco and New York City have been targeted by an extortion scheme that uses Google reviews. It appears to be a coordinated effort. The restaurants receive a barrage on Google reviews of one star, which are the ratings that appear when you search for something on Maps. Then, the owners receive an email asking for a $75 Google Play Gift Card. She shared an email she received on July 5th from the extortionists following a flood of negative reviews at her restaurant. The email read: “Hello. We have left negative feedback about your establishment. We will be posting one review per day in the future. We are sorry for our actions and we would not wish to damage your business. However, we cannot help but to apologize. We live in India and have no other choice but to survive. We need a $75 google play gift card. The message offered a link to purchase the gift card via PayPal and an email address to get the code. Alter shared the email via Twitter and tagged Google asking for assistance in removing fraudulent reviews. She also tagged a few other SF-based restaurants that were suffering the same review bombing, including Sons & Daughters and Acquerello. This wasn’t a West coast problem. Other high-profile restaurants in the US received the same threats and negative comments this week, including Sons & Daughters, Acquerello, 3rd Cousin, Marlena, Birdsong and Nari. A spokesperson for Google Maps told The New York Times that the company was investigating the issue, and that it would remove reviews from people who hadn’t visit these restaurants. In February, the Google Maps team explained how it used live moderation and machine learning to stop review bombing. It wrote, “Our systems continue analyzing the contributed content and watching for suspicious patterns. These patterns could be anything from a group leaving reviews on the same Business Profiles cluster to a place or business receiving an unusually high amount of 1 or 5 star reviews in a short time. “This particular extortion scheme seems to fall under that category. Restaurants received a lot of one-star reviews at the same time, but owners such as Alter had to take it to social media to get assistance from Google. Alter’s tweet a week ago seems to have caused the scam-related one star reviews to be removed from the affected restaurants’ profiles. However, owners like Alter had to take the matter to social media to get help from Google. Some stories contain affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase something through one these links.

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