Before people want to try a new establishment – restaurant, salon, among others – they read its reviews. Google Encourages users to post reviews of businesses on Maps, Search, and even YouTube, to give other people an idea of what the location might be like. A bad review can be bad news for a business and the ‘rating’ drops significantly. A report in The New York Times shows how scammers – mostly from India – give businesses one-star reviews and then extort money to remove those reviews.
How does one-star review scam Work?
The New York Times report reveals that many of these one-star reviews come from India. What scammers do is post negative reviews of establishments and then ask for a Google Play gift card to close the review. If their ‘demand’ is not met, they threaten to post more negative reviews.
The report states ‘threat‘, which is sent via email. An email was quoted in the New York Times report and read as: “We sincerely apologize for our actions, and would not like to harm your business but we have no other choice. The fact is That we live in India and see how there is another way to survive.”
Scammers don’t really make outright threats, but play on the emotional quotient. It does not end here, as they are literally ‘begging’ for money. “We are begging you to send us a Google Play gift card worth $75”, before adding that they intend to further sell the gift card to provide income for the family. “After selling this gift card we can earn about $50, which is three weeks of income for a family,” the email reads. Scammers use gift cards as a method of ‘payment’ because it is often difficult to track them back.
How is Google planning to tackle this issue?
The thing with negative reviews is that they are not easy to remove. A business may not hide or delete a review without Google’s intervention. Google said in a post on one of its community forums that it is aware of the problem. “We recently became aware of a scam targeting businesses at Google unless they send money via gift cards,” Google said, adding that the review should be based on anecdotal experiences. “Our team is working round the clock to thwart these attacks, remove fraudulent reviews, and provide protection for the business profiles that are affected.”
What if you get one-star reviews?
Google has clearly stated that if someone gets a bad review then it should not pay. “If your business is being targeted by these scammers, please do not pay them,” Google said. The company wants businesses to flag these reviews – there is an option available to do so. If that doesn’t work, businesses are encouraged to reach out to Google. The company said it would review – and if deemed necessary – “remove policy-violating content.”