Restaurants recently have been receiving one-star reviews on Google with no content in the field. It would start with one review, then another, until these reviews negatively impacted the restaurant’s overall rating.
Then, the email would come.
An extortion message asks the establishment to pay the people behind the reviews with a $75 Google Play gift card or else they would continue posting the damaging content.
The problem restaurants faced when they tried to get these reviews taken down by Google was the reviews had no content, so they did not violate any guidelines when flagged for removal.
One restaurant, Le Pavillon, noticed these reviews coming in and went to a company they already had on to monitor their online feedback, Merchant Centric.
When the company first tried to get the reviews taken down, the fact they had no content made it difficult to demonstrate to Google the reviews offered no merit. However, once they took the proof of the extortion email to the tech company, they were able to get all of the one-star reviews taken down.
This is a fairly easy thing to take care of for larger companies who have control of their Google credentials to deal with. But, for smaller mom-and-pop type restaurants, this kind of scam may pose a bigger problem.
Claiming credentials for a restaurant is an important way to have control over its Google page. It is how you respond to reviews, and the only way you can report reviews such as these fraudulent ones that are part of an extortion scam.
Not doing something like claiming Google credentials can put restaurants in a vulnerable position when it comes to scams like these, Connie Shelton, chief client success officer at Merchant Centric, says.
“We tell brands you need to own this like it’s the keys to your bank account,” she says. “Get this thing claimed, keep your credentials safe and secure where you have them.”
Even if a restaurant is not being targeted in an extortion scam, good reviews and a positive online presence have become vital to the success of businesses these days and important to the modern consumer.
“It is so important for them to treat their online listings like their digital front doors of their restaurants,” Shelton says. “Because that’s what it is for them, and they need to know that today’s guests at restaurants want to have a relationship with a brand, not only when they’re dining—they want to have a relationship with them online too.”