This is the age of reviews. If you want to try out a new restaurant, what do you do? In the past, we’ve asked our friends to see if they’ve tried it and with their recommendations, we bravely explore new culinary worlds. These days, we go to our Internet friends and usually read about people’s experiences on Yelp or use some form of social media to figure out if it’s a good restaurant. Word of mouth is king and a solid referral or review is worth its weight in gold.
And the jerks out there who try to make money by extorting people realize this as well. There’s a new scam that’s going around the photography industry centered around reviews. One photographer is in the midst of it and instead of ignoring the email scammers, she’s sharing her experience hoping that others will become aware of this scam and not fall victim to these blackmailers.
The ‘Bad Review Blackmail’ Scam
Eden Bao is a maternity and newborn photographer based out of Washington. Late last year, she received a new client inquiry from a man named Mark Schwarz. What was suspect about this inquiry was that it was in bold red font and it was a pasted image, not typed out text. Eden ignored it and the following month received another inquiry from a woman named Jennifer asking for Eden’s website address. Eden responded with her address.
A few weeks after that, Jennifer sent Eden another email stating that she was “a private investigator and forensic IT investigator offering her services in the event that [Eden] received negative comments about [her] business.”
A few days later, “coincidentally,” a she received an email from Mohammed Abdullah, in the form of a complaint about Eden’s photos of him. (Did I mention Eden was a maternity and newborn photographer?)
Eden began researching scams like this and discovered “BAD REVIEWS” EXTORTION, THREATS, ETC. published on February 12 on realphotographers.com which details this scam and the steps that lead up to the extortion.
Apparently, the next email that Eden is set to receive would set the terms of the price it would take to save her business’ reputation. An excerpt from realphotographers.com states they received this:
There are 3 viable options:
1) I do not recommend this but do nothing. Ignore the bad comments and hope your potential clients do not see them in Google search results (unlikely). There is also a great risk that others will see the complaint(s) and add to them anonymously. You will inevitably lose a lot of business.
2) Hire a reputation management company to suppress all your bad comments. Their costs are usually $1,000+ and there is no guarantee of success.
3) Hire me one time for only $299 (recommended as this is your service rate for only 1 customer.) I’ll convince your competitor not to post ANYMORE defamatory comments about you (with supplied proof). You can keep new and old customers. I will give you a full refund if the competitor decides to file the complaints AFTER we have made our agreement. This is not a shakedown of any kind as I am not the author of these complaints.
A bad reputation is like a stain that won’t go away. I await your replay and hope we can work together today. Thank you.
The photographer is then bombarded with negative reviews on agencies like ripoffreport.com and iformative.com from people with false accounts (which were traced back to Thailand).
Unfortunately, these fraud and scams are a common occurrence in a world where people want to take the shortcut to obtaining wealth. We need to be aware and on our guard against people who don’t care who they have to steal from to gain it. If you should find yourself the victim of a bad review scam or any other scam against you or your business, there are a few things you can do. Eden gives some great resources and tips on her post, which you can find here, but I think it is worth re-iterating a few of the points.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has a specific financial crimes branch with resources for victims. They recommend that if you are a victim of fraud or scam to contact local law enforcement. If you need info on submitting the case to Federal Agencies, check out the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at http://www.StopFraud.gov. To report Internet crimes/scam, visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov. For Canadians, Eden mentions Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). For other parts of the world, a quick Google search can lead you to the proper authorities.
Be Proactive And Stand Your Ground
Make sure you are proactive in monitoring your reviews. What are people saying about you on the Internet? Eden recommends setting up a Google Alert for your business name and also periodically checking Social Mention. Getting an agency to review a fake review may be a difficult endeavor as many sites like, Yelp, will not remove reviews unless it violates one of their policies. If that is the case, be diligent in responding to the fake reviews. Be polite and mature and stand your ground. A possible response could be,
Though we take negative reviews very seriously, we have no record of you as a customer in our database, nor any recollection of having worked with you. We also have not been able to verify your account. Please contact us so we can resolve your issue.
Remember to be professional, not sarcastic or defensive. Having your business maligned by a thief is sure to get anyone’s blood boiling, but controlling your emotions in this case will work in your favor. Just be aware of the policies on the review site. Sometimes, responding to a negative review can work against you and keep that review on the top of your timeline if you respond right away.
Your Best Defense Is A Great Offense
One of the best things to do is to offer such great service and work that your real clients can’t help but rave about you. Ask them to leave reviews about their experience on sites like Yelp or if you feel that is too pushy, then simply ask them to check your business out on Yelp or some other review site. Soon all your raving fans will drown out the losers who are leaving fake reviews about your business.
You can also get creative and spin your negative reviews for your benefit, as this restaurant in San Francisco did with their “Hate Us On Yelp” campaign. But I’m not sure I’d recommend that.
We want to thank Eden Bao for sharing her experience with us and hopefully, you won’t find yourself in a situation where your business is targeted. You can read Eden’s account on her blog here.
Have you ever found yourself or your business the victim of a scam? Comment below with your experience/advice.