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Beware of New ‘Bad Reviews’ Email Scam Targeting Photographers

By Hanssie on February 17th 2015

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.

[REWIND: COUPLES THREATENED BY THEIR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS OVER BAD REVIEWS]

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.

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Image by Eden Bao Photography. Used With Permission.

 

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?)

Bad-Review-ScamEden 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).

Conclusion

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.

Notify Authorities.

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.

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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.

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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.

About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com and www.fittedmagazine.com. Follow her on Instagram. Email her at:
[email protected]

8 Comments

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  1. Graham Curran

    Thanks for the heads up on this.

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  2. robert garfinkle

    Having your customers leave good reviews, drowning out the bad ones, I think is the best solution. It’ll definitely push the bad reviews down… and you know what, here’s the deal. If I scan someone’s reviews and see a gap, where there are a bunch of good ones, then a couple bad, then some good ones, I’d probably not make to much of it… why?

    Because, unlike restaurants, patterns of behavior usually persist; meaning if you give bad service, that is probably going to be a persistent thing – a running theme from all / most of your clients, and same goes with the good. If you are good, well, most will praise you on it, and seeing one or two bad one’s could be a sign it’s fake…

    basically – we really do know the difference, right?

    But I agree, you can definitely ask your clients to share their experiences and give a review. I’d do it a couple ways…

    1. Plan it as part of your business transaction; maybe as part of a follow up call or email.
    2. If the business transaction is done, wait for the opportune moment (which may or may not come), where if you bump into your client in a social setting, and ask casually, like it’s no big deal and just ask for review straight out… hey mr / ms / mrs client would you mind giving me a review, share the experience you had? (That’s it, no more, no less…) Let them know where they can make the review (i.e. yelp, google etc), and you will send them a direct link to that review spot… and, of course, if you don’t have their email, grab it :)

    Don’t ask for a good review – no matter how say it (ask for it), your desperate, in my opinion… just ask.

    I would definitely contact authorities to let them know, at the very least. Just know, you are not the only phish in the sea and at least your complaint is on record but I’d probably not expect action…

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  3. Randy McKown

    I had a bad Google review on my old studio location … that was made over a year after we closed that location down and relocated to another city .. LOL they complained that it was impossible to catch us at the studio and then went on to complain about service when they were obviously never a client.

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  4. Brandon Dewey

    Good article, thanks for the information

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  5. Mark Henry Dela Torre

    And now there is this EVERED EVERED spamming on all the post

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    • Hanssie

      I kicked his butt to the curb :) Don’t be spamming on my articles!

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  6. Marc Billingsley

    Isis left me a bad review on The Knot….

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