A recent New York Times piece highlighted blackmail threads taken on small restaurants that threaten and blackmail the owners. These threats say the person will leave a one-star review, hurting the business’s reputation in Google Maps and Google Search if they do not send money through digital gift cards.
Google responded on Friday by posting a notice in the Google Business Profiles Help forums saying Google is aware of this issue and taking action. Kara from Google wrote:
We’ve recently become aware of a scam targeting businesses on Google with the threat of 1-star reviews unless they send money via gift cards. Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences, and our teams are working around the clock to thwart these attacks, remove fraudulent reviews, and put protections on business profiles that may have been affected.
If your business is being targeted by these scammers, please do not pay them. Instead, please flag the reviews here or reach out to Google support via our Help Center, so that our team can review and remove policy-violating content. If you haven’t yet claimed your business profile, you can do so here.
You can also learn more about how our review moderation systems work to ensure that Google reviews remain helpful and authentic.
The NY Times explained, “a new scam targeting restaurants, criminals are leaving negative ratings on restaurants’ Google pages as a bargaining chip to extort digital gift cards.” The text threat was the same in each email: “We sincerely apologize for our actions, and would not want to harm your business but we have no other choice.” The email went on to say that the sender lives in India and that the resale value of the gift card could provide several weeks of income for the sender’s family. The emails, from several Gmail accounts, requested payment to a Proton mail account.
So if you do get these email extortion threats, follow the details above posted by Google.
Forum discussion at Google Business Profiles Help.