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Crime The Internet

Shakedowns To Fix Negative Online Reviews 179

Posted by samzenpus
from the pay-up dept.
First time accepted submitter unjedai writes "A company is putting horrible reviews of small business online, and then offering to improve the company's reputation and take the reviews off for a fraction of the cost that a real reputation improvement company would charge. Sierra West received a call from a 'reputation improvement company' telling them they had a negative review online and that the company would take the review offline if Sierra West paid $500. 'Of course when someone is offering $500 the day (the bad review) goes up seemed not legitimate.'"
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Shakedowns To Fix Negative Online Reviews

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:40AM (#41546815)

    Seems like a fairly textbook case of libel.

  • Trip Advisor? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zemran (3101) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:50AM (#41546859) Homepage Journal

    If you use Trip Advisor you will find that most of the reviews are generic as they are written by professionals. Good reviews are paid for and while the hotel etc. is at it they pay for negative reviews to be written about all their competitors. This is not something new.

    I know of one guest house here that had a bad report on trip advisor about staff stealing from the guests before the guest house had even received any guests. They had just opened and had not done any business at all and there first review was fake.

  • Best Countermeasures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by some old guy (674482) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:57AM (#41546885)

    1. Register your business withe the Better Business Bureau, the Jaycees, Consumer Reports, and Dun & Bradstreet. Prominently link to your ratings. People will take the aforementioned organization's word before some troll's on a crappy "review" site.

    2. Report all such solicitations to your local prosecutor as an extortion attempt.

    3. Order the crap sites like White Pages, Yellow Pages, etc. to un-list your business and state why (they suck).

    4. Have a cold beer and relax.

  • by ledow (319597) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:06AM (#41546929) Homepage

    PayPal is a bank, in some countries (i.e. the EU), and regulated by appropriate financial services watchdogs. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be allowed to trade in those countries for very long as it would be nothing but an unregulated money laundering outfit.

    That said, wire transfers are traceable, but that doesn't mean you get your money back. Credit cards, etc. have automatic, legally-backed payout when you mark a transaction as fraud, even if the fraudster has already withdrawn that money.

  • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:33AM (#41547033)

    The big problem with cyber crime is the lack of long-term storage of complaints. I got a scam email from Spain, claiming to be from a friend stranded in Madrid without a passport. I sent it on to the Guardia Civil. They sent me back a bunch of guidelines on not being scammed online.

    Now, I didn't expect my single little failed fraud attempt to merit individual investigation. I had hoped that they would put it on file, and use it as supporting evidence for conspiracy in a larger case later on, but no-one tracks these things.

    A group I frequent on Facebook was getting spammed for weeks by the same person advertising loans (in USD, in a group about a Scottish pub meetup). Every day, they'd get reported, and the message deleted. But even Facebook didn't seem to bother to track the individual complaints and spot the pattern.

    So yes, review sites should be able to spot the pattern, but they won't. Because that costs money, and the internet is for cheapskates.

  • by sg_oneill (159032) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:33AM (#41547035)

    This post was removed due to Dice content standards violations.

    What the heck? Has this been happening for real?

  • Not new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CdBee (742846) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:40AM (#41547069)
    It';s been proven that both Yelp and TripAdvisor will phone businesses moments after bad reviews are posted and offer to have them hidden for a large sum of money - Yelp in particular strongly denied this then were caught at it again a few weeks later
  • by CdBee (742846) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:42AM (#41547077)
  • by arth1 (260657) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:47AM (#41547107) Homepage Journal

    They're not used very often in the U.S., though, because they tend to be expensive--$25 to send, and $15 to receive, seem to be common fees, though they can vary.

    I just paid $35 for receiving a wire transfer to my BOFA account. The bank's web page says they charge $16 for incoming wire transfers from abroad, and it really should be $0, because it was sent as a SWIFT transfer in USD, marked with "sending bank pays all charges".
    Why the extra? There's apparently a "telex fee", even though no telex was in use.
    Oh, and I don't even get a copy of the SWIFT with the payment details.

    Thank goodness the money was sent in USD, because the rates that US banks give their customers on exchange are ridiculous.

    Here in USA, we have the most antiquated bank system in the world; worse, even, than the UK one.
    Heck, people here still use cheques, for cripes sake. And the cards banks issue can't be used in large parts of Europe, because they still rely on a magnetic strip, not a chip.
    And we have the most clueless bankers too. They don't even understand terms like giro and loro.

    But to compensate, it's seriously overpriced.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:36AM (#41547265)

    The difficulty with the site is that the owner offered to delete the comments upon payment of £299 (around $500). If the purpose of the site was genuine (to allow complaints to be 'heard') why was it possible to take comments down? And what is to stop fake comments from being posted to attract further payment?

    Fortunately for the solicitors in England and Wales, action was taken by the Law Society [bailii.org] and the owner of the site was forced to take the site down and suffer the consequences of poorly defended legal action.

    That action was taken by the Law Society as the only option available to the libeled solicitors was to launch an individual libel claim. The owner of the site had to respond to such claims and didn't fair particularly well in these either, particularly when it was clear that he had offered to take the comments down for a payment (see paragraph 23) [bailii.org].

    The correct way to legally extort money is to call it an investigation and processing fee, rather than an offer to take the review down. The investigation will inevitably turn up the fact that the review was not submitted in good faith and/or by a nut job, and it will be taken down, which is what the lawyer wanted, but the investigation and processing fee in that case would be legitimate, even if the whole thing was automated or partially automated - there's no reason you wouldn't pay some broke college student 1-2% of the processing fee to actually perform an investigation process on a contract rather than a permanent employment basis, as piecework, in order to avoid actually becoming an employer, and as long as you paid your taxes, there's pretty much nothing to be done about it.

    To avoid any appearance of impropriety whatsoever, you could also post positive reviews, and justify listing all negative reviews before positive ones on the basis that people in need of a lawyer would be best served by the review site by knowing as quickly as possible if the lawyer failed in a case similar to theirs -- so a lawyer with 100 reviews and a 96% positive rating would still have the 4 bad reviews listed before everything else that said good things, and that is what people would see first.

    Taking this approach, $5 worth of investigation might not be enough, and even if it were, factually bad reviews would stick to a lawyer on the review site, which is maybe not a bad thing... it pretty much puts them in the same boat as trademark registration, where you have to zealously defend your trademark by spending money, only in this case, you pay the review site, rather than paying lawyers (perhaps adding some much needed symmetry to the universe in the process, but I digress...).

    Note that I'm not recommending this as an honorable business model, but it's one that works pretty well for a couple of "review sites" here in the US, and in that case, even a libel case would have to name the original reviewer, rather than the site, as long as the site doesn't have employees posting the negative reviews in the first place (libel laws differ in the US, and astroturfing bad reviews in order to get people to pay for advertising is one of the techniques used by one of the putative review sites).

  • by arth1 (260657) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @07:39AM (#41547723) Homepage Journal

    You're lucky the US bank even knew what SWIFT was. A couple years ago I needed to transfer funds to my mom in the US. She lives in a small town but uses one of the major US banks. It took me over a week of emails and multiple calls to the bank to get the necessary information to make the transfer from a major European bank.

    Hints for the next time:
    Get your mother's account number and wire transfer routing number. The latter is usually not the same as the regular routing number.
    Get the SWIFT address of your mother's bank's head office, unless they have a SWIFT address for transfers in USD.
    When sending the money, insist on sending in USD, nostro your mother's banks head office, with both the routing number and account number specified.
    Do not choose to pay the recipient's charges, because US banks will not honour that and will charge the recipient full charges regardless of whether they also get the mutually agreed-upon transfer fee from your bank. That's just free money for them.

    IME, the transfer will only take minutes if done this way. Of course, the bank will likely sit on it until the next day before "clearing" it, despite it already being cleared by SWIFT. US banks are the worst float crooks in the world.

    If sending in your own currency and without a routing number, even if through SWIFT, expect 3-4 days, and even more if they cut a cheque (no, I'm not kidding, alas).

  • by cawpin (875453) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:01AM (#41547927)

    Now, I didn't expect my single little failed fraud attempt to merit individual investigation. I had hoped that they would put it on file, and use it as supporting evidence for conspiracy in a larger case later on, but no-one tracks these things.

    Oh, but they do. I did a similar thing, regarding about a scam letter, physical mail, I received several years ago. I got the normal "Thanks for reporting" response and thought nothing of it, as you did. About 6 months later I get an email from the US Federal Crime Victim Notification Service telling me that an investigation had been opened into the company I reported.

    I've been getting regular updates through this system for about 3 years now up to and including verdict & sentencing. There were 6 or 8 people who were charged, a couple plead guilty to lesser charges, one was found guilty of some fairly serious charges and the ring leader was found guilty of many counts of fraud and related charges and sentenced to, if I remember correctly, 17 years in federal prison.

    I was completely surprised by it because, like you, I had never seen anything come of the various things I have reported over the years. But, apparently, they do pay attention if they get enough complaints.

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