Have you heard about the review scam that small businesses are having to deal with right now?

Restaurants across the U.S. are being targeted by a scam involving fake 1-star reviews on Google. The scammers leave bad reviews for the restaurants and then demand payment to remove them. It’s sad and frustrating.

Ransom Reviews Hurt Your Bottom Line

Restaurant owners are worried that the negative reviews have already done enough damage to their online reputations that it will be hard to bounce back. Fake, bad reviews like these hurt your ability to attract customers.

Google is investigating the situation and has started removing reviews that violate their policies, as they are supposed to. However, the scams are still happening.

What Google Says

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.

Read the full statement from Google here.

What to Do if This Happens to You

Google has provided guidance for what to do if this scam happens to your business:

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.

Looking Forward to the Future

Is there a solution to “ransom reviews”? Yes, but what specifically will be up to Google to decide. Authentic customer reviews help good businesses serve more people. Reviews are too important to local businesses and local economies to be subject to such manipulation. Fake reviews are not a new problem. Spam filters have been tweaked and verification layers added, but the problem persists. Something has to be done. Our guess is Google will be pursuing avenues for smarter verification of reviewers. They just recently started testing a “Reviews Aren’t Verified” label.

ReviewThread Is Here to Help

Managing your online reviews is a hassle. Getting blackmailed with 1-star reviews makes reputation management even more of a hassle, obviously. ReviewThread helps small businesses get real, authentic reviews from their customers. We know how much your reputation means to you. If you are dealing with this scam at your business, we are here to talk with you about ways you can protect your online reputation while Google seeks a more permanent solution.