Google is attempting to remove one-star ratings that are being left by fraudsters that affect local companies.

The reputation of a small business, particularly one that exclusively serves the neighborhood, can make or break it. Scammers have recently targeted this reputation, as one-star reviews on Google items demand payment in gift cards to be removed. If you are the owner of an impacted company, Google is investigating.

The fraud involves con artists posting unfavorable reviews on a company’s Google Maps or Search page, notably for restaurants, and then attempting to blackmail the company into paying to have the reviews erased, according to an earlier report by The New York Times .

Google gathers customer feedback from a range of local companies. These reviews are accessible through Maps, Search, and a number of other services. One-star ratings may be quite bad for a local business, especially the eateries these scammers seem to be targeting, as internet reviews of a company sometimes have a significant impact on attracting new customers.

Many of these one-star reviews on Google, according to The New York Times, typically originate in India. Scammers there demand a $75 Google Play gift card in exchange for the review’s removal and threaten to leave more negative reviews if their demands are not satisfied. Typically, the threat is sent via email and includes the following:

We really regret what we did and do not wish to ruin your company, but there is nothing we can do. We reside in India and are aware of alternative means of subsistence. Please send us a $75 Google Play gift card, we ask you. We can make around $50 after we sell this gift card, which is enough money to support one family for three weeks.

Scammers frequently use gift cards since they are difficult to track down the origin of. The reviews themselves can’t be stopped, taken down, or hidden by the company, so dealing with them is similarly challenging. Removing the review involves assistance from Google or paying the scammer, which, according to The New York Times, is not recommended by law enforcement.

According to Google, this practice of giving businesses fake one-star evaluations is against their review regulations and is therefore acknowledged . Google is working to delete the reviews from the impacted companies and is requesting to flag the reviews from the owners.

Recently, we learned about a scam that threatens Google businesses with 1-star ratings until they send money in the form of gift cards. Our staff are working around the clock to combat these attacks, remove false reviews, and set protections on business profiles that may have been affected. Our policies explicitly specify that reviews must be based on authentic experiences.

Do not pay these con artists if they have targeted your company. Instead, kindly flag the reviews here or contact Google support via our Help Center so that our team can examine and delete any content that violates our policies. If you haven’t yet done so, you can here claim your business profile.

But as SearchEngineLand notes, even Google is up against it in this case. Five of these fake reviews that were uploaded on a restaurant in Houston, Texas were taken down by the company, but seven more were added while those five were being taken down by Google. Additionally, SearchEngineLand notes that Facebook frequently encounters scams like these, but that it is reportedly The New York Times 0 to remove reviews.

Without a doubt, this is a terrible scenario for establishments like restaurants to be in, and we sincerely hope that Google can act soon to put a stop to scammers in their tracks.

FTC: We employ income-generating auto affiliate connections. MORE ON GOOGLE. The New York Times 1

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