Bad Reviews Scam?

There appears to be a scam running in the United States right now specifically targeting photographers of all types.  The scam isn't entirely consistent from photographer to photographer, but goes something like this:

  1. A seemingly random email inquires about your services
  2. A second seemingly unrelated email offering “reputation management services” encourages you to keep their contact info – just in case.
  3. A series of fake, angry “clients” send emails about how horrible the service and experience was with you
  4. Bad reviews about your business begin popping up at online review sites and in social media
  5. In some cases an email comes demanding payment or the bad reviews will continue

I haven't personally seen the scam come my way, but thought I would pass it along in case any of you run up against it.  Here are a number of posts you can find from other big photography websites where photographers have actually been hit by the scam:

I like the advice below given by Eden Bao over at DIY Photography (and almost identically by PetaPixel), which is good advice for dealing with bad reviews even if you don't get caught up in a scam:


 WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

  1. Report the scam to the appropriate authorities. For us Canadians, that is the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) at https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/english/reportit-howtoreportfraud.html . CAFC is Canada’s central repository for data, intelligence and resource material as it relates to fraud and is managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For Americans, report the internet crime to the FBI athttps://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx and the Federal Trade Center athttps://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 (or their hotline: 1-877-382-4357).
  2. Reviews sites often allow the company who has been named in the review to respond. Respond to fake bad reviews immediately as you would with real bad reviews.Personally, I would respond to EVERY fake bad reviews with “This is a false review from someone trying to extort money from me for reputation management. This person has not been my customer.” and include a link to my blog post here. And if I have the time to do more digging, I would also link the reviewer’s profile as proof of scam (e.g. over at Merareview, Iamsillybilly has reviewed 15 photographers from two different continents in a span of four weeks). That’s how I would handle damage control. You are welcome to borrow my response or do it your way. See links below for resources on how to handle fake reviews.
  3. Get the review site to remove the fake bad reviews but know that this may not be possible or may take a long time.

RESOURCES FOR REPUTATION DAMAGE CONTROL

  1. Set up Google Alert for your business name to review sites like Yelp, Ripoffreport, iFormative,Complaintsboard, Merareview and Pissedconsumer.
  2. Check Social Mention regularly to monitor online reviews on social media.
  3. Read these awesome pages on how to handle fake reviews:

For your interest, find out what the web universe (attorneys, Yelp, Google, governments, media, etc) is doing to combat false reviews:

Be careful out there.

5 thoughts on “Bad Reviews Scam?”

    1. @JP,

      I actually didn’t know what “HSB” was, but I think you may be talking about the Hill Street Blues TV show from the 80s? If so, not one that I am familiar with. Just an accident I guess 😉

  1. I recently had an extremely random inquiry, but nothing more, so far. Thanks for the warning!

  2. That is horrible. I am not a photographer but I have heard of so many problems going around about fake reviews. Occasionally I’ll read about local stores and businesses going completely out of business due to fake reviews by people who have never been to, or even heard of the place. This really shows the worst kind of people Earth has to offer. It really takes a special kind of cowardly low-life to do this to innocent people just trying to follow their dreams of running a business doing what they love. It’s disgusting. And by the way, I looked at the link of Iamsillybilly you put there and that isn’t just one person. All the reviews that account gives are bad, but the thing that makes the validity of the account null is the fact that the reviews seem to have a varying comprehension of English. Some of the reviews seem like English was maybe their third language, where another sounds like it was written by someone who grew up talking English. It seems as if they have a whole team of people working to coerce businesses to pay them or they will attempt to run you out of business. I’m sorry to get political, but you have to wonder if this kind of thing would happen if money didn’t have so much power. Capitalism is freedom sure, but unfortunately it also gives corporations the freedom to charge what they want for whatever they want, forcing money to be the most important thing on the planet. This in turn causes everyone to make money in any way they possibly can. Everyone is running around rushing and panicking trying to get money so they don’t go under. I wish I could just get everyone to see what I see, and turn it around and start telling the corporations what to do, and start bringing down the importance of money so that we can all be happy together, eliminating the need to turn to criminal acts just to get money. Sorry for the rant, but it’s just so sad to see people trying to take advantage of innocent people just trying to follow their dreams and be happy in the one life they get.

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