SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A handful of well-known restaurants in San Francisco said they were recently targeted by scammers who created a string of fake negative reviews online.
Owners said it starts with a wave of fake one-star reviews on Google and then they receive an extortion-like email days later demanding money to stop the negative reviews from being posted. It recently happened to Palette on Folsom Street and Sons and Daughters on Bush Street.
KRON On is streaming news live now
“I feel a little helpless, mostly in particular because there’s no one on the Google site where these reviews are coming on. There’s no one that we can really talk to,” said Julianna Yang.
General manager at Sons and Daughters, Julianna Yang, said they received up to 15 one-star reviews over a few days. She said they were able to get Google to take the fake reviews down, however other restaurants haven’t been as lucky.
“In San Francisco, almost 30 people reached out to me. Through the past week, restaurants I’ve never spoken to before like owners of Matterhorn, Palette, my friends, today Lori from Rose’s. I mean this is a lot of people that are affected whether it’s a two Michelin star like Californios or a cafe on the corner and they all reached out and are still trying to get them taken down,” said Kim Alter.
Nightbird owner and chef, Kim Alter, was one of the first to sound the alarm on social media with a post showing a screenshot of the mysterious email she received.
Part of it reads, “Hello. Unfortunately, negative feedback about your establishment has been left by us and will appear in the future, one review a day….the fact is that we live in India and see no other way to survive. We are begging you to send us Google play gift card worth $75″.
With so many people using reviews to make decisions on where to eat, Alter said fake reviews can be damaging.
“Right now, it’s kind of the slower season and there’s a ton of restaurants in San Francisco and a lot of newer places opening and to get that much negative feedback when it’s extortion is pretty terrible when you’re just trying so hard on a day-to-day basis so it’s just unfortunate,” said Alter.
Business owners experiencing this are encouraged to flag any suspicious activity to Google.
Google told KRON4 it has taken down more than 95 million reviews. It has also removed more than 1 million user accounts for activity that violates policy.
It sent the following statement to KRON4 regarding the one-star reviews being left on San Francisco restaurants
“Our team is actively investigating this situation and have already begun removing cases of policy-violating content. Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences, and when we find policy violations, we take swift action ranging from content removal to account suspension and even litigation. We use a combination of human operators and industry-leading technology to closely monitor 24/7 for fraudulent content, and we encourage users and business owners to flag suspicious activity to us, which helps us keep the information on Maps accurate and reliable.”