Scammers Are Leaving One-Star Google Reviews to Extort Restaurants

Across the U.S., restaurants are being hit with a new scam: a barrage of one-star Google reviews unless they are paid to stop.

learn more about Gabrielle Bienasz

By Gabrielle Bienasz

Amy Babic
Copinette, a restaurant in New York dealing with one-star Google review scams

On a Saturday afternoon in early July, something struck Amy Babic as "off."

Someone had left a review on Google for her New York restaurant, Copinette, with one star, and no text attached. Babic looked up the reviewer's name in the restaurant's payment system and didn't see it. Over the next few days, more and more one-star reviews started popping up, until she got an email last Wednesday asking for money to take them down.

"We are begging you to send us google play gift card worth $75 You can buy the card directly from PayPal," the email said, which Entrepreneur has reviewed.

Babic's restaurant has been hit by a new trend: Scammers targeting restaurants by leaving a large number of one-star Google reviews — and then asking for money to delete them, according to recent reports from multiple outlets.

In San Francisco, at least 10 restaurants have reportedly experienced this scam, per local news reports.

Kim Alter of Nightbird received similar messages in early July asking for a $75 Google Play gift card in return for a series of deleting one-star reviews on Google, she told Eater San Francisco. (Eater also reviewed the email, the outlet said.)

The asks have a strangely conciliatory tone, Eater added. "We sincerely apologize for our actions, and would not want to harm your business, but we have no other choice," it said.

This kind of action is a cybercrime, Alan B. Watkins, a cybersecurity consultant, told the New York Times, adding that Google Play gift cards are hard to track, so that could be purposeful on the part of the would-be extortionists.

Babic got another email on July 12 with further threats and requests for money. "We can keep doing this indefinitely," it said. "Let's just close this matter positively and forget about each other."

And it's not just California or New York. Eater Chicago reported last Wednesday a Vietnamese restaurant, Sochi Saigonese Kitchen, was flooded with one-star reviews and separately asked for Google Play gift cards.

"The fact is that we live in India and see no other way to survive," the email to the owners, Chinh Pham and Son Do, reportedly said.

And, quite simply, reviews are a hassle. Babic has been corresponding about the reviews with Google Business Profile Support since July 6, according to an email chain reviewed by Entrepreneur.

Babic told Entrepreneur that customer support told her it takes three days to look at a review and also asked Babic to use a specific method to report them. Meanwhile, the reviews are popping up every day. She's estimated she's spent about five hours trying to get them taken down.

"It's just a waste of my time, a waste of my energy," Babic said.

It is easy to see why a barrage of negative reviews would drive business owners to distraction.

A one-star increase on Yelp, for example, can lead to a 5 - 9 % increase in revenue, according to a 2011 Harvard Business School paper. A study published in the Economics Letters journal even found a correlation (not a causal link) between lower online reviews and higher closing rates during the pandemic.

Entrepreneur found at least three other Michelin-starred restaurants (which appear to be common targets for this scam) in New York with multiple one-star reviews but no text: L'Appart, Eleven Madison Park, and Atera, some as posted as of Tuesday morning.

L'Appart confirmed in a statement to Entrepreneur that it has been dealing with this problem, and there is potential for it to impact a restaurant's SEO rankings as well as foot traffic. Eleven Madison Park and Atera didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google is "actively investigating this situation," and has already taken down reviews related to this issue, a Google Maps spokesperson told Entrepreneur.

Google policy is that a review has to be based on "real experiences," it said.

"When we find policy violations, we take swift action ranging from content removal to account suspension and even litigation," the statement added.

But for Babic, it has felt anything but quick. There were still plenty of one-star reviews on Copinette's page as of Tuesday morning. (By the afternoon, after Entrepreneur had reached out for comment about Copinette the reviews seem to have been taken down.)

"I'm waiting for Google to do the right thing. I'm just waiting," she said.

Gabrielle Bienasz

Entrepreneur Staff

Gabrielle Bienasz is a staff writer at Entrepreneur. She previously worked at Insider and Inc. Magazine. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business Solutions

Learn to Build a ChatGPT Bot for Only $30

If you want to see what AI can do for your business, grab this course bundle today.

Thought Leaders

The Collapse of Credit Suisse: A Cautionary Tale of Resistance to Hybrid Work

This cautionary tale serves as a reminder for business leaders to adapt to the changing world of work and prioritize their workforce's needs and preferences.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Health & Wellness

5 Essential Steps to Expand Your Vision and Start Living Your Dream Life

It's time to break free from your comfort zone and expand your vision. When you refuse to settle for a mediocre life, you can start building a life you love.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.