Luchos San Francisco, one of the restaurants targeted by scammers.
- Scammers are flooding restaurants with one-star Google reviews as part of a new extortion ploy.
- The scammers demand digital gift cards in exchange for deleting the negative reviews.
- Restaurants around the country, many of which have Michelin stars, have been hit by the scam.
Restaurants around the country are suddenly receiving a slew of one-star Google reviews, becoming unwitting victims of a growing online scam.
As part of a new extortion ploy, a group of scammers is leaving negative reviews for restaurants and bargaining for free digital gift cards in exchange for their removal, the New York Times reported. The criminals have targeted a wide range of eateries — many of which have Michelin stars — in cities including San Francisco, New York, and Chicago.
Restaurant owners told the Times that the reviews follow a similar pattern — they contain no photos or descriptions, and appear to be written by someone who has never dined at the restaurant.
The comments are then followed up by an email demanding a $75 Google Play account to delete the post, along with threats of more bad reviews if they fail to pay up.
After several San Francisco restaurants fell prey to the scam, their owners took to Instagram to share their experience, including Kim Alter, owner and chef of Nightbird, who has posted several of the emails to her Stories.
Kim Alter Instagram Story
A Google Maps spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, but told the New York Times on Monday that it is investigating the reviews and has started removing them.
“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,” the spokesperson told the Times.
In the meantime, many restaurant owners are left trying to figure out how to handle the influx of bad reviews, which play a significant role in their business.
“I think the longer it continues, the worse it will be,” Val Cantu, chef and owner of Californios, told Eater. “We don’t do what we do for reviews, but certainly we don’t want somebody to tarnish our reputation for an Amazon gift card.”
“You’re just kind of defenseless,” Julianna Yang, general manager of Sons & Daughters in San Francisco, told the Times. “It seems like we’re just sitting ducks, and it’s out of luck that these reviews might stop.”