Last week, several renowned and Michelin-starred restaurants received one-star reviews of their establishments. Scammers have bombarded these places with negative reviews in Google Maps since when you type a place, restaurant in this application, ratings based on people’s reviews of the restaurant appear in the form of star ratings. The scammers then asked for $75 in the form of a gift card to stop everything.
Kim Alter, chef and owner of Nightbird in San Francisco, testifies as a victim of the scammers. She shared the email she received from the extortionists tagging Google on Twitter and some of her similarly blackmailed colleagues. The striking fact is that in this e-mail from the blackmailers, the latter apologized for their actions.
The email in question
As mentioned before, this email was quite special because the scammers were all polite and quite conscientious. The email started with a hello and throughout they were apologizing for the gesture and even justifying themselves. They also indicated where they came from.
Apart from the apologies they indicated that in the future there will be one notice per day, that in fact they don’t really have a choice as they live in India and what they do is the survival. Following this, they politely ask to send them a Google Play gift card containing an amount of $75. The message ends with a link to buy the famous gift card, an email address to get the code and another excuse.
Fine dining establishments that have been blackmailed include Nightbird, Sons and Daughters, Acquerello, 3rd Cousin, Marlena, Birdsong and Nari. These restaurants are all on the west coast. However, other restaurants across the country were also scammed, namely: Ever, Roux, EL Ideas and Sochi Saigonese Kitchen.
About a week after Alter’s tweet, the negative reviews were removed from the profiles of the establishments concerned. A Google Maps spokesperson told The New York Times on Monday that the company is investigating. In February, the company explained how it used machine learning and live moderation to identify and stop review bombardments. This happened long before those one-star stories about renowned restaurants.