7 Tips for Dealing with Business Blackmail Scams

March 24, 2014

The Better Business Bureau, FBI and FTC have been hearing complaints of a business blackmail scam across the country. 

The blackmailer will send an email such as the one shown below:  

The scammer says things like “Pay me $1,500 or I will blast out negative reviews about your company.” and “Failure to comply means the end of your business.” Complete with a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes… 

Not only is the entire scam completely illegal, but it lacks some merit as well. No matter how carefully key worded or how bountiful the quantity, it is extremely difficult to rank high in a search in common search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!

BBB Advice to Business Owners: Take these threats very seriously. Online reviews and word-of-mouth are significant factors that drive purchasing decisions and can have a considerable impact on reputations. 

  1. Do not pay any money. It is unlikely that scammers will cease harassment once they realize that businesses are compliant.
  2. Collect all relevant information—like senders’ names, email addresses and any threats that are made—and print copies.
  3. File a report with the local police bureau; many areas have special departments for Internet crimes.
  4. File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
  5. Aggressively monitor online listings for new reviews and immediately flag those that are fraudulent or unverifiable; many review sites now offer options to report suspect reviews or blackmail. Google Alerts is a great way to monitor online mentions.
  6. Consider posting updates on social media, directory listings or other business websites to notify potential customers.
  7. Contact BBB. Many scams move from region to region and if this ploy begins to happen in our area, BBB can notify and protect other local small businesses from falling victim.

 Remember, third-party review websites are not legally responsible for content that is submitted by their users so it is unlikely that expensive lawsuits would be successful; while most of these sites employ strict scrubbing policies to prevent fraud it is still estimated that fakes account for 10-30 percent of all online reviews. The most important tool that small business owners and employees have to protect livelihoods is learning how to spot fakes. Check out Consumerist’s article: 30 Ways You Can Spot Fake Online Reviews 

Encourage your customers to submit reviews at bbb.org, where they will be reviewed before they are posted. Verified reviews from a brand you trust.