Reputation damage control is one of the most feared things in today’s business environment, and there is an important reason for that. Reputation has always been decisive in the decision making of consumers and investors, but never before could it be so easily manipulated as in the era of the internet and social media. The speed and extent of the internet can make the damage irreparable in a matter of days, and knowing this makes some unethical people very powerful.
The internet is now plagued with fake news and fake review sites that profit out of this fear. How many times have you seen a company or a celebrity or politician being attacked online and put their reputation at serious risk? It happens every day, and not many people care to check for the facts. Not everything that is massively shared is real, but it does affect greatly those who are victims. Wymoo investigators have uncovered rip off sites that deliberately create fake reviews and news in an attempt to extort companies and individuals. Unethical competitors and criminals hope to blackmail a website or company by posting false negative reviews, and then charging to have them removed.
How do these sites operate?
The scammers first find a legitimate and reputable company that can be a potential victim. Usually reputable companies will have more at stake than those who already have a poor reputation and a lot of bad reviews online. The scammers will then write fake reviews or news, making sure that it sounds as convincing and legitimate as possible. Blackmail has become all too common, and companies spend a lot of time and money fighting fake and negative reviews on the Internet. There’s no question, it is very hard to know which online reviews can be trusted and which cannot.
Once the company or victim of the fraud finds out about the fake review, they will try to contact the review site to let them know this is not coming from a real customer. Real and reputable companies are in most cases willing to offer evidence that the reviewer is not a client and will expect the review to be taken down, or have a chance to publicly respond. However, the review site will reject any proof and will deny a chance to reply. Instead they will request for a payment to remove the harmful information. Sound like extortion? Some of the sites will charge a fee to check out the evidence that proves the review is fake and will then charge another fee for the actual removal. And others will even offer reputation management services after destroying your reputation!
Why do some companies end up paying scammers?
The reason is mainly the same as with any extortion case. You might have done nothing wrong, but you still do not want people to see this information online. Therefore, writing fake reviews and then blackmailing companies is a good business for scammers and even unethical competitors. Company executives and business owners know that every day that a bad review is up online there will be clients walking away. The more popular the review site, the more damage it does.
Why are these sites not being removed?
Unfortunately, some of these sites have gained popularity in search engines. Some are being protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. The problem in many cases is that there is no such thing as “another information content provider,” since the reviews are being created with fake profiles by the same people or criminals. As a result, many companies have urged review of current laws.
Finding a balance, finding truth
Online reviews are important to consumers. Not only do they help people find useful information, but they also help companies do a better job. Because some if not many positive and negative reviews on the internet can be fake, the best advice is to read them all to get a general feel for which reviews are genuine, and which review sites are reputable and more trustworthy than others. Consumers need to research well and try to use reputable review sites like the BBB as a reference, instead of paying attention to questionable information found online from unknown sources.
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