Beware: Bad Review Extortion Scam Targeting Photographers

Beware: Bad Review Extortion Scam Targeting Photographers

There is currently a scam running rampant throughout the photography community and it has damaged countless reputable businesses already. The scam usually perpetuates from your contact form or direct email if listed on your website. Hopefully you won’t encounter this at all, but if you do here are some steps to protect yourself.

What is the scam?

One word: extortion. At first they were targeting the newborn photographers niche, but has since expanded into the rest of the community. There are two variations that I have seen throughout Facebook groups. The first is a two-part scam where an individual emails straight out stating they do not want anything except to damage your business. This is usually followed by an email claiming to be a business reputation management company in lieu of the rampant blackmail plaguing our community. Suspiciously convenient, eh?

The second is a three-part scam. A potential client contacts you via your contact form to confirm your validity as a business and if you are worth extorting. This may be totally indistinguishable from an actual client. The email that follows, unlike the previous version, is the reputation management email. Their hope is you’ll delete it, but when the inevitable third email arrives you’ll recover this ever so helpful email from the trash bin and summon their help. The third email is some variation of a fake past client that is unhappy with your services and is threatening to deface your business on all review sites they can find.

It seems hit and miss if the extortionists follow through on their threats. If they do, you’re likely in for a headache, but all is not lost.


What should you do?

Firstly, do not respond. That is only confirms that you are indeed a valid business and they have your valid email address. I know the rage that is building inside you wants you to tell them off with various expletives in all caps, but doing nothing will yield a better outcome. I asked PPA support what should we do with said emails. Their response was to ignore them and that PPA is well aware of the scam and have reported it.

The most important step towards protecting yourself is to document and save every single email and other relevant communications. These will prove helpful when you refute the false reviews.

You should report the senders to the FTC complaint center, or the CAFC if you reside in Canada.

You should also set yourself up with Google Alerts if you have not already. You can set up a Google Alert for practically anything. It can be delivered via email or you can have it packaged into a nice RSS feed, which is awfully handy and less intrusive than email. See my post about RSS feeds. Also, like Google Alerts, you should set up Social Mention alerts, which searches social network mentions and reviews.

Luckily people are out there are on our side, fighting against those who are making a business out of ruining other peoples. Hook SEO has a great post on what to do when you receive fake reviews. Vorys Law Firm has some great information on how to retaliate and put yourself on the offensive.

Lastly, spread the word. The more people that know and protect themselves, the less revenue for these scammers. Hopefully the return for their efforts becomes inefficient and they take their crap elsewhere.

[via Eden Bao Photography]

Kyle Ford's picture

Kyle Ford descends upon the PNW from rural Nevada. Kyle joined Fstoppers in late 2014. He is a wedding and lifestyle photographer who throws his extra dough at film supplies. You can find him across a multitude of social media platforms and his website.

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I haven't come across anything like this as of yet, but most of my business comes from word of mouth. Even if someone followed through, no one who keeps me gainfully employed would believe it.

Thank you for sharing Kyle! Very useful info.

Just hoping it helps stop the nonsense! Thank you, glad you liked it.

Really. MohamadObama7 ???

HAHAHA, this shit was hilarious! Thanks for the giggles!

Reviews have basically become meaningless and not just because of this scam.

- Unscrupulous businesses create fake positive reviews for their own businesses or hire "like/review farms" to bolster their numbers with fake reviews.

You can purchase reviews or likes for pennies per review or like. a quick search just netted me a service that will increase my 5 star reviews at about 0.12$ per review (2000 reviews for 225$US)

- Unscrupulous businesses create fake negative reviews on competitors.

- No business, no matter how honest, is going to post negative reviews on it;s own site.

- Bored trolls create fake negative reviews because, well, they can.

- Companies like Yelp have been ACCUSED of manipulating reviews as leverage against potential advertisers. While this hasn't been proven in court a legal decision from the supreme court has claimed that such a practice (hidding positive reviews and enhancing the visibility of negative reviews as a sales pressure/tactic) would not be considered extortion.

- RippOffReport and other similar sites allow anyone to post anything they want and actually financially benefit from fake reviews since they offer an adjudication process for 2000$ that will see them review the report and post a rebutal (of course nothing stops the scammer, troll, competitor from simply creating a new review forcing the company to spend another 2000$). On top of everyting RippOffReport won't even remove content that has been proven false and libelous with a court order and hides behind the Decency in Communications Act to protect itself from litigation.

Just take a look at the instagram purge that happened a little while back. Rhihanna lost 1.2 Million followers on instagram when the service cleaned out spambot accounts.

The whole system is borked.

It's all smoke and mirrors.