Google one-star review scam ‘attack on small businesses’

A Google review scam left the owners of a small business “tearful” when it appeared they would have to pay to have fake one-star reviews removed.

Nigel Bastow, 68, and his wife Ann Ninjinda, 48, own the Thai Silk Massage parlour in Norwood Road, West Norwood, and were stunned when they received three one-star reviews on Monday for their business in the space of three minutes, from people who had never been customers.

The confusion continued when a WhatsApp message from a Bangladeshi phone number was sent to the company phone one minute after the reviews were posted offering to remove them.

Screenshot of message sent to the company phone offering help to remove the bad reviews (Picture: Nigel Bastow)

Mr Bastow said he did not reply to the number out of fear that further bad reviews would be posted, but expected he would be blackmailed into having to send money.

He contacted Google to ask it to remove the reviews but was told it would not be possible.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Mr Bastow. “These technology crooks are an attack on small businesses. The practice is awful. It can be more damaging to people than they know.

“It makes you want to give up. I have anxiety and I can’t sleep. My wife is tearful.”

Mr Bastow said that he appealed Google’s decision to not help him but it replied saying the case was closed.

The business owner had even found an article online by a Google community manager on a Google support thread describing the exact situation he found himself in, but still he could not get them to remove the reviews.

But once he contacted South London Press and Google’s press office, the search engine giant got back in touch with him to say the reviews had been removed.

“Google has shown that if you try hard enough you can get them to change,” said Mr Bastow. “But I’m pretty sure it generally doesn’t work out like this.

“It was galling to see the article from a Google manager and the way they responded to my complaint. Organisations like Google need to be more accountable. I’m not sure I was ever talking to a human throughout the whole complaint procedure.

“It’s a worldwide problem and Google have a responsibility to sort it out and not be a faceless organisation.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said a fifth of businesses nationally had reported being “impacted by the scourge of fake and malicious reviews”.

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, told South London Press: “We welcome the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into platforms who are not doing enough to tackle fake reviews, and hope this will result in effective action.

“It’s time for the Government to step up and deliver the necessary regulation of these big tech giants to safeguard the interests of small businesses and consumers alike. Only then can we reap the rewards of the digital economy with confidence and trust.”

Google have been approached for comment.

Pictured top: Nigel Bastow and wife outside the Thai Silk massage parlour (Picture: Nigel Bastow)


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