“Bad Reviews” Extortion, threats, etc.

photographers scam businessBackground

I mentioned this scam that was going around to photographers, but I’m going to discuss more in detail.

It seems that there is a new bandwagon for greedy lying cheating dirtbags, trying yet another way to rip off and scam people online

Fishing

It started some time in December…. many of us had an email from a Mark Schwartz inquiring about a newborn session, but the way in which it was worded was a little off….

We have a newborn on the way (mid February) and we are looking to book a newborn photo session. What is the studio address? What are your fees? What is the length of a session? When can we meet? Thank you.

The Bait

After receipt, several photographers received this email:

I am a geriatric nurse in Utah.  While my client rests, I spend a lot of time online.  I want to bring something to your attention.  I received an email this week that relates to your photo business.  I am active on Facebook in a religion discussion group.  I’ve befriended a lady online recently who seems to begrudge your company.  I have no idea if her claims are legit, although I suspect she may be a competitor in your area.  She claims she is going to write several bad reviews about your company on a site called ripoffreport.  She has your name and address as she has shown me the complaints (probably fake).  Is there anything  I can do to help?  I’m sure you don’t want to gamble with your reputation.  Your reply is held in confidentiality.   Thank you.

Scare Tactics

When this person is responded to, she/he/it replies with:

There are 3 viable options:

1)  I do not recommend this but do nothing.  Ignore the bad comments and hope your potential clients do not see them in Google search results (unlikely).  There is also a great risk that others will see the complaint(s) and add to them anonymously.  You will inevitably lose a lot of business.

2) Hire a reputation management company to suppress all your bad comments.  Their costs are usually $1,000+ and there is no guarantee of success.

3) Hire me one time for only $299 (recommended as this is your service rate for only 1 customer.)  I’ll convince your competitor not to post ANYMORE defamatory comments about you (with supplied proof).  You can keep new and old customers.  I will give you a full refund if the competitor decides to file the complaints AFTER we have made our agreement.  This is not a shakedown of any kind as I am not the author of these complaints.

A bad reputation is like a stain that won’t go away.  I await your replay and hope we can work together today.  Thank you.

After which, the photographers were reviewed badly on ripoffreport.com and iformative.com by the same person, over and over and over again using different names, but reviewing 20+ photographers from all over the country.  We traced the email address, IPs, and names involved back to Thailand.  Nice.

Setting Groundwork

Today, I (and many other photographers) received this one….   Supposedly from a Jennifer McMahon Investigations (jmcmahon175@gmail.com)  I’m working on a trace, I will update if I find anything out.

Subject: Investigation – Photography business and your reputation.

My name is Jennifer McMahon. I am a private investigator and forensic IT investigator. In the event that anytime in the future writes or threatens to write negative comments about your business, these are my services:

1) Reputation Management: I am able to post your testimonials in many key areas to be found quickly by search engines. Thereby pushing any negative comments further down search engine results so as not to be immediately visible to prospective clients.

2) Private Investigator: I am able to positively identify the personal name and/or business name and address of anyone who writes or threatens to write any negative comments about your company online. I am able to supply the person’s name, address, phone number, IP address, and email. Using specialized contacts, I have a 100% success rate. This service is very popular in the photography field. *Best to contact me as soon as possible if you have seen negative comments or have received a threat of negative comments.

3) Further options are available upon consultation.

Please keep my contact information in the event you need my services. This is a one time email only. Thank you.

Preying on the fear of bad reviews and your reputation as a small business.  It’s no secret that the internet can “break” a small business through bad reviews and witch hunts.  The funny thing is, I have a client with this same last name, and at first, I thought it was her when I saw the name.  It is not.

So why would a PI start writing this to photographers.  No reason.  It’s fake.  This, in my opinion, is someone, or a group, setting the groundwork for more bad reviews to be thrown up all over sites.

First and foremost, no PI can find out who anyone is who is reviewing anonymously on these ridiculous review sites unless there is a court order, and this will not happen in what is being described here.

What do the Review Sites Have to Say about this?  THEY DON’T CARE!

When I emailed iformative about this obvious scam on their site, here was the response:

Hello,

To remove the complaint please try to contact the person who posted
the complaint, resolve the issue and ask him/her to send us removal
request. Try to send message using our “Send Message” option (located
next to the user’s Display name).


Regards
Antitrust Bureau

business-of-photographyI wrote back to them and said – the photographers do not know who is posting these reviews because they are not their customers – there is no one to contact.  How do you contact a stranger going by “iamsillybilly”?

I pushed back more to iformative and said you do realize that these reviewers cannot be contacted, right?

They responded:

Hello,

Once again,

To remove the complaint please try to contact the person who posted

the complaint, resolve the issue and ask him/her to send us removal
request. Try to send message using our “Send Message” option (located
next to the user’s Display name).


Regards
Antitrust Bureau

Obviously, Iformative really does not care that scams and extortion are happening on their site.

We Really Don’t Need This, Do We?

Lovely, so it isn’t like as photographers, small businesses who are already struggling in an oversaturated industry to keep ourselves afloat, now we have to contend with complete asshole (sorry!) scam artists who are out to create fake bad reviews and try to extort money from us who may or may not even be in the United States.  Awesome.

I wish this would have happened in another few years not now as I have a son who is currently in college studying computer sciences and cyber security, and you better believe I will be hiring him to help in any situation that we may find ourselves in dealing with this.  If you yourself have any ideas who we can report to or file complaints with, please email me at jodieotte@gmail.com