Scammers attack San Francisco restaurants with 1-star ratings

It sounded like any other day in San Francisco at General Manager Sean Camacho’s Prubechu. He was just settling in his inbox and sorting when a strange email caught his eye.

“Hi. Unfortunately, we have left negative comments about your organization. And will appear in the future one review per day. We sincerely apologize for our actions, and we would not want to harm your business, but we have no other choice,” this email received on Wednesday, July 6, Partially read.

What followed was a promise that the flow of negative comments about Prubechu on Google would only end if Camacho agreed to send you a $75 Google Play gift card.


“It came out of this world the way they formulated it,” Camacho said. “They were very apologetic, so it’s really true about it.”

Camacho was puzzled, to say the least, but decided to ignore it: realizing it was junk mail. He went about his day without thinking about it again—until Prubechu got a call from a New York restaurateur who reported that he had traced the email and found out that a slew of other businesses across the country had received a similar threat.

In San Francisco, Prubechu is among a group of top restaurants that have been attacked by scammers who have also left 1-star reviews on Google. Among them are Nightbird, Californians, Son & Daughters, and Acquerello, as first reported by Eater SF. SFGATE separately found that Quince, Nari, Octavia, and SPQR also received low ratings without any context.

Prubechu is among a group of San Francisco restaurants that have been bombarded with negative reviews on Google. The reviews are part of a scam that requires money from the restaurant.

The Google

Since he didn’t take the email seriously at first, Camacho didn’t check to see if Prubechu had received low ratings, but soon discovered that the restaurant had gotten about six new one-star ratings after the suspicious email. That number has since added at least two new jobs as of Friday morning. Camacho believes that the long-term effects of this fraud could harm Prubechu.

“Reviews cost us time and energy,” Camacho said. “It just puts all the inconvenience on small business owners like us. We have a million things already going on. If it were only six reviews, I could handle that…but this is a long-term, ongoing problem.”

Camacho said he flagged every post and contacted Google but has yet to receive a response. A Google Maps spokesperson told SFGATE that they are aware of the situation and “have already begun removing instances of policy violating content.”

“Our policies clearly state that reviews must be based on real experiences, and when we find policy violations, we take prompt action ranging from content removal to account suspensions and even litigation,” a Google spokesperson said.

But other than reviewing on Yelp, anyone can leave a review for a business on Google without providing a glimpse into their actual dining experience. When SFGATE asked Google about the blank reviews, the tech giant did not comment.

Nightbird is among the group of San Francisco restaurants that have been bombarded with negative reviews on Google.  The reviews are part of a scam to get money from restaurants.

Nightbird is among the group of San Francisco restaurants that have been bombarded with negative reviews on Google. The reviews are part of a scam to get money from restaurants.

Andrew D

Kim Alter, owner of chefs at Nightbird, said her work received 10 negative reviews Tuesday morning. She said her first idea was to share an email screenshot on Instagram to see if other restaurants could link to it. Not only did she know it wasn’t an isolated incident, but she also realized that restaurants weren’t the only target.

“Friends from all over the country were reaching out to me including the pub and the sale [owners]“Some said this happened to them weeks ago,” Alter said.

Did not get along with Alter. She made sure to report the negative reviews, but she also took a step forward and googled as well as affected local restaurants on Twitter. “Hey Google, you think you can help small businesses in San Francisco get exposed to extortion and provide a 1* comment to @acquerellosf @3rdcousinsfsonsdaughterssf #marlena #birdsongchezpim,” the post read.

By 9pm on Tuesday, July 5, Alter finally heard from Google and said that the posts were eventually removed by 12am the following Wednesday.

“I think those [scammers] “They do it because someone, somewhere would rather pay them and then get one-star ratings. It’s unfortunate,” Alter said.

Camacho said that Prubechu had never had such a situation before. He finds the entire ordeal strange, but said he also feels helpless when he knows other San Francisco restaurants are dealing with this as well. He said that after sharing a screenshot of the email on his Instagram, other local businesses messaged him with their personal accounts.

“No one knows what to do,” he said. “We just want him to stop.”



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