Houston restaurants have been scammed with negative Google reviews

Several Houston restaurants are being targeted with a scam that includes 1-star Google reviews and demands digital gift cards to remove the negative post.

The number of restaurants being blackmailed has increased in the past week to include sister upscale restaurants in the River Oaks area, Ozo Bay and Lake Bar; Field and Tides and Maison Butcha Bistro in the Highlands; and upscale Bludorn near Montrose. The Chronicle previously reported that the Daily Gather, the CityCentre restaurant owned by the hospitality group that owns the Dish Society restaurants, was also bombed.

The New York Times reported on July 11 that restaurants across the country were the targets of a scam involving negative reviews on Google Restaurant Pages as a bargaining chip to extort digital gift cards.

In all cases, the scam follows the same pattern as one-star reviews are posted on Google (these reviews appear when you search the restaurant on Google). The restaurant is then contacted via email by someone claiming responsibility for the post as well as a request for a $75 gift card on Google Play to stop the digital explosion.

The hit restaurants received the following email:

“Hi. Unfortunately we left negative comments about your organization. And in the future there will be one review a day. We sincerely apologize for our actions, we would not want to harm your business, but we have no other choice. The truth is that we live in India and see no other way to stay on Alive. Please send us a $75 Google Play Gift Card.”

The email then directs the restaurant to purchase the card from PayPal. “After selling this gift card, we can earn approximately $50, which is three weeks of income for one family,” the scammers continue to claim.

Restaurant Bludorn has posted on Instagram the email left by a fraudster requesting a Google Play gift card in exchange for removing one-star reviews on the restaurant posted on Google.

The two restaurants have had about two dozen one-star reviews, which began appearing about a week ago, said Ryan Stodt, operating partner of Ouzo Bay and Loch Bar.

Studt said the negative comments hurt the restaurant’s bottom line, “without a doubt.”

“Especially right now, when it’s early summer, gas prices are up, and we’re seeing the highest inflation in years, people are choosing wisely where to spend,” he said. “If you see a restaurant with a lot of stars, you might not go there. One table doesn’t come as a big deal. Everyone in town is fighting for business.”

Manuel Bucha, who with his two brothers owns Maison Bucha Bistro, said the negative reviews started over the July 4th weekend.

“I suddenly noticed that all of our reservations went down for no reason,” he said, adding that he lost his business as a result of the scam.
Some restaurants, including Maison Pucha Bistro, have taken to social media to alert their customers about the scam and encourage them to realize they are being targeted and leave positive comments from diners who have already visited the restaurants.

Field & Tides in the Heights posted on Instagram that the restaurant received 12 1-star reviews from 12 different profiles. “We have reported all the fake comments to google @ and they haven’t removed them yet.”

Field & Tides Restaurant in Heights has posted on Instagram the email left by a fraudster requesting a Google Play gift card in exchange for removing one-star reviews on the restaurant posted on Google.
Field & Tides Restaurant in Heights has posted on Instagram the email left by a fraudster requesting a Google Play gift card in exchange for removing one-star reviews on the restaurant posted on Google.

Field and Tides said it did not comply with the extortion request. “Bottom line, we will hold our position, and we appreciate your continued support of our small business,” he wrote on Instagram.

Nash’s, a downtown eatery, received eight one-star reviews over three to four days. But she succeeded in removing it.

Others are not so lucky. Aaron Bludorn, chef/owner of Bludorn on Taft, said he was unable to remove the one-star reviews and “get lost in 30” negative reviews on Google.

“He feels helpless,” he said. “There is little or no recourse. Everyone is truly frustrated by this.”

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