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Scammers threaten NYC restaurants with one-star reviews in exchange for online gift cards

Scammers threaten NYC restaurants with one-star reviews in exchange for online gift cards

An extortion scam affecting restaurant owners across the country has ended up in New York City. Restaurants including Avant Garden in the East Village, Dame in Greenwich Village and Huertas in the East Village are among the first to be hit by scammers who threaten to leave one-star reviews on the restaurants’ business pages to their owners handing out gift cards to the Google App Store.

At Avant Garden, reviews began rolling in about a week ago, says Drew Brady, chief operating officer of Overthrow Hospitality, the group behind Avant Garden and a handful of other restaurants in the East Village. Brady noticed the first two one-star reviews on Avant Garden’s Google page on July 2, and he suspected something was wrong: Two one-star reviews in the same week are not common for East Village vegan restaurants, he says, in particular. during summer when service tends to be slower.

By the end of the day, there were already two more. The next morning the total had grown to six.

The scammers contacted the Manhattan Hospitality Group by email on July 5, in a form message that appears to have been sent to other restaurants across the country this week, including in San Francisco and Chicago. “Unfortunately, we have given negative feedback about your business,” the email said. “And will appear in the future, one review a day.”

In the message, the scammers threaten to leave one-star reviews until the restaurant provides an online code for a $ 75 gift card to Google Play, Google’s online store.

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A screenshot of an email asking the recipient to transfer a $ 75 gift card to the Google App Store.

A screenshot of the email received by Overthrow Hospitality on July 5th.
Luke Fortney / Eater NY

Patricia Howard, co-owner of Dame, tells Eater via email that the seafood restaurant Greenwich Village received three such emails in the past week, but that they have not yet seen any negative reviews on her Google page, which at the moment has five stars. Still, “negative Yelp and Google reviews can be crippling for a business,” she says. “These scammers must be blocked from the platforms as they violate the terms of use.”

What’s all the fuss about stars? “Google is Google,” says Brady. “It simply came to our notice then [to restaurant ratings]. You look at that star rating without reading all the reviews. ” The director of operations says he flagged the reviews to Google in an attempt to get them removed – “It’s difficult to get in direct contact with anyone over there,” he says – but none of them have been removed at the time of publication.

Avant Garden’s Google rating is currently at 4.5 stars on Google, currently anchored by nearly 500 reviews as more one-star ratings flow in.

“Right now we’re monitoring our overall star rating,” says Brady. “The urgency will increase when it starts to sink.”

This is a development story; Eater is updating this post.

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