NBC New York refers to the perpetrators of a heinous new scheme as “scammers,” but that’s not nearly strong enough language.
A group of criminals is targeting restaurants and threatening to damage their reputations by leaving one-star reviews until the business agrees to provides an online code for a $75 gift card to Google Play, Google’s online app store. And who knows if it will stop there.
One victim of the blackmailers is an East Village vegan restaurant named Avant Garden, which reports seeing 1-star reviews begin popping up online, which is a distinct rarity for them. The restaurant’s marketing director, Jason Littrell, is quoted as saying:
For us, we enjoy almost 500 positive reviews and we don’t get 1-star reviews very often at all, so when we see this consistently we start to get worried and frustrated. Consistent bad reviews can be very damaging to a bar or restaurant.
It was not long before Overthrow Hospitality, the group behind the restaurant, received a “ransom note.”
Littrell told NBC, “They were saying ‘We are from India, we are very poor, send us a $75 Google gift card, we get $50 of that and that feeds us for three weeks.’ So our first thought was, oh maybe this is real and we want to be empathetic and maybe we can help these people. And then it started to be transactional and clearly very coordinated and dispassionate to a certain degree.”
Avant Garden is not the only restaurant to be targeted by these racketeers, nor is the crime confined to New York. Restaurants in San Francisco and Chicago have also been threatened.