SCAMMERS have left a Southampton business living a “nightmare” after leaving more than 100 negative online reviews and demanding money to remove them, its boss says.

The hostile reviews were followed by messages demanding “Give me my payment” and warning: “I can suspend your business. Don’t forget that.”

Telecommunications business, which employs 60 people in Southampton, says it enjoyed a Google rating of 4.99 stars until recently but has lost business after its page was flooded with “fake” reviews.

Axel Molist Cordina, managing director of the cloud telephony specialist, said: “I cannot tell you how distressing these fake, defamatory reviews are – none of the names of the reviewers are genuine customers and members of staff have had their good name smeared.

Daily Echo: Some of the fake Google reviewsSome of the fake Google reviews

“This is clearly an orchestrated campaign to tarnish the good reputation of our company by dragging down our five-star excellence rating through one-star negative, malicious reviews and hoping we’ll cave in by paying up.

“We have been attacked with 100-plus fake one-star reviews on Google, which seem to have originated from an individual in Pakistan, who has contacted us offering to remove these reviews if we pay him five dollars a review.

“We have reported all reviews to Google and informed them of this individual. However, Google does not appear to be closing down these nasty comments. We are now preparing a legal case against Google for defamation with our solicitors.

Daily Echo: A WhatsApp message received from the scammersA WhatsApp message received from the scammers

“Google’s policy on fake reviews is to encourage businesses to resolve any disputes directly with the individual who posted the content – but that is impossible because the complainants have fabricated names.

“We are left in a Kafkaesque nightmare where a decent business, with great customers and staff, is being deliberately undermined by an invisible aggressor who is blackmailing us digitally.”

He added: “We’re finding appointments cancelled because of these fake reviews. People aren’t sure who to trust. They could be fake, they could not be fake.

“We had a customer who signed up. They were happy with the price and then they said ‘Because of the reviews, we’ve lost confidence. I’m sorry’.”

He messaged one of the reviewers and had further conversations via the messaging platform WhatsApp. The person removed five Google reviews to prove they could do it and demanded money for more.

Daily Echo: A WhatsApp message received by after it received more than 100 negative reviews on GoogleA WhatsApp message received by after it received more than 100 negative reviews on Google

One message chasing payment threatened: “I can suspend your business. Don’t forget that.”

Mr Molist Cordina said until recently, the business had only accumulated five one-star reviews in seven years. The new flood of reviews picked up on points made in those reviews in order to look convincing, he said.

The company, based at Town Quay, saw its star rating on Google drop as low as 3.2 at one point as the negative reviews flooded in.

Google has been approached for comment. 

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