A BUSINESSMAN whose company was threatened by more than 100 fake Google reviews has thanked the Daily Echo after the internet giant took action to remove them.

As previously reported, Southampton telecommunications firm Circle.cloud received demands for money to take down the one-star ratings.

In messages over WhatsApp, scammers said they would remove the reviews for five US dollars a time, adding: “Give me my payment” and warning: “I can suspend your business. Don’t forget that.”

Axel Molist Cordina, managing director of the Town Quay-based business, had complained that Google was slow to act over the “orchestrated” campaign.

However, the fake reviews began disappearing after the Daily Echo contacted Google for comment.

Mr Molist Cordina said: “They’re removed 99 per cent of the fake views that were left.

“I’d like to thank the Daily Echo. It was because of you that they took notice.”

A statement from Google said: “We invest significantly in building technologies and instituting practices that help people find reliable information on Google.

“Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences and information, and we closely monitor 24/7 for fraudulent content, using a combination of people and technology.

“Staying a step ahead of scammers is a constant battle, and in this case our teams are continuing to investigate, removing content and blocking accounts associated with malicious activity.”

Google says it encourages businesses to flag reviews that are fake – and says its machine learning models watch for specific words and for patterns in reviews from the same account.

According to Google, it blocked or removed more than 95 million reviews last year that violated its policies, including a million that were reported directly. More than a million user accounts were disabled for violating policy through activities such as online vandalism or fraud.

Mr Molist Cordina had said the fake reviews seemed to have originated from an individual in Pakistan.

He said some potential customers had cancelled appointments because of the reviews, while one firm which had signed up to be a customer lost confidence and backed out.

During WhatsApp exchanges, a scammer removed five reviews to prove they could do so before demanding payment to receive more.

Cloud.circle saw its previously high star rating drop to 3.2 out of five at one point.

As of Thursday, the rating was back to 4.9, with the total number of reviews down by more than 80.

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