Are Consumers Being Protected Or Scammed by Customer Reviews and Postings? ...by Bill Knell
Ever since the online world grew into a place inhabited by millions of users it has become a place where two goals from the real world linger and thrive: To get rich or to get noticed. The Internet has made both of those ambitions a bit easier to achieve by virtue of the possibility of connecting to a multitude of people quickly through some unique idea or outrageous act. Sites that allow the posting of videos, photos, ideas, commentaries or reviews are the new gossip columns and scandal sheets that often see their content go viral or get shared in the blink of an eye.
Once the Internet really got going, it didn't take long for entrepreneurs to figure out that there were tons of people out there who were sick of being victims. They had been ripped off by a bad product, bad service, bad food or scammed by con artists. These people found homes for their complaints and frustrations on any number of web sites designed to allow them to pass judgment on businesses and individuals that they felt had taken advantage of them in one way or another.
To hear their side of the story, these sites have all fine-tuned the process they use to filter out business owners leaving positive reviews for themselves or bad reviews that were fakes designed as get back or to blackmail a business for money, discounts or services. I say that it is impossible to filter out all of those types of postings and the proof of that statement has come in the form of a brand new type of cyber-bullying which has recently surfaced and already cost legitimate businesses a small fortune or two.
Any seller or business owner who has ever been given a completely unfair review on the web sites where you can sell goods and services to the world knows that the idea of allowing people that have purchased your product or service to post a review based on their consumer experience is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing if you really provide a quality product or service and people take the time to write about it when given the opportunity to do so. It is a curse when you get a person or group of people that leave bad reviews or comments for fun or profit.
There have always been the nut cases that single out a person or business and terrorize them online with false gossip or bogus reviews just because they can, but the bad economic times in which we live have given birth to a whole new and for profit group of cyber-bullies. These folks have managed to make or save a bundle by using the fear that businesses have of bad reviews against them. They use a simple and time proven method called blackmail.
If you do not do what I ask you to do, I will tell the world some truth that you do not want known or make up a seemingly credible lie about you that everyone is bound to believe. This makes up the simple and too-often effective method used by for profit cyber-bullies. They contact a business and threaten to leave a series of bad reviews or comments about their goods or services if they do not pay them cash, offer them something for nothing or provide them with a substantial discount.
While it may sound ridiculous that people can get away with these types of things without ending up in jail, you have to remember that most of these ventures are carried out in a manner that leaves these incidents and those involved in a grey legal area. That means they may be able to pull their online blackmail scheme hundreds of times before the law finally catches up with them (if it ever does). That leaves consumers with a problem as big as the businesses being scammed by these rip off artists: Who should they believe?
How many times have you read a set of reviews and wondered, "Why are there twenty-five good reviews and five bad ones?" That question knocks around all of our minds and is more likely than not to make us move on to another business with a perfect or better record. That is exactly how cyber-bullies for profit get the job done when businesses refuse to give them what they want and it works all too often. Some of these scam artists are so brazen that they will offer examples to prospective victims of how they were able to dramatically affect the bottom line of other businesses by planting fake comments or reviews.
It is very important for consumers to be aware of this situation so that they will understand what to look for in reviews or comments. When a business has a decent majority of good customer reviews and some bad ones posted around the same time, it is probably a case of cyber-bullying for profit or other reasons. Every decision to purchase a product or service such always be accompanied by the old 'buyer beware' rule, but you should not be frightened away from making what may end up being a good consumer choice in cases like these just because some rip-off artists decided to target a particular business for online blackmail.